Our names follow us all our lives; they are a part of each one of us. Everyone has a name. But the many forms that names take can make learning them feel difficult. There are short names, long names, common names, unique names, hyphenated names, names with BiCapitalization, names with punctuation marks, and more.
Learning how to correctly pronounce a name—especially the name of a student in a new classroom—is important for establishing a learning space that feels encouraging, equitable, and safe. And since who we are and what we are called can be so deeply intertwined, a person’s name often holds a lot of power and can be a true projection of the individual.
Due to the countless variety of monikers in the world, it’s impossible to always know the correct way to pronounce a person’s name. This is compounded for teachers at the beginning of the school year when they are trying to build community and foster inclusion, all while learning a whole classroom (or more) worth of names in a very short amount of time.
New names don’t need to be daunting, though! There are simple and effective tools that educators can use that will make the process of meeting new students easier on teachers and kids alike. Education Week’s recent article “6 Teacher-Tested Tips for Getting Students’ Names Right” listed ideas that can help you ace everyone’s name, including:
- Review class rosters before the first day of school
- Practice pronunciations
- Let students say their names first
- Encourage students to correct your mispronunciations
When a teacher models respect for everyone’s name, it demonstrates that each individual in the classroom matters. This extends to students who prefer to be called something different than what’s listed on the roster, from young people who go by a nickname to those who have chosen a gender-affirming name. The American Medical Association boldly underscores the need to honor the names children call themselves with their article “For transgender kids, gender-affirming names can be lifesaving.”
All of this name work from the educator-side of things can help your students too, encouraging them to act with more empathy and to make an effort to learn names correctly. Guide your classroom toward a deeper understanding of the value and importance of names with these two Facing History activities: What’s in a Name? and Pronouncing Names.
What’s In a Name? will allow your students to explore the relationship between names, identities, and the societies in which we live.
Pronouncing Names provides insights into the significance of pronouncing names correctly by examining the negative emotions that can arise for a person when a name is repeatedly said incorrectly or shortened without permission.
As you consider how you’ll approach learning names in the future, keep in mind that some kids won’t necessarily feel comfortable correcting you if you’re wrong, some might have names that take effort to get used to saying, and some might have a name that you think you absolutely know how to say, but turns out you don’t. These resources are a great step toward building a classroom where educators and students alike feel comfortable, seen, and free to express themselves.