NAME PREJUDICE

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What exactly is Name Prejudice? The term simply refers to the fact that some people face discrimination because of their name. In the U.S. there is talk about how certain names, such as African American names, are the target of bias during the job search, for instance. Historically, Jews have changed their names so as to improve their economic prospects or simply reduce the probability of Anti-Semitic bias.

If there ever where names that could suffer from name prejudice, it would be Nigerian names. Think about it. For people who are unfamiliar with our names, they can appear complicated and would require some serious tongue twisting and neck breaking to pronounce.

As a result, many Nigerians come to the West and find ways to make their names easier to pronounce for westerners. 'Kehinde' may become 'Kenny'. Or, as was the case with a young lady I knew, her name 'Nkechi' became 'Nikichi' when she pronounced it. Some Nigerians even reappear in the U.S. or England with English names they never had when you knew them in Nigeria.

Whatever their reasons for making such changes, I can understand the need to do so, under certain circumstances. I have seen resumes placed in the trash, not because the sender was unqualified, but because another sender with equal or less qualification was called John Alexander Smith, or some other familiar, easy to pronounce and Anglo Saxon name. Was the preference for John A. Smith over say, Jubril Ibrahim Otokiti (a fictional name) deliberate? I think it was a matter of implicit bias. People tend to prefer those who are like them over those they consider different. So, if the person receiving those resumes is named Amber Lauren Thompson (fictional name) and she the only Muslim sounding name she is familiar with is Osama Bin Laden, one can see why she would pick John's resume over Jubril's even if you don't agree with her decision.

Even I am biased against certain names. I must confess that I do not appreciate names that I think mean nothing or have little or no significance. Blame that on my upbringing. The Yoruba and other Nigerian groups take a lot of time to bless their children with names that will give them good fortune. So, when I meet people called Alize, Puma, Lexus, or another name given to a child in honor of a luxury good I cannot help but wonder what the parents were thinking. Nonetheless, I do not allow my bias to be a reason to disrespect anyone, no matter what I think about their name.

Despite the obvious or implicit bias against certain names, I do not want to discourage Nigerians from giving their children names that represent their cultural heritage or suggest that parents cannot or should not come up with creative names they like for their children (think of Toni Braxton who named her sons Diesel and Denim). There is nothing wrong with having a unique and distinctive name. We must all learn to overcome our biases and not allow such bias to be the reason for prejudice against those we consider different. After all, in some parts of the world, a name like Hannah or Skyler is foreign.

2 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

Mutiu said...

Its very funny that people reject our names, what about those from Niger Delta like Onetoritsebawoete (Whom the Lord is with cannot be put to shame) not to talk about Kenny and co. So if u re 4rm Slovakia Names like Bagikovac.Name or no names we will still move ahead.

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