Each year, usually in the back-to-school season, I see a trend on social media. I’ve heard it in conversations in the teacher’s lounge and even in the Dollar Spot aisles at Target. I’d wager a guess that you’ve heard it too at some point.
I’ve written about it before (The Top 3 Reasons Name Shaming Harms Students) and spoken about it on my social media accounts (such as this video). I’m not satisfied, though, with just talking about it… I want to DO something about it. I decided that this back-to-school season is a perfect time to launch a simple, yet important challenge that absolutely anyone – in anyone school! – can do.
Meet the My Name Matters challenge.
Our challenge goal? To end name-shaming in any of our spaces – whether it’s in our schools, homes, or on social media.
The challenge has two steps:
- Honor your students’ names by learning to pronounce and spell them correctly.
- Take steps to eliminate name shaming in your own communities by speaking out.
I, of course, want to provide you with tools to be successful in this challenge! I have some suggestions and thoughts about how to work through each of the two steps below.
Honor your students’ names.
It is so important that we honor our students’ names by pronouncing and spelling them correctly. There is an article published by NEAToday that discusses the lasting impact of mispronouncing students’ names, as well as this must-read from Cult of Pedagogy.
It’s important… we want to do it… but how?
You’ll want to begin by getting your class lists and identifying any names that you’re not certain of pronunciation. This may be names that have multiple pronunciations, or names that you are not at all familiar with. Next you can:
- Make contact with the students’ family, introducing yourself, welcoming them to the classroom community, and inquiring as to how they pronounce the student’s name at home. You may want to explain that the purpose of your phone call is to make sure your student feels welcome and valued by you pronouncing their name correctly.
- If you’re not comfortable with asking a students’ family how to pronounce their name ahead of time, be sure and ask the student how to pronounce their name upon meeting them. Be sure and repeat the name back, checking it against their own pronunciation – you may not get it right the first time, but you will get it right with practice!
- Contact previous teachers and ask how they pronounced the students’ name and compare notes – this is a good stop-gap measure if you’re unable to contact the family and want to try to pronounce the students’ name correctly prior to meeting them. Err on the side of caution, though, as your colleagues may not necessarily be pronouncing it correctly themselves!
Remember: keep at it until you get it right, and if you make a mistake – apologize! Make sure your students know that it is important to you to honor their names and that you’ll keep at it until you do.
Don’t be a bystander.
The saying goes: when we know better, we do better. We know name shaming is wrong, so we’re going to stop doing it ourselves. But… can’t we strive for more? I think we can, and I want to end name shaming TOGETHER.
So don’t be a bystander! If you hear or read someone that’s participating in name shaming, say something.
Confrontation and disagreement can be difficult and certainly uncomfortable, but we can’t accomplish our goal of ending name shaming without doing the difficult work. Here are some suggestions for conversation starters/responses when you encounter name shaming:
- “I know ________ may not be a name you’re familiar with or would name your own child, but I bet ________’s family really like that name. I know I would feel hurt if someone criticized my name or my child’s.”
- “I don’t think it’s right to judge ________’s name. Names are personal…. ________’s name means something to him/her and their family. When we make fun of it, we make fun of them. That’s not something we should do.”
- “It might be difficult to pronounce ________’s name, but I can’t imagine what it must feel like to constantly be called by a nickname you didn’t choose or have your name mispronounced. Have you thought about writing down the phonetic spelling and practicing it?”
It begins with us.
Name shaming is one of many issue facing our students today. Ending it begins with you (and I!) deciding not to accept it in our spaces. It’s one small, necessary step we can all take to dismantle inequities facing our most vulnerable student populations; each step we take propels us forward with increasing momentum.
This. I love this SO much!!!! Thank you for this post and for issuing this challenge. On the first day of class, I stand at the door, roster in hand, and as each student walks in, I ask them to say their name for me – not to check the rosters, per se, but to hear them say their own name and how they pronounce it. I make notes on my papers of how to properly say their names and if I’m not sure, I ask them “Would you say your name for me one more time?” It’s about respect – respecting our kids, their heritage, their families, and their individuality. <3
As a student who experienced this in my k-12 experience amd now as am educator, I love this. I plan to apply it in my secondary classroom.
Children come to us with just their names. We need to honor them.
I have done this for many years, especially since most of my families come from different cultures. Then, early in the year, they do a short writing project where they ask their parents how they chose their name. So often the kids don’t realize their name has a special story. The pride in their faces as they share their name stories is priceless.
A name holds power: power to mold self-esteem, power to build identity, and power to determine how you are treated by others. Why do we not correct people when they mispronounce our name, especially in the classroom? Your name has power.
My name is Cristela, which according to one of my professors means star of Christ. I doubt that’s why my dad named me Cristela, though. Whenever my parents were mad at each other, my mom would punish me. It wasn’t until my dad was dying that he apologized for giving me my name. My dad named me after an ex-girlfriend. I thought my mother hated me, not my name. I told my dad there was nothing to forgive. It wasn’t until this day that I understood the power in my name.
My mother denies the history of my name, but my father said the story is true. My dad loved the name Cristela because his ex-girlfriend was beautiful inside and out. She stood her ground respectfully when confronted by adversity and she always helped those around her. Unknowingly, I am somewhat like her. My name has been mispronounced too many times. One year a principal called me Crystal the entire school year because she couldn’t remember how to say my name. I learned that when we lose our name, we lose our voice. Standing proud, I respect my name and why it was given to me.
I am taking the challenge to honor my students by pronouncing their names correctly and to put a stop to name-shaming in my classroom and on our campus.
I will empower them to kindly correct anyone that mispronounces their name because their name has power.
Every student deserves to feel valued and honored when they walk into our classrooms and it starts with pronouncing their names correctly. Will you take the challenge?
Lindsy Gatewood says
I really like this idea of getting to know each student’s name and how to pronounce and spell it. I agree with you on how the student will fell more welcomed and valued when the teacher shows that they actually care and want to learn how to say their name. When I become a teacher I will definitely remember this and use it in my classroom.
Before reading this post I had never thought about how important it would be to pronounce student’s names correctly. I had never even heard of name-shaming. It is important that students know they are respected. Thanks for the helpful suggestions.
I really enjoyed this. As a future teacher I will be sure to keep this in mind when I have a classroom. I want to make sure that I respect all of my students and will remember to make sure they know that I am working on learning how to pronounce their name if I am struggling at the beginning of the year.
Ms Z says
This is such an important thing to get student names right! I’m the school librarian so I have to learn 500 names, and I try really really hard to get everyone’s name memorized and pronounced correctly.
There’s a really wonderful book called “my name is sangoel” which is about a boy from Sudan who comes to the United States and no one can pronounce his name correctly until he comes up with a clever way to teach everyone. It’s such a very powerful story about how he feels like he’s losing everything about his old life as he tries to assimilate into American culture and he doesn’t want to lose his name.
RACHEL DIXON says
Challenge accepted! And thank you for doing such a thorough job highlighting the reasons to pronounce all of our students’names correctly. Unfortunately, as a middle school ESL teacher, I find that many of my students say they prefer to be called an Anglicized version of their names (say, George instead of Jorge). Sometimes they change their mind when I persist in calling them by their correct name (I do speak Spanish so am confident I can pronounce these names), but some continue to seem ashamed and annoyed by their given name. Sad. It is hard to know what to do in that situation.
Mrs. M says
Our school is blessed with a community of many different cultures. There are often 10-15 names on my class list that are new to me. At open house I ask the parents how they pronounce their child’s name. I write the name phonetically on my class list, so I can practice it before the first day of school. 😊