by JAMILA RIZVI
During his campaign for the White House in 2008, US President Barack Hussein Obama remarked at a formal dinner that he got his middle name from somebody who clearly never thought he’d run for President.
He was obviously joking but all good humour does have a basis in reality.
And in post 9/11 America, the first black man to run for President probably wasn’t going to get a helping hand from having a middle name that most of us associate with an Iraqi dictator.
Aside from physical appearance, a person’s name is usually the first piece of information we receive about them. And despite being something that most of us have no control over, our brains use names to help form that initial impression.
In other words – we judge. Perhaps it’s unfair, perhaps it’s unkind, perhaps it’s even unconscious – but it’s a judgement nonetheless.
Imagine your firm is hiring an accountant and you have two CVs in front of you – one from Brittany and one from Judith. Fess up – wouldn’t you be walking into that interview thinking Judith was the lady for the job? Just between us, doesn’t Judith sound more like a top accountant?
Last year I went on a date with a boy called Adrian. When I called my best friend to announce this development and plot my outfit, she physically shuddered and said “nope, I call veto – ‘Adrians’ are gross.” (For the record, I personally am not an Adrian-ist. All of the Adrians I know are really quite lovely.)
But do these judgements have any rational basis? After all – we don’t write our own birth certificates. Our parents do. So when you’re forming that judgement about someone based on their name, you’re actually forming an impression about the kind of person their parents wanted them to be – not who they themselves are today or dream of being tomorrow.
My grandmother went to great lengths trying to convince my mother to name me Fatima (pronounced ‘Far-tim-ah’). My mother – a primary school teacher who knew the sort of relentless teasing I would suffer in the school yard for having the word ‘fart’ in my name – went with Jamila instead.
Caitlin Moran, author of the brilliant book “How to be a Woman” revealed in a BBC interview recently that her first name used to be Catherine. When asked about the reason for the change she said:
“I was going through a phase of reading every single book in the library and I had read all the ones that had sex in them and all the ones that were funny and then I got around to the freaky ones.