Ever wondered if your name affects how you are perceived by others? How about the influence it has on your job hunt success? Your probability of being promoted? Or even the field you might end up in? Research has shown that one’s name has a significant effect on how they are judged by other people. The name’s ethnic origin, levels of femininity or masculinity, as well as its length, familiarity, and the ease of pronunciation all have a role to play.
Most hiring managers tend to skim through resumes very quickly before determining which candidates they would like to contact for the face-to-face interview. The few seconds are often not enough to fully evaluate the candidate’s qualifications. Thus, a significant weight of the decision may rest on rather unconscious processes and subjective judgements of managers.
When Canadian employers see foreign or unfamiliar names on the resumes, many of them jump to conclusions about the immigration status and thus language abilities and general communication skills of the prospective employees. In the minds of hiring managers’, these people are automatically seen as being less qualified and as having less potential to succeed in the position. Even people born and raised in Canada, with relevant experience and education but a foreign name are less likely to be contacted for the interview. The disadvantages increase the more indicators of “foreignness” are present on the resume.
The study of employers from three major cities in Canada demonstrated that the applicants with the English sounding names were 35-40 % more likely to be selected for the interview than their counterparts with ethnic names and equivalent Canadian education and experience (Immen). Out of the 7 000 fake resumes sent in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, 25% indicated a typical western name. Other 25% of resumes were identical except for the Indian, Chinese or Greek-sounding names. The callback rate for the 3rd quarter of resumes with Canadian experience, but foreign names and education were even 10% lower than for the second group. Fake applications of recent immigrants with no or few ties to Canada were contacted the least.
Most of the hiring managers interviewed were reluctant to talk about their own biases towards the applicants with non-western names. One response summed up the fear of the unfamiliar and poor language skills among the employers: “When you’re calling someone with an English-sounding name, you know what you’re getting into. You know you can call Bob Smith and can talk to him as quickly as you want to …” (Immen).
Another recent 2016 study by Harvard University revealed that both black and Asian applicants were 10 % more likely to receive a callback if their non-European background was omitted in their resumes. (Gander)
There are a few tactics which could somewhat reverse the job discrimination trend. For instance, applicants could try to place their names in a smaller font in a less visible place on the resume while emphasizing their language and work experience. Utilizing the new trend of video resumes is another option. If employers were to take the initiative, they could request the resumes with names on the second page or with masked names.
Names and Gender Stereotypes
Multiple studies have shown that the level of name’s femininity or masculinity also affects the perception of one’s personality and abilities. According to the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, female names like Mia and Hannah were automatically associated with warmth but lack of competence. (Gander) At the same time, people named Howard, Reginald or Lawrence were rated as less warm but highly competent. The same study also uncovered that certain names also evoke age-related stereotypes.
A name provides a very powerful image of a person. It often influences the way individuals are treated throughout their lives, and what kind of expectations are imposed on them. Some correlational research has revealed that girls whose names were rated as more feminine were less likely to end up studying math or sciences after the age of 16 (Asthana). The linguistic femininity score was specifically designed for this study. Females named Isabella, Anna or Emma were twice less likely to be enrolled in typical male fields at a higher level, than for instance girls named Alex. The study looked at 1000 pairs of twin sisters in the US. It turns out that naming one of your children Isabella can literally shape her future career by making her vulnerable to the social stereotyping.
Ease of Spelling and Pronunciation
People with shorter and easier to pronounce names tend to be viewed more favourably than those with complex names. This phenomenon is known as a name-pronunciation effect (Sommers). The study demonstrated that the respondents favoured political candidates with easier to pronounce names. The analysis of the existing law firms also revealed that attorneys with easier names on average were higher on a hierarchical ladder.
The results of the study did not seem to be solely affected by the ethnicity or how common the names were. One of the possible explanations could be that the easier it is for us to perceive something, the more positively we regard it. For instance, if research findings are presented in difficult to read fonts and colours people are less likely to believe in their validity.
Finally, alternative and less popular names received lower ratings of the immediately evoked images of success and kindness by the study participants. While Rachel and Christopher were getting nearly full marks, a poor hypothetical person with a name Breeze scored 16 out of 100 (Asthana).
Asthana, Anushka. (2007). Names Really Do Make Difference. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2007/apr/29/theobserversuknewspages.uknews
Gander, Kashmira. (2018). Your Name Changes How People Judge Your Personality. Newsweek. Retrieved from https://uk.news.yahoo.com/name-changes-people-judge-personality-125023635.html?guccounter=1
Immen, Wallace. (2018). How an Ethnic-Sounding Name May Affect the Job Hunt. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/how-an-ethnic-sounding-name-may-affect-the-job-hunt/article555082/
Sommers, Sam. (2012). What’s in a name? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-small-talk/201207/whats-in-name