I’ve had this post in my drafts for years, and I’ve vacillated about the merits of posting it. Interest in topics like diversity in editing and publishing seems to be growing, though, so I figured I’d throw this one out there, if for no other reason than to get it out of my drafts folder. Maybe it will spur some interesting discussion.
“I’m changin’ my name to George,” fellow editor Grace Yaginuma emailed me in 2012, when we were both relatively new to freelancing after leaving our respective in-house jobs. She linked to a blog post about how much more easily a freelance copywriter landed work when she went by “James Chartrand.”
“You know,” I wrote back, “I’ve never considered my gender to be a problem in our line of work—there are just so many women doing what we do—but I do often wonder if the ‘Cheung’ and ‘Yaginuma’ lead to assumptions that we don’t speak English.”
When I started my business, I hadn’t yet built up an archive of blog posts that (I hope, anyway) give me professional credibility. I had a strong network within Canadian book publishing, but, outside of that industry—which is brilliant and fulfilling but notoriously low paying—all anyone had to go on when I looked for work was my name. What kind of first impression does it give?
Study after study has shown that job applicants with “foreign-sounding” names have a harder time landing interviews. Is the problem compounded when the job demands expertise in language?
It’d be wonderful if people took the time to look into their editors’ qualifications before deciding whom to hire, but we know that doesn’t always happen. I’ve undoubtedly missed out on the odd contract because a prospective client saw my Chinese name and moved on to other editors, but I tend to take a sour-grapes approach to these cases, convincing myself that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to work with them anyway. I think this attitude, delusional or not, has served me relatively well.
To be perfectly clear: I have never once felt overtly discriminated against as an editor because of my name or ethnicity, and I’m lucky to be one of a group of bright, industrious, and conscientious colleagues who don’t hesitate to recommend one another for work. That said, I wonder sometimes if I would have tried as hard to find ways to show that I know what I’m talking about if I hadn’t felt that my name gave me a bit of a disadvantage.
I’m likely better off for it, but the initial impostor syndrome, some of it definitely name induced, was something I had to work through. When I started freelancing, I was acutely aware that anything I wrote—whether an email or an invoice or a blog post or a tweet—was a work sample, and I attacked these writing tasks with probably unnecessary fastidiousness. Only in the past couple of years, knowing that the people who matter to me will take me and my work seriously, have I let myself relax somewhat and embrace nonstandard constructions more playfully in my own writing.
Has your name affected your work? I’d be keen to hear others’ stories.