Can a 'Black' Name Affect Job Prospects?

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.

Recruiter: ‘There Is Rampant Racism’

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.

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