Does Your Name Damage Your Job-Hunting?

We explore the impact the name your parents gave you has on how your application might be viewed by recruiters.


Does Your Name Impact your Chances in the Jobs Market?

Me may, as Julie Andrews sang in the movie version of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music just be a name, I call myself, but it also speaks volumes to other people. In reality, our names are not something we decide for ourselves; it is something that our parents bestow upon us for reasons best known to themselves, but which are also often misunderstood by other people.

What’s in a name?

This is a theme which is explored in the play What’s in a Name. What’s in a Name? is set in a dinner party at which the father tells his guests the name he has decided on for the baby his wife is expecting. The play then explores the different reactions of the other dinner party guests to this announcement. The play is a comedy in which the jokes fall naturally into the conversation in a way that almost suggests the different characters didn’t realise that they had said something funny, but the subject is increasingly serious.

Parental Choice

What our parents decide to call us can have an impact on how we are treated throughout the rest of our lives. They can give rise to school time nick names, which might not always be flattering. There was the boy who was born into the Head family. His history buff parents decided to name him after the Plantagenet king of England known for being kidnapped on his return journey from the Criwhose family name is Head.

Names in the jobs market

Our names can also impact our chances in the jobs market by the impressions that they create of the type of person that we are and the background we are more likely to have. Your name is the first thing that a recruiter sees on your application, and they do create an impression of you and your family background.

Expectations and stereotypes

Girls named Chardonnay are very likely to have a mother who was a fan of the hit ITV series Footballers’ Wives, as much as a boy called Luca is likely to have a father who is a Chelsea fan. If your name is Shane or Carl, the expectation is likely to be that you grew up in rented accommodation, but if you are called Tarquin you probably weren’t living at home during term time.

Protected characteristics

Your name can also betray your age, your race, your ethnic origin or your religion all characteristics that are protected from discrimination. Each year the most popular first names registered in birth certificates are announced. They show that name choices move in fashions as much as anything else so first names can date a person and disclose their age. It may be easy to identify someone who is Muslim because they may be called Mohammed, a Jewish person may be called Abraham, but even denominations of Christianity can be identified by how a Christian name is spelt. Jane with a y, is more likely to be Roman Catholic.

It does happen

Of course, we are using stereotypes to make our point, but it does happen. We have spoken to several HR managers who during their careers when they have been faced with a large number of applications for a vacancy have been told to reduce the number by removing all the candidates with BAME sounding names. In one case the HR manager told us that they shortlisted a candidate whose surname was Brown. She was, on paper, the ideal candidate, when she arrived, she was also the best interviewee. She was offered the job. She just happened to be a second-generation immigrant from St Lucia. Her surname originated from the family that had owned her enslaved ancestors.

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?, starring Joe Thomas is currently on tour across the UK, until 26th October 2019. Further details are available from ATG Tickets