Indian migrant Faiaaz Contractor, 42, went from being a petrol pump attendant to financial business development manager - and he believes it is all because he changed his name to Frank.

An AUT University study by Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio found migrants are changing names to sound more Kiwi to increase their chances of finding employment.

It received mixed responses from employers about whether they would employ people with foreign-sounding names.

But it found migrants are changing names to sound more Kiwi to increase their chances at finding employment - and many are often happy to do this.


Pio's report "Name changers as game changers" found name changing served as a "vehicle for changing the rules" in business and society, and facilitated life choices on how these people wanted to live their lives.

"Individuals change their name when they immigrate as it gives them an opportunity to fashion a new persona for themselves, their families and their employment and business prospects," Pio said.

"It may be that name changing is an attempt to avoid a unidimensional lens on immigrants and to nudge employers and organisations to reconfigure inclusive practices for and at work."

The study involved face-to-face interviews with 20 participants, consisting of employees and employers, and conversations with 70 across New Zealand.

The research asked: "How do names of individuals influence access to work in organisations."

"Three interwoven themes recur, first name changing facilitates escaping and avoiding ethic or religious persecution," Pio said.

"Secondly, it signals cultural integration to employers and organisations ... and the third highlights how name changers may adopt a fluid style to interact with their receiving country's organisational and managerial practices and to navigate complex community tensions based on their 'new' name."

One respondent, an employer, said: "Actually a name which smacks of Islam connotes terrorism ... unfortunately ... but that's the way the cookie crumbles."

Faiaaz Contractor changed his name to Frank to gain job interviews. Photo / Doug Sherring
Faiaaz Contractor changed his name to Frank to gain job interviews. Photo / Doug Sherring

Another felt it was best to have two names, English and ethnic, and to leave it to colleagues to decide which one to use.

A Muslim immigrant participant said he had stopped using his Islamic name Muhammad.

"It is best not to use the name Muhammad as that seems to create fear and unfortunately rejection for employment," the respondent said.

"I have stopped putting the M name in any correspondence, instead I use my second name."

One said it was a "small ask" compared to the benefits New Zealand offered and another said it signalled integration and made it easier to get work.

Faiaaz, who moved to New Zealand from Gujarat in 2003, came from a finance background but managed to get work only as a petrol pump attendant when he first arrived.

"One of my friends suggested changing my name and I decided on using Frank instead on my CVs," he said.

"Whether it's coincidence or not I started getting a better response, and eventually got back into the finance industry."

Faiaaz yesterday started his first day of work as ANZ's business development manager.

He said migrants couldn't expect things to "fall into our laps" when moving to a new country, and had to "make things happen".

"If it means making a few changes, like changing your name, than I guess it is something you've got to do," he said.

Hollywood director Taika Waititi had called New Zealand "racist as f***" in an interview, and described Aucklanders as "very patronising".

But Carol Brown, chief executive of diversity consultancy Diversitas, said the reluctance of employers to hire people with foreign names was a result of an affinity bias.

"I don't find New Zealand to be particularly racist, but I do find there is an unconscious bias among many employers," Brown said.

"They'd hire people with names that are more familiar because they feel they can understand that person better...often it's very arbitrary, and even not being to pronounce someone's name means they'll be rejected."

Brown said people who Anglicize their names often get through that first hurdle of finding employment.

"I don't recommend this, but when I speak to migrants I do call out what happens when they put an application in," she said.

"We are all affected by our own affinity bias, and this happens in whichever country you go to and you are the minority."