Can your name negatively affect your future?

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“I need your name and banner I.D.” Student begins to write name. K-O-U-R-T-N-E-Y.

Questioner: Why do you spell your name wrong?

Student: Excuse me?

Q: Why do you spell your name wrong?

S: I don’t. I spell it the same way you would with a ‘c’ just with a ‘k’. It’s a family tradition.

Q: What? They can’t spell?

S: No ma’am. All the granddaughters on my mother’s side spell their name with a ‘k.’

Q: What do y’all do? Take any ole name and smack a ‘k’ in front of it?

S: All our names can be spelled with a ‘c’ or ‘k.’

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet”- William Shakespeare.

How often do you think about the impact your name has on your interaction with people in your day-to-day life? Does a name determine your status, job, or intellect?  You can imagine my surprise when accused of spelling my name wrong after years of correcting people.

Many people take pride in their names, and typically do not give a second thought to pronunciation or spelling. This is true especially for me coming from a suburban neighborhood full of Brittney’s, Ashley’s, and Courtney’s. To me, I was just another Courtney. The only difference is I spell mine with a “K.” It was what made me different from the sea of Courtney’s with a “c.”

As a little girl, if someone spelled my name wrong, I would correct him or her without hesitation. You can only imagine my surprise at the age of 22 having the shoe on the other foot and being asked, “Why do you spell your name wrong?”

Naturally I giggled because I did not believe this person was serious.  I was more stunned that I was asked this out loud and found myself having to defend a family tradition over something as simple as a letter change. I had never been asked why I spell my name wrong. Nor had I ever considered that my name was even “wrong?” In all my years, I have come across some very unique and sometimes unusual names. I have also seen many variations of spelling Courtney with a ‘k’ and believe me when I say, mine is the least complicated of the bunch. I have seen Kourtnee, Kortney, Kourtini, Kortini, and Kourtnie.

I will admit, as a people, we do tend to get a little creative with not just names but spelling as well. However, all my life I was considered one of the lucky ones who had made it by with a “normal” name. Many would even say I have a “white” name.  In 2006, ABC News conducted a study of resumes with “white-sounding names” versus resumes with “black-sounding names.” What ABC discovered was that resumes with “white-sounding names” had their resumes downloaded 17 percent more often by job recruiters.

Do our names really hold that much power? Does pronunciation or a letter change affect whether you receive a callback or get a job? This incident not only brought to light the ignorance of the workplace, but also the ignorance that dwells on campus. As a professional on a campus, I am pretty sure this person has run into far more interesting names than mine. I would hope that as a professional on an HBCU campus one would have more tact and coif about the questions and or comments they make. Yes, this person was of the opposite race as me. However, it is not a race issue as much as it is an ignorance issue. If you were to remove race from the equation, ignorance would still stand. No one ever considers if they are being prejudged before they walk into a classroom or office just because of their name. If given a pass, students could have assumptions made about their work ethic and performance level before class even begins.

However, unique names are not just a hallmark of black culture. In many cultures, a name told someone about your lineage. In some cases a name told a community ones social standing. Many African communities, particularly the Yoruba, have a naming ceremony. Jewish people also have naming ceremonies after the birth of a child. Nobody says a word when Jewish people spell Joseph, Yosef. No one bats an eye when they see Magarita or Guadalupe. There should not be a difference between the reactions of a Juanita versus a Juaneta.

The moral of the story is holding yourself accountable for the words that come out of your mouth. People take pride in who and where they come from. When these comments were made to me it not only disrespected my family, but also myself. That is the bottom line. Let us not be so quick to make snide remarks.

—Email Kourtney at  [email protected] and follow her  on Twitter @KPOP_Ofcolour

  • Kourtney Pope Scene Editor