Are you letting your name ruin your life?

In 2021, name discrimination will still be alive and well. I cannot help but wonder what it has done to my perceptions.

My mum named me after the Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachan, a suave star of Indian cinema in the 1970s and 1980s. My classmates in school, a predominantly white area of south England, didn’t get the reference.

At that age any difference can be a source for deep embarrassment. Having a foreign surname is another example. From shrugging off rhyming jokes to correcting or too shy to correct mispronunciations, to shrugging off rhyming jabs, it’s all part of the fun. Ahmed, Amir–even though I am correct in uttering my name to family members, it isn’t accurate.

You do, however, grow into who you are. As I grew older, I began to value the uniqueness and to be more comfortable with it. It is your badge, regardless of how you feel about it. Sometimes, those signals are even harmful.

On August 1, Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s health secretary, accused the Little Scholars Nursery in Dundee of discriminating against his young daughter on the basis of her name. Nadia El-Nakla, Yousaf’s wife, emailed the nursery asking about spaces for Amal, their 2-year-old girl. A friend who had a whiter name than Yousaf emailed them the following day and was given three options for afternoons as well as a tour of their nursery. A journalist who used a similar strategy to follow up on the inquiry got the same results: the fictitious parent with a Muslim-sounding surname was not allowed to have their child in the nursery, while white applicants were offered options and details about how they could enroll.

This is not an isolated case, it’s something you can easily dismiss. Research over decades has shown that discrimination against Black people in employment and education is real. A cleverly designed study in the United States found that candidates with Black-sounding names needed eight more years of experience to get the same number of callbacks as those with white-sounding names, for instance. The same result has been confirmed by decades of similar research.

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