ISSN 2330-717X

Names And Racism

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Can bearing a name which sounds different or ‘foreign’ — regardless of your actual ethnic background — be enough to make you the target of racism?

A postgraduate student at The University of Nottingham is currently recruiting volunteers for a study that will aim to explore the links between names and potential ethnic and racial discrimination.

Emily Wykes, who is studying for a PhD in the University’s School of Sociology said: “There has been a lot of previous research conducted that highlights the relationship between skin colour, physical appearance and racism.

“However, I am interested in finding out whether there is a non-visual form of racism. What assumptions, if any, are made about people on the basis of what they are called?”

Emily is appealing for people who have married and taken their spouse’s name — hence having the experience of living with two different names — to come forward to take part in the study.

She is particularly keen to hear from those who have changed their name from a ‘non-British sounding’ name, for example a Polish or Nigerian name, to a ‘traditionally British sounding’ name. Equally, she would also like to speak to those who have had ‘traditionally British sounding’ names and married someone with a name that is typically associated with another culture or ethnic group.

The research will involve speaking to the volunteers individually about their own experiences of changing their name and whether they have noticed any difference in how they are treated by others, whether their social or employment opportunities were affected, whether it has affected their own sense of identity and whether people react in a noticeable way to their new name.

Emily said that her own relationship with her partner, who is originally from Nigeria, sparked the idea for the research.

She added: “I began to wonder if having a name which people perhaps perceive as being ‘foreign’ impacts on your life chances in some way, just as skin colour may do. This led to the idea of interviewing people who have had the opportunity to live with two different names to find out whether they have noticed any difference.”

The research could help to inform future discussions of racism and perhaps government policies about racism.

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