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More than half of minority ethnic people feel judged by their name

Medium shot of a motivated young Asian businesswoman working with laptop, sitting on the bench, against modern corporate buildings in the city, in daytime.
Medium shot of a motivated young Asian businesswoman working with laptop, sitting on the bench, against modern corporate buildings in the city, in daytime.

Names are much more than just a way to identify ourselves, they also shape our lives and reflect our cultural identity.

But if you have a name that is different or foreign, you might have quite a different experience compared to others with 'Western-sounding' names that are more commonly heard in the UK - and a survey has revealed that the experience is quite often negative.

In particular, ethnic communities face bias and misconceptions about themselves because of their names, according to research by Samsung.

While a third of UK adults said they have felt judged by their name, this figure rises to more than half (53%) for minority ethnic respondents.

Some of the most frequently faced name-related misconceptions that adults from diverse ethnic backgrounds reported experiencing included assumptions about where they are from (39%), their cultural heritage (31%), and that English isn’t their first language (27%).

The research also showed that more than a quarter (26%) of minority respondents have been asked to repeat their name multiple times when meeting someone for the first time.

One Businesswoman standing while arguing with a worried African-American female colleague in office.
Facing misconceptions based on name is more common among minority ethnic people. (Getty Images)

On top of that, 16% said they were asked if that is their ‘real’ or ‘full’ name. Worse still, 14% of minority respondents said people have avoided saying their name at all, compared to just 2% of white respondents.

The biases extend to the workplace, with nearly a quarter (24%) of all respondents having witnessed others being discriminated against because of their name, the research suggests.

It adds that 12% of minority respondents have felt the need to use different names in job applications or interviews, with 16% who said having or using a ‘Western-sounding’ name has benefited them.

The research broke the data down even further and found that respondents from Arab backgrounds (21%) and the Black community (19%) were most likely to say this about using a ‘Western’ name.

This reflects the results of an Australian study titled The Resume Bias project, which submitted more than 12,000 job applications to over 4,000 job advertisements in order to investigate hiring discrimination.

The study, which was published in April 2023, found that applicants with English names received 26.8% of positive responses for leadership roles. But among non-English names, this figure more than halved to 11.3%.

Applicants with English names were also more likely to receive positive responses for non-leadership positions compared to non-English names.

According to Samsung's recent study, 27% of Black or Black British people said they were likely to be subjected to comments or jokes about their name - more than twice the proportion of white respondents (14%) who said the same.

Professor Pragya Agarwal, behavioural and data scientist and Visiting Professor of Social Inequities and Injustice at Loughborough University, commented on the research and said: “Names, much like our gender or racial identity, can be first triggers for stereotypes and assumptions about people, sending signals about who we are and where we come from.

“It is laziness, yes, but people very easily fall back on these assumptions. In my research and consultancy, I have seen how name discrimination is very widely spread during hiring and recruitment to career progression and leadership opportunities in the workplace.”

She continued: “Such discrimination is often rooted in our implicit cognitive biases, but that does not mean that the impact is any less harmful. For many of us, names signify our cultural heritage, our histories, and our family values.

Workers talking at common coworking space tables, busy multiethnic businessmen and businesswomen working together in the space of coworking, diverse staff of employees
Having a diverse workplace can help dispel some biases that minority ethnic communities might face. (Getty Images)

“It is important that organisations and workplaces do more to see people as individuals, and names are an integral part of people’s identity. Addressing name-based microaggressions, and its intersectional impacts’ is an important step towards creating a culture of belonging and respect for everyone.”

Jessie Soohyun Park, head of CSR at Samsung UK, added: “We know biases exist all around us – whether it’s gender, disability, race or culture. But with this study, we wanted to go one layer deeper to understand the impact that our names can have on how people perceive us.

“We know that people can sometimes feel judged or misunderstood with their names. While many Koreans adopt an English name when studying or working outside of Korea, what’s important is that we celebrate the coming together of different cultures and values that we share and experience every day.

“Embracing cultural difference and the value that different perspectives can bring, is intrinsic to building a positive, inclusive society that ultimately brings people together. I believe that names are not just labels to identify us, but important emblems that carry stories of heritage and identity. Let's build a culture where no one feels judged or silenced by the syllables that shape their identity.”

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