Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Books About Names

Let's face it--names are a big deal! Parents spend hours with baby name books trying to choose just the right name. It's part of our identity, who we are.

My first name is Joelle. My mother had a friend growing up with that name and she really liked it. It's a unique name-I've only ever met one other Joelle in real life. When my father (a notoriously spelling-challenged person) wrote the name down on the paperwork for my birth certificate, he spelled it Joel. So of course, my whole life I dreaded the first day of school because every teacher reading their roster would pronounce it Joel (as in a boy's name) instead of Jo-elle. I would be listed in the boy's gym class, etc.So in high school I started spelling it Joelle on everything-I even filled out my driver's license paperwork spelling it that way and no one ever caught it. My school thought the transcripts should match the college applications so we opted to get it legally changed my senior year of high school. I very nervously stood before a judge as he proceeded to ask me a list of questions including are you changing your name to escape from the law. Now people rarely mispronounce my name.

Sometimes my students will innocently laugh at someone's name. We had an administrator-a big, tall, strong man named Mr. Flowers. My students thought that was funny but I explicitly explain to them that we don't choose our names. And I really think they take that lesson to heart.

I think it's very important that we call anyone, but for us teachers particularly our students what they want us to call them. I will specifically ask them-even the little ones. For example I had a student whose name was "Isabella-Grace"-her friends called her Bella-I will ask her directly-what would you like me to call you? One of my first assignments for my students is to ask how their parents decided on their names.

In that vein, I thought I'd make a list of books that we could use to start our year-books that emphasize the importance of valuing people's names.

Maple grows up with her namesake tree. It talks about how her parents thought of the name and then they have to come up with a name for her little sister. 

My students LOVE the patterns in this book. It speaks of the ancient Chinese tradition of naming elder children with looonngggg names. That becomes troublesome when the other sibling has to say the name to report their brother is in trouble. This is read-aloud on Discovery Education if you have access to that site.

A little long for the younger ones, but I certainly have students that can relate. The protagonist doesn't think her name sounds "American" enough. So her classmates suggest new names for her. In the end she learns the importance of keeping family traditions like names alive.

Not exactly about names-but Isabella has dreams to be many different people from day to day. Her heroes like Sally Ride. A cute story-they even have a boy version with Alexander.

Another book about names being part of your traditions. Yoon has to learn how to write her name using English characters instead of Korean and she has a hard time with that. Is it still her name?

Classic-I know! But no list about names would be complete without Miss Chrysanthemum-who like I think many students, loved her name until she went to school.

Neville isn't exactly about names-but he uses his name in a very, very unique way--to make friends. My students love this book because I have yet to have one class that has figured out the twist of an ending-it's the M. Night Shyamalan of books.

I love getting my roster and looking at all the names of my students. There are many names I have year after year and many students who I can honestly say "I've never taught anyone with that name before". My students love when I find songs with their names in it-my student Cecilia had me singing the James Taylor song, Daisy-a Bicycle Built for Two. They are amazed when they hear someone else has the same name--they have a Carlos in their class too Miss Trayers!!! Our names will always be part of who we are.


  1. Oh yes, their names are so important. They love hearing their names pop up in books I read too. They feel so famous. I also am a stickler for saying their names correctly. I've taught more than one kiddo whose kindergarten teacher mispronounced their name which means all their friends did too. I make sure to fix those bad habits.

  2. Oh I LOVE when I find a book with one of the kiddos' names from class in it! I didn't even think about it until you said it, but I know one year I had 2 students by the same name so I just started calling them by their last names-then of course, all the other kids would call them that. I felt very guilty!