A few weeks ago I listened to a short clip of an interview by former blue peter presenter Andy Akinwolere (see link below for the clip) if you watched blue peter back in the day many of you would recognise him, but if not look to the left for his photo. In the interview he states that he is changing his name from Andy back to his birth name Ayo. Yes, he is originally from Nigeria, however he changed his name to Andy in 1991 due to fear of not being accepted and in an attempt to assimilate himself into society specifically due to the nature of his career in media. His decision to change his name back to Ayo was made in order to try and help ‘normalise’ who he is as a black British male.
The interviewer went on to ask him whether he believed, had he not changed his name back in 1991, whether that would have made a difference to his career or not. He believes that it wouldn’t have made a difference, unfortunately I beg to differ and this is why,
Before I get into my reasons I just want to state that this idea of changing your name to a more ‘British sounding’ name is not just seen in the African community. At university I commonly saw Asian students who had both their original names and British names but chose to us their British name. Many people defend this explaining that the British name is generally much easier to pronounce and spell for the majority of people e.g. teacher/lecturer, other students and employer etc. Although I do agree with this, is there a deeper problem here? Should the choice of your name have an affect on your employability? This draws me back to explain my reasons why I believe that if Ayo hadn’t changed his name to Andy in 1991 it would have made a difference to his career.
- Studies: I was listening to LBC radio not too long ago and a black female explained how she actually tested a company to find out whether her suspicions that her African name was putting employers off hiring her. She submitted two CV’s, exactly the same but the only difference were the names on the CV’s (one had her original name and a fake British name) Which CV do you think resulted in a call back? The British one.
- Lack of acceptance in schools and the workplace: Recently there have been stories in the media describing schools and employers lack of tolerance for particular ‘black’ hairstyles e.g. braid’s, afro’s, dreadlocks etc. In some cases, students are being sent home and potential employees being dismissed because of this. If this is the case with hair it’s not hard to see that this same thinking could be applied to names.
- My personal experience: I did a placement year at university and although, largely, everyone on my course were at similar level of qualification for the roles we were applying for from my observation my white counterparts were able to secure placements a lot quicker than I was. Not only did I see this on my course but on that of some of my friends also. I also have family members who have decided to use their middle names on applications and CV e.g. my brother. This alone shows that there is some perceived benefit in using a British name, and there is no smoke without fire in my eyes. There must be some truth to this perception.
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this, have you ever experienced any prejudice? tried what something similair to catch out employers? Or do you think there is really nothing in it? I’d love to hear your opinion.
By Toro Kehinde www.torosthoughts.wordpress.com