Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's In A Name?

I have a thing about names.  I like them to be pronounced correctly, whether someone is saying my name or I'm saying someone else's.  I really believe your name has a lot to do with who you are and when people ignore your personal pronunciation of your name or call you by the wrong name, I think that does a lot to the psyche.

Names always conjure up images.  If you've ever heard a name before, you always have a person in mind with that name and it can make you really happy or destroy you.  I don't know how teachers or coaches can name their kids because there are few names out there we don't associate with someone!

My name is JoAnna but I HATE to be called Joanne or Johanna.  Both bring up images of people with those names who I would not want to be associated with and I get very annoyed.  When I was little, I would just suck it up, but now if someone says the wrong names, I so automatically say "JoAnna", I don't even realize I've done it.  And people are nice about saying "Oh, sorry, JoAnna..... But anyway, Joanne..."  It really never goes away.

When I was younger, I thought exotic, cleverly spelled names were the way to go.  If I had kids, I was going to give them the craziest spellings of their names so they would always be unique.  I might even make up names, I used to think.

Then I started teaching.  In my time, I've had thousands of names come through my gradebooks. 
I used to think I should get a phD in nameology and if that didn't exist, I was going to make it exist.  During the course of my study, I would do a lot of research on criminals, outcasts and social weirdos and their names.  I think strange names lead a child to feel strange and then do strange things, often committing crimes.

I have no scientific research to back me up, but very often in my 20 years of teaching, I have found that students with most unusual names are the students who are most often in trouble, sad or seemingly outcast.

However, there have been plenty of average Joes and Janes who fall into the same category, so basically I'm talking right out of my butt.

Over the years, I have taught every imaginable version of Katelyn and Katherine.

I've taught students with names of flowers, seasons and months.

I've taught students whose names are cities, countries and states.

I've had "normal" names with "abnormal" pronunciations like Tara or Cara who insisted on being called Tahra or Cahra, like tar or car as the first syllable.  Where we live, you say the a like you do in cat.  You know, the way most normal people pronounce Cara, Tara, Sara, etc.

I'm kidding on the normal thing.

I've taught Jesus, Mohammed and Moses.

I've taught girls whose first names are their parents' names blended together.

I've looked at my class lists and thought maybe a 3 year old gave out names that year.

I've looked at class lists and thought the scrabble bag fell on the floor of the nursery and parents just grabbed the first 7 tiles to name their babies.

I've had foreign names so difficult to pronounce that kids have just said "John is fine".  To which I said "No, I WILL say it correctly because that's your name, just help me!"

Because in my theory about  names, I believe that when a child gives up on adults that young and lets them call them whatever feels closest to their complex name, they have given up relying on adults for guidance in their lives.  I think kids think if we can't say something as seemingly simple as their name, how can we be an expert on anything?

I'm sure I've had that thought when I've corrected someone and they still call me by the wrong name.  How hard can it BE!

Here's what happens with common names spelled uniquely:  they get butchered to every extent of the law.  Those of us who try to remember usually have to make some elaborate mnemonic device in the brain to make sure we spell it correctly or we come up with some approximation that isn't quite right.  And kids get upset.  I don't blame them.

I can't believe I've had enough Savannah/Savannas that now i have to say "with an H or no H?".  Or a class with two Aidans, where one spells it Aidan and one spells it Aiden.  I like that one, actually, because when I write it, we know which is which right away.

And do you know what happens with hyphenated last names?  Gradebook programs don't love this, so when they print attendance lists, if the last names happen to be long, we get 3 letters of the first name.  If the name is Smith-Brown, John it's not such a big deal, but when it's Fitzpatrick-Sullivan, Nathaniel, well, we usually end up with Fitzpatrick-Sullivan, Na and then we don't know where to go from there.  Nathan?  Nathaniel?  Nathalie?  Narwhal?  (Oh, it's only a matter of time before Narwhal walks through my door.)

Ever called roll the first time you've seen a class and held your breath with every other name because you don't want to destroy their names but you also don't even know if you're seeing the whole thing?

Or, even worse, you don't know if it's a boy or girl?  I've taught girl Ryans, Taylors, Corys and new for me this year, a girl Aidan.  I always make sure to put girl next to their name for my sub plans so that the sub will know.  Because that has to be yet another identity crisis in the making.

Don't get me wrong, I have often thought some of the names I've seen are really clever.  I love the blended parent names, for example.

And all of those old names like Hazel and Edith are coming back and surprisingly, the cute kids who wear those names wear it well and don't look like the 90 year old ladies my brain conjures up.

So, after all this rambling about names, where are we going?  I have never ever, not one time, ever seen a name and thought "Well, that's ridiculous".  I've heard plenty of colleagues grumble about names or roll their eyes, but I usually think it's fine.  Whatever.  As long as I can pronounce it and remember if you're a boy or girl, I'm good with it.

And then yesterday, I heard a name that just pushed me past my limit.  A girl told me her younger sister's  name is Pebbles.  And my first thought was "WHAT???  That's just RIDICULOUS" and that thought was immediately followed by "Do you have a brother named BamBam?"  And somehow, I kept my mouth shut.  All I said was "Did you say her name is Pebbles?"  and she said "Yes" like that was not at all an unusual name.

After all, Wilma, Fred, Betty, none of those are weird.  And I know someone named Dino.

And then I thought of all those Barneys out there.  All of whom were born before that purple dinosaur Loved You and Me, all of whom conjured up images of the stone age.  And I wondered if in 20 years these kids will name their kids Barney and the first image their teachers will have will be a large, purple dinosaur and think "Well, that's just ridiculous."

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1 comment:

  1. Freakonomics actually has an entire study based on exactly what you're talking about with names. It really does set kids back statistically. Also pebbles was the daughter. Not that it makes it any more reasonable.


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