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What’s In A Name? Foreign Name Prejudice And Hiring

What’s In A Name? Foreign Name Prejudice And Hiring

My husband has a long, complicated name! Even for a Punjabi it is quite rare and even a bit serious in nature. Names are incredibly important in India. In North America, most people I know choose names for their sounds or family tradition. In India most names have a deep meaning. It is a hope that the tributes of that name may impact the life of the person with that name.

Punjabi names are exceptionally long, usually in two different parts. Sikh names are traditionally gender neutral, which further teaches the Sikh tradition of gender equality. There are some names that are gender specific (my husband’s name is very masculine so I can’t imagine a girl with his name) but it is less common.

Many Indians choose nicknames. Sometimes it is a western name other times just a shortened version or their original name or sometimes something completely different. For example Jaswinder can become the nickname Jessie.

Many Sikh names are known to have a meaning associated with God. My husbands name is very religious in nature!


His name is Gurucharan

Guru-religious teacher/prophet

Charan-At the feet.

So the translation is “At the feet of the Prophet”.

I love his name, I believe it is very noble and beautiful!  I have to admit it is a long and very foreign sounding name to North Americans. Most North Americans that try to say it usually over complicate it. The truth is no one really uses his full name. I don’t even use his full name! When we met for the first time he introduced himself as GC, and that is what most people know him as. His family has a childhood pet name. Gaggi. Which I think sounds adorable! I could never use this name for him because I imagine a very small child.

It has really shocked me to realize that something as simple as a name can affect a person’s life so dramatically! Here is his story.

My husband and I were married the weekend before graduating from college. He had to switch his visa from a student visa to a Green Card once we were married. Once we got that Green Card in the mail we were overjoyed. He jumped right into the job search! He looked everywhere. Sent out hundreds of applications and resumes.  He heard nothing for over a year! Not a single interview! He finally took a job at a gas station making minimum wage because we needed the money!  He felt defeated.

One day I decided to go over his resume and cover letter to see if I could make any improvements. Everything looked great. I made one suggestion, to change his name on his resume from his full name Gurucharan to his nickname GC. He was resistant to this idea, thinking that GC sounded too informal. He also thought that resumes required the full legal name, but I explained that applications require legal name but resume can be any name that people call you. We decided to give it a try, there was nothing to lose.

Within a week he received three calls for interviews that resulted in two job offers. Our whole life changed in a single moment! He had finally started on his career path!

We were so happy, but there was a part of me that was really upset!

Did his name really keep him from getting a job? This could not be a coincidence!

We had suffered and gone without for two years while my husband had the qualifications for a much better job.  All because of his name! To this day I am still very upset that we went through all of those struggles simply because some hiring manager made conclusion about my husband based on his name alone?

Were these people afraid to say his name wrong on a phone call requesting him for an interview? Did they think that he would not speak English or would not fit into the working environment because of being foreign? Did these people understand the effect that they had on our family?

I had read studies in the past about how traditionally African American names affected a person’s ability to get a call back for an interview in comparison to traditional “white” names.


“In a study done by The National Bureau of Economic Research, 5000 resumes responded to help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston newspapers. Half the resumes were sent with African-American names and the other half were sent with white-sounding names. The number of callbacks for each resume received for interviews was counted. Thus, they experimentally manipulated perception of race via the name on the resume. The results indicate large racial differences in callback rates to a phone line with a voice mailbox attached and a message recorded by someone of the appropriate race and gender. Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity.”

Even Forbes, a Business magazine has an article title: “Have a Foreign-Sounding Name? Change it to Get a Job”

It angers me to know that something as simple as a name can change a person’s chances of success. That people with the power to hire can make such an opinion based on such little information. My husband’s name is beautiful! It’s long, but it has deep meaning! To this day he still applies for jobs with his shortened named knowing that using his full name can mean failure.

Instead of people changing their foreign sounding names, it is the attitudes and ignorance of our community that must be changed.

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