A tale of two "Keishas"

Mar 29, 2013

To all the Keishas,  from one popular girls' name to another, I feel your pain (Kimberly is #20 in the top names over the last 100 years). 

We sometimes have to create names to protect the identity of kids under 18 in our reports. That's how we ended up with two "Keishas" in two different reports for State of Opportunity: Keisha Johnson and Keisha as a pseudonym.

Statistically, the odds are high that there would be multiple Kieshas in the State of Opportunity subject pool. According to Baby Center, the name Keisha was very popular in 1998. There are many young women named Keisha are in the 16-18 age range in 2013. 

pictures of girls named Keisha
Google Image has a rainbow of Keishas
Credit Google

We caught the double use of the name "Keisha," so we did some internal reflection, as well.

Are we frequently encountering a number of black girls and young moms named "Keisha?" If we're attaching pseudonyms to young white moms, does it have the same defining power if we call them, "Jessica," "Ashley," or "Megan?"

Not according to the research. In a study using white and black "sounding" names, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, "Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity."

As a result, "whitening" one's resum​é by doing things like using one's initials, or as New York University law professor, Kenji Yoshino, calls it "covering," becomes one way for minority applicants to try and get a foot in the door. This may be over-thinking the prevalence of the name "Keisha" in our reporting, but there are serious economic and class implications beyond, "it's just a name." 

"Keisha-gate" came to mind when I saw Sha'Condria "iCon" Sibley reciting her poem, "To All the Little Black Girls with Big Names." She dedicates it to Academy Award nominee and star of the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. During the run up to Oscar night, a number of film critics and talk show hosts had a go at pronouncing her name correctly. They really did try. Pronunciation guides in press rooms seem like progress compared to a time when an agent likely would've shortened her name to something like, "Zhané" for the sake of everyone, but Quvenzhané.

Still, we'll be more careful with our future reports and assigning pseudonyms. After all, as iCon notes in her poem, in a country where people hear a name and think they know something about your race or or social status, names matter.