HUFFPOST PERSONAL

I’m A Black Woman Who Had To Change Her Name To Get Ahead Professionally

Black women are discriminated against for our names. The least you can do is learn them.

A few weeks ago, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics guard Aerial Powers told Andre Iguodala to “put some respect” on her name after his tweets about her amazing performance only referenced her jersey number and not her name. 

Of course, he didn’t bother to fix it, apologize or learn from it. He retorted with a bit of limp misogyny ― “no manners” ― trying to deflect his disrespect and to attempt to keep her invisible and silenced. She then used her platform to lift up another woman we are ignoring and said “While we are on the topic! It’s bigger than me #SayHerName! BREONNA TAYLOR!”

I thought to myself: Yes, it is bigger than Aerial Powers and bigger than me. This moment is about a lot of things and one of them is about the lack of respect we have for Black women and the invisibility of our value. For too long we have been in the shadows and here was the perfect chance to call her by her name and dude … you missed it. Why? What is the problem with taking the three extra seconds to learn a person’s name? They were named for a reason and it means something. 

Take my name, for example.

It’s C. Marie Taylor (See. Muh-REE. TAY-lur). Not, Marie. Not, Maria. Not, Marty. All names I have been called. The C. is on purpose and means something. It is a part of me and a literal reminder for you to see me and my value. People leave off the C. all the time despite the fact that I introduce myself as C. Marie and my name tag, email signature, Twitter handle, LinkedIn account, etc., all say it.

The C stands for Charnay, which is what my family and close friends call me. My dad made up the name and I have two sisters whose names form an alliteration when you call our names in rapid succession. When I close my eyes and think about my childhood, I can still hear my mom yelling out our names when we were in trouble. It gives me a sense of familiarity and comfort, as she knew me and respected my name. 

So, fast-forward to adulthood and the professional world in the early ’90s. The name Charnay was, and is, not respected so I dropped it.

Just like that, I let 20-plus years of respect fall so I could get an executive job.

Regardless of an advanced degree, stable work history and a great resume, I couldn’t get an interview anywhere. As I complained to my male white friend, whom I had grown up with and who worked in HR, about my frustration, he said flatly, “Drop Charnay and use Marie.” He pointed out the numerous studies about name bias and after some internal wrestling and clearly a heavy dose of unconscious and conscious assimilation, I made the decision to use C. Marie. I thought by adding the “C” in front of Marie I was still acknowledging my parents and heritage. It’s just one more letter, right? In one quick move, I was now C. Marie and I landed an executive job almost instantly.

I was wrong. While I got the job, the disrespect manifested itself in another way, by the mispronunciation of my assimilation name. Apparently, adding the C. is just too much for folks. I still spend time correcting people who have known me for years. Why? Because of the lack of credence for Black women. 

It is part of the systematic racism I am fighting against in my life and work ― and it is exhausting, maddening and the reason why over the course of my lifetime I will lose close to $2 million in income. I have documented proof that I have received lower pay than my white counterparts who had less experience and education.

Over the last 25-plus years, while working in the nonprofit world, there have been countless moments where I have been personally insulted and felt unsupported, seconded-guessed and overlooked. Despite this, I remain committed. Which in all honesty, might be to my detriment.

I entered the nonprofit world by chance but stayed because there were not enough Black women in the room where decisions about them were being made. This is still true today.

Here’s what you should know: Discrimination is alive and well in the workplace and now is the time to face it and do something about it. You can start by learning your Black co-workers’ names and learning more about bias.

The idea of learning a person’s name may seem trivial to white America. But sit with this: Enslaved people were brought over to this country, used and renamed to have the name of their owner. 

Now try to unpack what I have done to try to assimilate to a culture that rejects almost every part of me, yet often wants to use me for my talents and skills.

There are moments when I regret the choice I made and feel like I betrayed who I am to get ahead. I am torn about the idea of trying to reintroduce myself as Charnay, as I know I still won’t get the respect my name deserves. The whole thought process makes me weary; it’s just another piece of being a Black woman in America. And by writing this piece, I am opening myself up to scrutiny, but the truth must be told and I am owning up to my decision. 

So for now ... it’s C. Marie Taylor (See. Muh-REE. TAY-lur).

But do me and all Black women a solid. Say our whole names. Learn how to pronounce them. Don’t give your comments on our names, because we didn’t ask for them. Just put some respect on it ― Black women deserve it. 

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