Is your misspelt name a career killer?

An unusual name can help you stand out in a good way, say those who have one.
An unusual name can help you stand out in a good way, say those who have one. Photo: iStock

Are you a Jaxon, a Rylee, a Danyle or a Jorja? Or, as a parent, have you christened a Klowee, Zaq, Jesyka, Kayleb,  or even an Epponnee-Rae, in tribute to the double-barrelled bub of Kath and Kim fame?

'Creatively' spelt names have become all the rage in recent decades. Parents in favour see them as a celebration of uniqueness that will enable their children to stand out from the crowd.

 
  

But what's the story when the schoolroom is swapped for the workplace? Is an unconventionally-spelt moniker a help or a hindrance when climbing the corporate ladder?

The former, says Mellissah Smith, the founder of Sydney and Atlanta-based consultancy Marketing Eye, who scored her name by accident, courtesy of her immigrant father.

"Mum and dad couldn't spell," Smith says.

Bound for a life of spelling her name would be Epponnee-Rae, the fictional daughter of <i>Kath & Kim's</i> Brett and Kim.
Bound for a life of spelling her name would be Epponnee-Rae, the fictional daughter of Kath & Kim's Brett and Kim. 

"My father hardly spoke English – he's Croatian – and he filled in the birth certificate."

Breaking the Karen curse

Smith says her additional consonants distinguished her from the 1970s sea of Michelles, Nicoles and Karens in younger years, and have made her more memorable to colleagues and clients.

"Earlier in my career I just accepted that people spelt my name wrong, but what was interesting is people remembered it," she says.

"In marketing they say, 'if everyone is walking one way, walk the other' and having a name that is different does that from a personal brand perspective and gives you an ability to stand out from the crowd.

"Overall, it has been an asset. It may derive from the fact that it is a common name with a twist. Being able to stand out and have your name be memorable adds value in a business environment.

"It hasn't been a negative in my career."

Elvis with a twist

Nor mine, says banking executive and founder of the IT start-up PopUpGigs, Tolsa Harrison, who owes his unusual handle to the 1960 movie GI Blues. Its hero, Tulsa McLean, was played by Elvis Presley.

"Mum was watching it when she was six months pregnant," Harrison says.

"It could have been worse – she could have called me Elvis."

In the world of work, he says his name is an asset and a conversation starter which he makes the most of.

"I see it as a plus – when people hear it, people remember it," Harrison says.

"I'm very strong on personal image and branding. If you say your name is Tolsa Harrison, people know exactly who you're talking about because there's only one of [me].

"A lot of clients ask 'where does that name come from?' It's a good ice breaker to get people talking and get them comfortable and have a laugh."

A right royal leg-up

A German study published in Psychological Science last year suggests that surnames can influence their owners' likelihood of rising to the top.

Those with noble-sounding last names such as Kaiser (emperor), Konig (king) and Furst (prince) were more likely to work as managers than the humble Kochs (Cook) and Bauers (farmer).

Rather less is known about the effects a first name can have on one's progression through the ranks.

The executive general manager of the Clarius recruitment group, Paul Barbaro, believes the days when a sense of prestige was attached to traditional and regal names, such as Charles, Edward and George, are well and truly over.

"I think people today are much less judgmental – they're accustomed to hearing a variety of names on television shows and in the movies," Barbaro says.

"Having an unusual name is now becoming the norm, particularly for millennials and Gen Ys as they work their way into careers. In some sectors, particularly the creative, IT and start-up industries, it's a great talking point to be a little different, have an unusual background or a global name."

Language expert Professor Roly Sussex says it's an unexplored topic for researchers, but notes the preponderance of regular Toms, Dicks and Harrys who populate the upper echelons of the workforce.

"I can think of few in public life who have an unusual name," Sussex says, and those with impenetrable foreign monikers tend to anglicise them, to make them familiar to the masses.

Can you spell that for me?

And while Alycesaundras, Breeyanahs and Jarrahsons may not necessarily find their atypical spellings bar them from the boardroom, they're likely to face the ongoing irritation of having to explain, correct and spell out loud.

"Names are a matter of great uncertainty – people can feel you're getting at them if you don't pronounce it properly," Sussex says.

"There's value in having a name that can be recognised and pronounced – it prevents social blunders.

"It's nice that parents feel their kids are so special that they need to give them a unique name that captures that, but it may make a problem as they go through life."

Got a name that's a bit creative? Has it helped or hindered your passage in the corporate world?

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