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Name Game

I’ve encountered some unusual candidate-search problems involving names that are easily confused or that have baggage. Here are a few. I’ve changed the actual names and/or genders to avoid invasions of privacy.)

One search committee had reviewed all of the candidates, narrowing the field to two finalists: “Sue Shirley” and “Shirley Shue.” When the candidates arrived for their interviews, Dr. Shirley insisted on being called “Sue,” and Dr. Shue insisted on being called “Shirley.” When the committee convened to process the hire, the deliberations were gummed up with confusion about who was being discussed. Once the decision was made, the committee chair mixed up the phone numbers of the candidates and phoned the wrong candidate to congratulate her, only to realize in the middle of the call that there had been a terrible mistake. The candidates were gracious, but for those who knew about the confusion, it was awkward, to say the least.

In another search, each of the three finalists were named “Chris”; two were men and one was a woman. One of the search-committee members suggested unsuccessfully that the committee assign pseudonyms to each of the candidates. In the end, they called them “Boy Chris One,” “Boy Chris Two,” and “Girl Chris,” which really didn’t help.

I once led a search for an English-department position in which the considerations were complicated because one of the applicants was named “Carl Sandberg.” (“Wouldn’t it be cool to have Carl Sandberg on our faculty?”)

Another search I heard about had a strong applicant whose name was similar to that of a recently deceased and highly respected colleague; the committee just couldn’t stand the thought of hearing the name on a new hire. Yet another search had a promising applicant whose name was the same as a notoriously corrupt local politician’s.

Has a candidate’s name ever come into play in your search deliberations?

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