Our names, our selves

I’ve always wondered about people who, when I accidentally spell their name wrong,  say, “oh, that’s okay,” or “oh, it doesn’t matter.”

Of course it matters. It’s your name. Your name is one of the most personal things about you. I’ve always thought so, but being the yearbook adviser adds dimension to that. A the beginning of the year, as we’re getting to know each other, I ask students, what they’d like to be called. What I really mean is Chris instead of Christopher? Middle name instead of first? Junior instead of Harold Winthrop? But sometimes I get some interesting responses. When I see gears start turning at all the possibilities, I have to add, “no, not Killer or The Dude.”

Last year I had a young man want me to call him by his nickname, which equated him with a smaller life form.  I told him I’d stick with his given name. This year, I had one ask to go by a name I recognized as one belonging to a professional athlete. I have no idea if there was a connection, but again, I keep calling him by the name on my roster. Another wants to be associated with a legume. It all reminds me of one of my favorite sitcoms from waaaay back, “Happy Days.” While the rest of the world called him Fonzie, or even, The Fonz, Mrs. Cunningham loving called Henry Winkler’s character, Arthur. There’s something motherly about using that given name. No one could be more motherly than Mrs. “C”.

I know it sounds contradictory that I ask what they want to be called and then sometimes refuse to call them that, but to me, nicknames are temporary. They are given to people, often against their will, by others. That’s not the same as the name one is given by their parents at birth. That’s not to say that everyone likes the name they are given by their parents. In another post on another day, I’ll tell you about my friend who went to court to change her name to one of her own choice.

And so on picture day, I have my yearbook staff trained to peel off that database label, stick it to the little card, show it to the student and ask, “is this how you want your name in the yearbook?” It helps us get most of the names right and it honors our students. It’s their book, after all.


About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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