Names: The Start to Our Stories

in , by Stephanie, February 15, 2018

I have the honor of working with local school districts as a teacher educator in our literacy practicum courses. Each week, my graduate students and I meet at a local public school to read and write with Kindergartners and first graders. I am always amazed at how willing the students are to learn with us, even after a long day at school, and am incredibly appreciative of their parents for making the time for the program in their busy lives. As I prepared for our first session, I received a list of wonderfully unique names of students we were about to meet. As I read through the names, I realized that I was not sure how to correctly pronounce many of them. And that worried me. I know that our names give us our place in the world and help us leave our mark on it. I had to get the names right. As the students arrived, I introduced myself and asked them for their name, waiting for the pronunciation. They shyly pronounced their names and I happily repeated it, taking good notes for later.

As I read through the list of names at home that night, practicing my pronunciation of them, my own children asked why. To them, it seemed silly to recite a list of names. As I sat there ready to respond, I remembered the first time I realized the power that our names carry. Years ago, as a doctoral student, I learned that a classmate had changed her name when she arrived in America to a more ‘American’ name. We talked about why she chose her new name and how hard it was for her to leave her actual name behind. It was a powerful conversation and showed me how our names are so carefully tied to our identities. Our parents chose these unique names especially for us. Perhaps the name is a connection to another family member. Perhaps the name is a treasured mentor or close friend they believed in. Perhaps the name was chosen after months of sifting through possibilities until the right one was found. Regardless how, our names matter and I cared enough to get it right to make my students feel welcome and valued.

Our program celebrates reading and writing, but is also celebrates students: their strengths, their personalities, their families and their future and we always begin with their name. We write our names, create heart maps around our names, proudly display our names on our drawing and writing and use our name to own our materials and our work. Our name means something. It is the start to our story.

The My Name, My Identity project works to honor our stories, starting with our name and begins with a pledge to use and respect names:

I, [NAME], do hereby affirm my commitment to the My Name, My Identity Campaign by pledging to:
  • Show respect to others’ names and identities in schools by pronouncing students’ names correctly
  • Be a model for students by sharing information and resources about showing respect to others’ names and identities
  • Spread the word about the importance of respecting others’ names and identities
  • Share my name story on social media
  • Be proud of who I am and celebrate our differences

The campaign provides resources to investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas and take action. I urge you to visit the site and take the pledge to honor students’ stories, staring with their name. Join me!

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  1. I am terrible with names. When I taught in a setting in which I saw every child in the school, I messed up constantly and had to ask forgiveness. It is important to get the name right, and I would have practiced like you. When I taught third grade, we did a name research project. It was one of my favorite ways to begin the school year. Thanks for the reminder to respect names. I need a good method for remembering.

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  2. Hi Stephanie! Thanks for introducing me to the My Name, My Identity Project. Your program sounds awesome. Have you read Thunderman Jr? It might be a good text for your students to read to the younger children and have a discussion about names. I read it to my third graders and they wrote in their family dialogue journals about their feelings about their names. One boy told his family he wished he had a different name, which led to them talking with him about why. Other families shared how they selected the names they did. It was really awesome to read.

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  3. What a great resource, My Name, My Identity! Names are unique to the individuals and deserve the respect of correct pronunciation. Such a little thing, but you are right, so important!

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  4. I so appreciate this and your effort to learn and say the names correctly! As a child, I was embarrassed by my name (I was named after my Czechoslovakian great-grandmother) and would frequently hear it mispronounced. My middle name wasn't much better. But I have truly grown to love and appreciate my name and understand how unique it is and that it has been passed down to me. What a great honor and much to live up to. Thank you for this and thank you for sharing! I can't wait to read more about it!

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