Why I changed my name
People thought I was running from my identity, wanted to be someone new, entering college, etc…
None of that was true. By the time I was 18 years old I was painfully aware that opportunities for me would be different because I was a woman.
My paternal grandmother who remained in Germany pronounced my name differently. “Carrre-sten”. I loved they way she pronounced my name, but americans couldn’t roll their “r’s”… so after about a year of trying to teach my friends and colleagues I settled on Kasten.
It ended up being a great decision. For one, I loved having a unique name, everyone remembered it. But second and more importantly, when people heard or saw the name, they didn’t know if it was a man or a woman. (One time I even heard someone say, “What is a Kasten?”, to which I answered, it’s a name… it’s my name).
With a non gender specific name, there were no preconceived when they took my calls, read my emails, my letters, etc…
I didn’t want someone to work with me or not work with me because of my gender. I always wanted it to be because of my experience, knowledge and capabilities.
In 2007 an attorney friend of mine invited me to be part of a group of American business people that would go to Kosovo to teach western style business practices for 6-8 weeks. It sounded like an incredible opportunity that would be very rewarding and the pay was excellent. I put together my C.V. and sent it off to the evaluation committee. Within days I got a letter stating that had been accepted and that they were very excited about my experience not only in business, but that I had experience in front of a classroom and that I spoke several languages.
A week later I got a phone call that I in fact, would not be accepted because I was a female. It read, “We are terribly sorry, we didn’t realize you were a woman” (ah -yeah, cuz my name didn’t give it away).
The reason that they couldn’t have women teaching was 2 fold. The biggest reason was because Kosovo was mostly Muslim and the men would not attend a class taught by a woman. Yes, it is pretty f* -ed up, but that is how their culture is.
The second reason was that it would be quite dangerous for me to be there as a woman and that they did not have enough security detail to be able to ensure my safety.
I was disappointed, but not really that mad. They had judged me by my credentials, not my gender and that was what was important. The fact that the muslim culture thinks of women as second class citizens was sad, but I also know that we cannot exact change by forcing it down their throat.
My name makes people stop and think about why they are making a decision… for instance, if my name on a list and someone is making seating arrangements, they have to stop and think “I don’t know if this is a man or a woman… where would I seat them”.
It is sad that we still live in a world where gender plays such a big role, especially in the workplace and usually negatively for women… perhaps by me changing my name it will get people to realize the prejudgements they are making.