Discovering Our Identities through Names

Something we all share is the fact that we have a name. Yet each of our names are different and unique. Some of our names derive from our loved ones or hold a special meaning in our cultures. During a workshop with teachers, one participant shared how she was named after her grandmother. To distinguish between their names, they went by Big Jaime and Little Jaime. She teared up as she described how their names have since reversed as her grandmother now has dementia. The roles have reversed and Little Jaime has now become Big Jaime, her grandmother’s caretaker. Others of us are named after special places or even a favorite singer or actor. When sharing about our names in class, one student giggled as she told our class her mom named her after her favorite soap opera star.

Some of us like our names. Others do not. Yet, this likely changes with time and the shifting nature of our identities and understanding as we navigate through the world. Nigerian American actor, Uzo Aduba, from the Orange is the New Black series on Netflix, never liked her name because people had difficulty pronouncing it correctly. When she asked her mom if she could change it, her mom replied that if people could pronounce Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo, they could learn to say Uzoamaka. She now realizes how important her name is and what it represents.

It is important that we honor students’ names and learn to pronounce them correctly. To learn more about ways to learn about each other’s stories, visit My Name, My Identity and take a pledge to pronounce students’ names correctly.

Then read some of the following books with your students and invite them to share the story of their own name!

We recommend that you first model by writing and sharing about your own name. Here are some guiding questions to get you started:

  • Who selected your name? 
  • How was your name chosen?
  • Are you named for someone? Some place? Something? 
  • Does your name have a significant meaning? 
  • How do you feel about your name?  
  • Have you ever considered changing your name? Why? Why not? What would it be?

To read more about discovering identities, download a free chapter from our book, Reading to Make a Difference!

reading to make a difference