What’s Your Name?

There is a naming website, nameberry.com, established by author Pam Satran, which gets tens of thousands of visits every year.  Names are fascinating, and naming things is an important undertaking.  I remember after September 11th, nobody knew what to call either the kind of attack or the day itself, and we still don’t have very handy names, other than 9/11 — it was a day and attack unto itself — let’s all hope so.

We have nicknames (mine were Annie, Annie Pie, and Anna Banana), change our names when we marry (sometimes), and some people have dynastic names, like The Dutchess of York, or are known by our professions (the lead singer of such-and-such band).

People use names to indicate their lineage, their preferences, and their feelings. My son changed his last name from his father’s to mine, saying, “You’re my real family, mom.”  My daughter changed her given name to reflect her attachment to a certain religion, which has as method for determining peoples’ spiritual names. Chinese speakers usually find an English name, as the Chinese naming system is so different from the English system, with the family name coming first, and the name itself usually difficult to remember — the names of students in one of my classes are Xuntian, Xin, Yuxuan, Bohan, Nuo, and Yinan. By the time I had mastered their Chinese names, their English names had already been established.

Naming teams, businesses, books, and activist groups is also challenging.

We use names so constantly and casually that we often forget how important they are.

Exercise: Have your classes look deeper into their own names. Where does their given name come from? What are their nicknames, and who uses which one? The basketball team may have a different nickname than the family.

Exercise: Every time your class does an activity in a large-ish group, have the group devise a name. I promise you will be amused, and so will they.  If appropriate, and if it doesn’t take away from the fun of the activity, ask if they feel differently now that they have a name.  They may bond personally or identify more closely with the result of their actions/deliberations, or become more competitive.

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