What’s in a Name?

By: Dolisha Mitchell

Have you ever really thought about how a name can define you?  Well, I have. I have always wondered why some names are considered unique and should be cherished as part of a culture, while others bring about discrimination and negative connotations such as “ghetto”.

I can recall being in elementary school and seeing the way some teachers paused before pronouncing my name during attendance. Regardless of the teachers race or cultural background, hearing a name they had never heard caused a pause. Don’t get me wrong, some paused simply to phonetically sound it out. Others seemed annoyed by it. As an adult, some people simply ask the origin or meaning of my name. When I explain to them that it incorporates my  mother’s name, Dollie, they understand its beauty. On the other hand, I have been in situations where some felt that a name like Dolisha went along with a certain personality or status. I went through a phase where I considered using my middle name professionally, but ultimately decided against it as I embrace the uniqueness of my name.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 10.01.18 PMAs I think about the various experiences I’ve encountered with my name, I now examine the underlying prejudices we as teachers must avoid when it comes to students’ names. The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names, written by Roland Fryer and Steven Levitt, explores how over time Blacks have gone from having similar names to Whites, to a pattern of drastically distinctive Black names (2003). This change in naming began with the rise of the Black Power movement and involved including more African and Islamic names. During this time, many African Americans desired to identify themselves separately from a group that historically oppressed them. This naming trend has continued to grow into the somewhat inventive naming of our current time. Now as you take in the reasons for the drastic changes amongst names of African Americans, ask yourself, “Does my name define me?”

Audit studies by Fryer and Levitt found that resumes using traditional, common names are more likely to receive an interview than are identical resumes with distinctively Black names.  The results of these studies suggest that having a distinctively Black name may affect the marketability of one’s skills and hinder an opportunity for an interview. Ultimately, job outcomes beyond the interview stage would unlikely correlate to a name, as once we get to know a person, his or her name’s importance decreases greatly. Roland Fryer went on to share on the popular television show, Freakonomics, that a person’s socioeconomic status is a stronger determinant of one’s success than his or her name. Socioeconomic status is often what grants us access to quality education and experiences.

Aside from socioeconomic status, I believe that one’s character and upbringing plays an essential role in his or her success. Character is something we as educators can model everyday.  We can teach students not to judge each other based on something that in reality they were not a part of creating. We can teach students to have pride in their differences and celebrate them, not be ashamed and hide behind them. Lastly we can mold a generation of innovative thinkers, who judge people not on their cultural differences, but instead embrace and learn from them.  As educators we cannot change our students current socioeconomic status, but we can empower them to desire a successful life.


Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2004. “The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(3), pages 767-805, August.


Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 6.42.39 PMDolisha is a a second-year educator at a rural title one elementary school in Georgia, where she teaches 3rd grade. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of South Carolina in 2014. She enjoys traveling, reading, and writing.

One thought on “What’s in a Name?

  1. You know I hadn’t even thought about this, maybe I am so used to seeing so many different names constantly but I can totally understand what you mean, I can see people trying to define who you are based on your name even before getting to know you, great article.


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