Thursday, December 13, 2007
Today I was reading a bunch of movie reviews in Rolling Stone, and every single movie had a character name that's on my Special Reserve Names list: Cecilia, Bryony, and JUNO. Yes, Juno. What's going on? Why has the movie industry tapped into my brain? I mean Juno. It's not like my favorite name on earth is Katelyn or Mary or something. I thought Juno was pretty way out in left-field.
I understand that Victorian names are entering a cycle of popularity, so forget favorites like Ruby and Daisy. I can't say that I thought of Ella and Lola first-- they're just cycling back into favor. Poppy and Phoebe are all the rage in England now, so it won't be long before they hit U.S. shores. But Juno?!? Let's hope people don't see the movie and automatically go out and name their kids that!
Monday, December 03, 2007
Can a 'Black' Name Affect Job Prospects?
Can a Black-Sounding Name Hurt Your Career Prospects?
So 20/20 asked the six to participate in an experiment.
20/20 put 22 pairs of names to the test — the six skeptics included.
Each person posted two résumés on popular job-search Web sites — one under his or her real name, and the same identical résumé under a made-up, "white-sounding" names like Peter, Melissa and Kathleen.
You'd think the identical résumés would get the same attention. Instead, the résumés with the white-sounding names on them were actually downloaded 17 percent more often by job recruiters looking for candidates.
"You really never know why you don't get called back for that interview. I thought it was because of my job skills, or my résumé wasn't appropriate, but I never thought it was because of my name," Carita said.
She was shocked by the calls from potential employers — not to her, but to her fictitious white counterpart. "I was just blown away that Kathleen got phone calls for three of the four weeks of the study, and I didn't get any. And Kathleen does not exist," she said.
Arsenetta also was envious of her fictitious white alter ego, Kimberly.
"They were calling her morning, noon and night," she said. "I was standing there looking at my phone going, 'God, I want to answer that phone call and tell the man I'm interested in this job!' "
Ebony felt frustrated that companies were quick to stereotype her by name. "Once they get to know me, they say, 'Oh, you know, she is Ebony but she's not that militant one or she's not that rowdy little girl or she's not the ignorant one. She's very smart and very capable of doing this job,' " she said.
What kind of companies were responsible? Our independent research found biased responses from employment agencies, law firms and even large financial corporations.
But capable doesn't always matter. A job recruiter for Fortune 500 companies in northern California revealed an ugly secret.
"There is rampant racism everywhere. And people who deny that are being naïve," said the recruiter, who spoke on the condition her name would not be used.
The recruiter said if she were given two résumés, all else being equal, except one says Shaniqua, and the other says Jennifer, she would call Jennifer first.
It's a choice she says she was trained to make: When representing certain companies, do not send black candidates. And on a résumé, a name may be the only cue of the applicant's race.
"I think that the way that I had been taught and what has helped me to succeed in the industry is unfair," she said.
It's also racist, and, quite possibly, illegal.
That's why author Shelby Steele feels African-Americans must think long and hard before giving their children unusual or "black-sounding" names.
"It's a naïveté on the part of black parents," Steele said, "to name their children names that are so conspicuously different than American mainstream names. … It suggests to people outside that community who hear those names a certain alienation. Certain hostility."
Steele, a researcher specializing in race relations and author of A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America, is essentially telling black folks, don't name your child Deshawn or Loquesha.
"Yes. … I'm saying don't name your son Latrelle. Don't do that. … He's going to live 50, 60 years in the future. Give him a break. You know, call him Edward."
Challenge the Bias, Not the Names
But sociologist Bertice Berry says there are prominent African-Americans who've overcome the stigma of a black-sounding name, including top presidential adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"We've learned to say Condoleezza. And you just can't get more ghetto than Condoleezza," Berry said.
Opera diva Leontine Pryce also overcame any stigma attached to her name.
"We hear Leontine and you think opera," Berry said, "… When they're associated with power and wealth we learn them." Berry says what needs to change is society, not black names.
But the bias against those names, it seems, starts very early. University of Pittsburgh Vice Provost Jack Daniel studied 4- and 5-year-old children and found racist perceptions were deeply ingrained at an early age.
White children had a tendency to associate negative traits with black names, according to Daniel. "Your name can hurt you," Daniel said, "but you've got to change the people who hurt you because of your name.'
So, Daniel and his wife, Jeri, rejected white-sounding names for their own children. They chose African names — Omari and Marijata. "We thought that it was really important that the assimilation process not dissolve who we were as a people," Jeri Daniel said.
The Daniels' children carried on the tradition, naming their children Amani, Akili, Deven and Javon. They see the names as a source of pride.
But some of today's black-sounding names are more about conspicuous consumption than tradition. There is a trend to name children after luxury goods, like Moet, Lexus, even Toyota.
Steele said that trend "suggests real cultural deprivation. And it's heartbreaking to hear it."
Berry feels that "There's a responsibility, when anybody names a child, to name them something that means something." But she added, "I don't think we need to tell people, 'Don't name them that, because I don't like the way it sounds.' "
Unhappy with her own name and her experience in the job market, Tiqua Gator named her son Derek to help him get by in white America. "If I was to have any more children, it wouldn't be any Tiquas or it wouldn't be any Tamikas or Aishas. It would be something common," she said. "I wouldn't want my child to go through the same thing that I've went through."
Robin Thomas said she had two young women in a psychology course she taught. One was named Kristen, the other Heather.
"And I had that hardest time remembering which was which," she said. "I mentioned it to them at the end of the term, and they said, 'All our friends have the same problem.'"
Thomas, a psychology professor at Miami University in Ohio, began to wonder. One woman was a tall blonde; the other was a shorter brunette. Perhaps somewhere in her mind, something determined what someone named Kristen or Heather ought to look like -- and these two students broke the mental mold.
A Rose by Any Other Name
So Thomas and three colleagues -- Melissa Lea, Nathan Lamkin and Aaron Bell -- devised a series of experiments to test people's preconceived notions of names.
In one, they gave volunteers a series of common male names (Bob, Bill, Tom, etc.) and asked people to create pictures of what someone with one of those names ought to look like.
In another test, they showed their volunteers pictures of two men -- one with a round face, the other with a thinner, longer face -- and asked them to decide which was "Bob" and which was "Tim."
The results they report were remarkably consistent. A "Bill" had a certain look to people, and it was different from a "Mark."
And Thomas said she found the stereotypes useful. If a guy was named Joe -- and somehow looked the part -- then it was easier to remember him.
"The better the fit," she said, "the faster you were at learning the names."
Thomas and her colleagues have written an academic paper on their findings, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. To rule out factors such as gender and ethnic origins, they restricted their experiments to names common among white males in Ohio, where they recruited the volunteers for the study.
In their paper, the researchers wrote, "Few worry about whether the name will provoke a facial stereotype in the minds of others (hmmm … he doesn't look like a 'Bob'), but, as the present research suggests, this may be yet another potential worry to have when one selects a name for one's progeny."But why should any of this be? For now, that remains a mystery, but psychologists have several theories.
It may be, for instance, that people make associations between names and the faces of famous people who have those names. If you hear the name "Tom," you may automatically think of Tom Cruise.
But that doesn't hold up when one considers how many different-looking people have names Thomas' team tested. When you hear "George," what face comes to mind first? George Washington? George W. Bush? George Clooney? They don't exactly look alike.
Thomas' favorite theory, one that she hopes to test in future experiments, is that deep inside the brain, certain sounds automatically bring certain visual connotations to mind.
"We suspect that the sound of a name carries over into the visual," she said.
She points us back to the Bob-vs.-Tim experiment in which people overwhelmingly decided that someone named "Bob" had to have a round face.
"Listen to yourself as you make the sounds, and the way you shape your mouth," she said. "Perhaps 'Bob' is a round-sounding name and 'Tim' is a thin-sounding name."
It may well be that certain names really do have a connection to certain types of faces; after all, some names do carry in families. But Thomas said she doesn't explain the stereotyping we automatically make.
"I'd be really spooked if all the Bobs in the world really were round-faced."
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her baby after a fruit, Apple. Comedian Penn Jillette chose Moxie Crimefighter for his spunky daughter.
And while unusual names may be a Hollywood staple, some believe it may cross the line in the real world.
One New Zealand judge even blocked one family from using the name it chose. The judge said the name was unfair to the child.
"Initially, the reaction is, 'Are you for real?'" said Pat Wheaton, the New Zealand father who was blocked from naming his son 4Real.
Wheaton said the idea for the name came when the couple saw the first scan of the child.
"We started thinking 'Jeez, he is for real?'" Wheaton said.
The couple's idea came naturally, but many parents are feeling the pressure to be different.
Baby naming is big business today. Some parents are turning to professional consultants, computer programs, polls and even numerologists to achieve the perfect moniker for their bundle of joy.
"Parents think that if they give their child a unique and special name, the child will become unique and special," said Bruce Lansky, author of "100,000 Baby Names."
Nevaeh, which heaven spelled backwards, has become one of the world's most popular names. But others don't always pass the societal test.
Two boys, one in Michigan and the other in Texas, bear the name ESPN. They were named after the sports network.
In some countries, names are illegal -- like Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden in Germany.
And French parents must choose from an approved list. The laws are designed to prevent teasing.
In America, almost anything goes.
"You can't use a four letter word that I wouldn't use in this interview anyway, and other than that you're free to do what you want," said New York University Sociology Department Chairman Dalton Conley. "That's part of the first amendment right to free speech here in America."
Only as the children grow up will people learn if these interesting names will be the source of ridicule.