The Importance of Names

4 01 2011

I have to admit, when it comes to remembering people’s names, I am the worst. Well, maybe not the worst, but I would consider this to be an important skill that I lack in my arsenal of Teacher-On-Call tools.

I’m holding my own when it comes to pronouncing the names of new students, but the process breaks down for me when it comes to the remembering part. I try, I really do. I know how important it is to call someone by their first name, but my memory seems to not agree with my desire to do so. I’ve experimented with some memory tricks and strategies to overcome my name remembering ineptness, but to be honest, I haven’t had much success.

Each day, when I enter a new classroom, as a bit of an icebreaker, I tell students the story of my own name.  I usually tell them that if they were travel to the far and distant land called Sweden, (where Daniel and Henrik Sedin grew up) they would know that my surname is actually a compound word in the Swedish language (I also ask, “Can anyone tell me what a compound word is?”). The “Hag” part of my name means high in Swedish and the “kull” part of my name means hill. So if you were to see me walking down the street in Sweden and you were to greet me, you would be saying, “Hi Mr. High-Hill“. I don’t usually tell students what my first name is, but I do tell them that it means “a broad meadow”. So, the clever ones in the class have already put it all together and know that I am a broad meadow on a high hill. At that point, I let kids know that they can call me Mr. Hagkull or if it’s easier to remember that Mr. High-Hill would be fine as well.

When I was attending SFU and earning my Bachelor’s degree, I volunteered at a Middle School in Coquitlam a few times a week and worked with an autistic boy named, “Jamie”. After the initial introductions on our first day together, it was apparent that he had difficulties pronouncing the middle letters of my last name. Instead of hearing Mr. Hay-gull it came out “Mr HHHHH . . .ell”. Yes, I was known to him as  Mr. Hell. From that day forward, I told him that he could call me Mr. H.

Is it just me or have other teachers noticed that unusual names seem to be the norm these days? What happened to the short, easy to remember ones like John or Anne? In my two months as a TOC, I’ve come to expect some bizaarro names. One Second Language Learner teacher friend of mine informed me that many exchange students actually choose an English name for themselves when they come to B.C. to make the fitting in process a bit easier. Bella seems to be a very common name of choice, perhaps because of the popularily of the Twilight series. But if that is true, how would you explain a Japanese student naming himself Wallace or Arvid? Or howsabout Dumbledore? (unfortunately yes, that last one is a name of a student my friend worked with).

There is power in a name. An instant connection is made when a teacher looks a student in the eye and with a smile on their face welcomes the class member into the room – by name. Our first names are very individual, very special and they make us unique. There is a feeling of importance when we hear others mention our name and if we believe it is our role to elevate every student we interact with, the simplest way would be to identify each one by their name. Out loud. Pronounced in a correct manner.

(Sigh) I think I have a lot of work ahead of me in this “growth” area.

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