Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What's in a Name?

A safe environment for students to share themselves, their cultures and languages is paramount. As discussed by Xiong, reading a book like The Name Jar is touching and relatable. Most students can connect to the story and other students in the elementary school classroom. One of my favorite books on the same topic as a young reader was Tiki Tiki Tembo (about a boy named Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo!).
Along the same lines, and to make this conversation relevant and suitable to high school students in my classes, I would read an excerpt from The Life of Pi. There is a great section in the book where Pi stands up for correct pronunciation and reveals the history behind his name. This novel would provide a similar approach to the conversation of language and culture inclusion, and would be more suitable for older students.

I would also share the history of my name with students. I would tell them about the early 1970s, before ultrasound was widely available. My name came from a surprise. My parents had a few names swimming in their minds, but nothing solid. They hoped for a boy. Maybe that’s why our names are unisex sounding. Not to mention, they rhyme. There was one heart beat. A baby girl greeted the world. They thought Heather or Heidi might be a good name for me. But exactly three minutes later—surprise—another girl was born. Quickly, they were forced to come up with two names for the twins. My mom had a friend named Dawn and always liked that name. Dawn and Shawn. Twins, of course, must have rhyming names, they thought in a quick postpartum decision that has steered the course of my life ever since. My name has always been and will forever be linked to my twin sister.

After my story, I’d ask the students to consider and write the story behind their names. I’d have the students partner or volunteer to share with the class. As Xiong said, it’s important to provide an “ethnically, culturally, religiously, and linguistically safe learning environment…to encourage children from the very first day of school to take pride in who they are and to embrace their differences. Every year, I begin building community… .”


Xiong, K. (2011). Good Stuff: What’s in a Name?, Rethinking Schools, 25(4).
From Saturday, August 25, 2012

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