Saturday, October 22, 2016

What's in a Name in an ESL Class, and other resources on the theme of Names

[I originally created a blog post on Names in 2011 and have been updating it ever since, adding new links at the end as I've found them. I have now sorted them by theme, so I hope it might be easier to find useful resources. ]

* NOTE: Entries marked * have been added in the most recent update.

  • Classroom activities on a Name theme 
  • Tips for teachers to learn their students’ names
  • On English language learners choosing an English name
  • The culture and politics of names
    • On 'ethnic names as a barrier to getting a job
    • On women/men taking their spouse's name after marriage
    • ... and more.
  • General resources

Classroom activities on a Name theme

An activity I use at the beginning of term. I ask students to answer questions such as these:
  • What is your first name?
  • How do you write it in your language
  • What does it mean in your language?
  • Who gave you your name?
  • Do you have a nickname?
  • Do women or men in your country change their name when they get married?
  • How did you/would you choose a name for your children?
Students write their answers on paper individually, then each tells the story of their name to the whole class, writing their name in their own language on the board and answering questions if there are any. It has always worked well in our very mixed language and culture background classes as a good 'getting to know you' activity.

Here are a few other lesson ideas around the theme of names:

What's in a Name? on TEFL.NET A fun worksheet on a universal theme - your name. This lesson includes vocabulary built from the base-word "name" as well as some common phrases and idioms connected with the topic. Fluency is practised through stimulating and personalised discussion questions such as: "What names did/will you choose for your children? Why do you like those names?""

What's in a Name? from TOPICS Online Magazine
Several stories from English langauge learners from China, Brazil, Colombia, Yugoslavia, Iran, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, and Indonesia about the origin of their names.
What's In a Name? - Upper-Intermediate News on Heads Up English A news story about a man in the USA who had to sue the state of California to be able to adopt his wife's name when he married. Includes downloadable lessons for listening, speaking and vocabulary.

The Most Unfortunate Names in Britain - A lesson from

Conversation Questions on Names - A discussion handout on names from ESL

Get A Different Name Day - Handouts, listening and an online activity from ESL Holiday

New Zealand sees no justice in unusual babies' names (Advanced) - Guardian Weekly Learning English
How did your students get their names? New Zealand's strict rules on what parents can call their babies is sure to spark debate in class
Lesson focus: reading, possessive 's; verbs using -ing form and infinitive with to; class discussion

What’s in a Name? These Stellar ESL Activities! A collection of activities from Busy Teacher

Getting-to-Know-You Writing Activity: Using Names ... and learning adjectives.

TEFL Commute Podcast - Episode 3: Names The presenters discuss: Questions to ask students about names; Sir or Miss?; Tips for teachers to remember students’ names; Teaching ‘games’ for names.
Names by Katherine Bilsborough (British Council LearnEnglish Themes podcast)
Listen, read and do a task on "Humans have been using names since prehistoric times but although all cultures use names, the ways that we have of naming our children differ from place to place."

The Best Places For Students To Learn About…Their Names (Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL, 20 Jan 2011)

Let’s Learn Each Other’s Names - Shelly Terrell (ESL Library, 1 August 2017)
Tips and ideas for the classroom for studnets to learn each others' names

What's Your Name? (ESL Library - need a subscription to download full lesson plan, but there is a sample with lots of ideas)
Part of Super Simple Questions series. Listed as Pre Beginner, 1 hour lesson.
Try using this lesson in the first week of class with your absolute beginners. After doing this lesson, students will be able to say and spell their name and their classmates' names. This lesson also introduces or reviews the letters of the alphabet and some basic vocabulary (nouns).
There is also a podcast preview of this lesson here: Podcast – What’s Your Name? by Tara Benwell (ESL Library, 14 September 2016)

Names & Cultural Identities in Stories of Immigrant Children by kidworldcitizen (13 June 2012)
"Here is a lesson plan for elementary school students that discusses personal names, moving from one country to another, and adopting aspects of the new culture while maintaining cultural identity. I have chosen several books representing characters from different countries, for different ages levels, that tell about children that have struggled and succeeded with this assimilation."

Tips for teachers to learn their students’ names

Ways to learn students’ names - TEFLnet
This post might help you, the teacher, remember your students’ names.

The first thing schools often get wrong for English language learners is their names
The seemingly simple step of recording and calling a student by the correct name can have consequences when mistakes happen.

How We Say Our Students’ Names…and Why It Matters - Cult of Pedagogy Podcast (April, 2014)

Never have the embarrassment of forgetting a name again on BBC Future
Forgetting names is one of our memory’s most common failures – but there are ways to make them stick, says psychologist Tom Stafford.

Learning Names (by Marc Helgesen) - blog post on Teaching Village
Describes a simple system for remembering student names using name cards and self-introductions.

Getting names right is more important than you think (ABC Radio National, June 2016). Radio piece on a US program (see next link) which "encourages teachers to make an effort to get students' names right, and gives students the impetus to discover the origins of their own names."

My Name My Identity - Pledge to pronounce students' names correctly. It's that simple.
Lots of resources here for names: "...resources are intended for individuals to use, with the global competence lens, while sharing the importance of respecting others’ names and identities with others."

Pronouncing ELs’ Names Correctly (TESOL Blog, 14 July 2016)
Short blog post by US teacher Judie Haynes. Includes links to other excellent resources.

10 Ways to Remember Your Students' Names (by Mark Chapman of

The Lasting Impact of Mispronouncing Students’ Names (neaToday, 1 Sept 2016)

What My Students Say About Teachers Mispronouncing Their Names (Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL, 23 Oct 2016)

The Best Resources On The Importance Of Correctly Pronouncing Student Names (Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL, 11 June 2016)

Top tips for remembering students' names by Chia Suan Chong on English Teaching Professional blog, March 2017)
"Here are some tips that can help even those who claim they are ‘bad at remembering names’."

Learning Students’ Names - American TESOL Webinar with Shelly Terrell
A collection of  tips and resources for learning and pronouncing your students’ names. (Link is to the webinar recording on YouTube)
The name doctor won't make a meal of monikers with a high degree of difficulty (The Age, December 2017)
"It's your job to read out students' names at a graduation ceremony, but you're terrified of mispronouncing surnames like Cholmondely and Wierzynkiewicz. ..."

The Names They Gave Me by Tasbeeh Herwees (The Toast, January 2014)
“Your name is Tasbeeh. Don’t let them call you by anything else." ... "Don’t let them give you an English nickname,” my mother insists once again, “I didn’t raise amreekan.”
"Roll call is the worst part of my day. ... the teacher rests on my name in silence. She squints. She has never seen this combination of letters strung together in this order before. They are incomprehensible." ... "She moves on before I can correct her. She said it wrong. She said it so wrong. I have never heard my name said so ugly before, like it’s a burden. "

The Importance of Learning Students’ Names by Maryellen Weimer, (The Teaching Professor Blog, Faculty Focus, 2 August 2017)
Includes some tips for teachers to remember students' names, including in the comments after the article.

Teachers' Strategies for Pronouncing and Remembering Students' Names Correctly by Gail Cornwall (MindShift | KQED News, 20 Sep 2018)
"“[Since] students will often take the cue of fearing or celebrating difference from the climate set up by teachers, … educators are in a unique position to shape the perceptions of their students” about themselves and others."

Making name pronunciation a priority in K12 education by Matt Zalaznick (DA District Administration, 10 Oct 2018)
"Some students grow so accustomed to hearing their names mispronounced over and over again that they no longer correct the people who make the mistakes. And sometimes, these children just give up and adopt unwanted nicknames they have been given by classmates, coaches or educators."

Mispronouncing Students' Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep by Corey Mitchell ( Education Week, 10 May 2016)

On English language learners choosing an English name

Behind a name, by Grace Chu-Lin Chang, where she writes about the practice of choosing an English name for English language learners, especially in an English-speaking country and her own story in choosing an English name.
One’s name is one of the most salient features for one’s identity. Some parents suffer from extraordinary indecisiveness when giving their newborn a wonderfully auspicious and proper name, all with utmost good intentions and expectations. English language learners often have the same experience later in life: how did you get your English name, especially if your mother tongue is not an alphabetic language?
Please call me Bill: how migrants choose their new NZ names
It’s kind of good for the immigrant [to adapt a new name], because they can create a new identity for themselves,” "Many who choose to live in New Zealand consider changing their first name, mostly because the correct pronunciation of many Asian names is troublesome for most Kiwis." "Assimilation and integration also play a part in a person’s decision to take another name, as migrants have a strong desire to fit into society. One way of being a “Kiwi” is by adopting a name that makes it easier for Kiwis to engage with them, he says. The desire of being fashionable is another reason for Asians to anglicise names." “When you think of your name, you are thinking of your parents. We don’t give anything to our parents, but they give everything for us.” “People say a nickname or shorten a name, that’s okay. But apart from that, you should not change it because that is your culture. “Your name is according to the culture and the country and everything that is there, and I don’t know why you would deny where you’re from.” “Some Indian people come here and use another name but where they are coming from is part of their name. They are losing something when they change their name.” “For my graduation, I think I’d like to get called my original name, because it’s a piece of honour.”
Asian Students Using English Names
A second-year MA student in Applied Linguistics conducted a survey on Asian students taking English names.

Quick Take: How I Picked My English Name
A student answers the question: “Why does almost every Chinese student have an English name and where do you get it from?” on VoA

Why Korean English students have English names A teacher in Korea reflects on this question.

Western names in the classroom: An issue for the ESL profession by Rachel Burke TESOL in Context Vol.11 No. 1 (2001)
In this article, the author is concerned with a tendency towards use of English names, particularly but not exclusively in ESL classes, whether adopted of their own volition by new arrivals or assigned by the class teacher. In the latter case, she reflects on what removal of someone's most exclusive badge of identity says about our commitment to cultural diversity. Rather, she seeks the positives in using a student's given name(s). [Author abstract, ed]

Taking on an English name by Eurasian Sensation (Peril, 2012)

Adopting an English Name (Uncharted Tesol The blog from The New School TESOL community, May 2016) On the reasons why students from China adopt an English name.

A 16-year-old British girl earns £48,000 helping Chinese people name their babies (BBC Newsbeat, 7 Sept 2016)
In China it is considered important to have an English name for future study or business with the UK. 'Special Name' requires the user to pick five of the 12 personality traits which they most hope their baby will grow into. In China they name their child based on the elements and Beau wanted a similarity between how they pick their Chinese name and how they pick their English name.

Behind the name by Jane Duong
A short video where Jane tells her story about choosing a new name.

I Have One Of Australia’s Most Common Surnames, But No-One Can Pronounce It  by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen (BuzzFeed , 24 Jan 2017)
"As a child, I often invented middle names for myself, always in English, because it made me feel more like the people around me."
Also discusses many other issues: the surname 'Nguyen', identity, culture and racism (see more below for this entry in next section).

An Asian-American Mom's Advice For Dear Abby on 'Foreign Names' by Sally Ho (Daily Beast, 20 October 2018)
"Today, plenty of people express a muted surprise about the uncommon nature of our son’s name, and just about everyone asks clarifying questions. ... It often starts a conversation about what they think a name means to them in America’s melting pot. I think they’re enlightened by something they never thought about so deeply, and I know they’re touched by this story—our story."

The culture and politics of names

What’s in a name? (from Language on the Move - Australian focus)
How do ethnic names fare today after decades of multiculturalism and in a so-called age of super-diversity?

Girls called Jack and boys named Sue - language: a feminist guide
On the sharp gender differentiation in British first names (via @SophiaKhan4)

It’s Not “Exotic”: Respect The Weight Of My Name On Your Tongue
Respecting a name is respect for that individual. (via @seponymous )

What's in a Surname? Beatrice Alba interviewed on ABC Radio National Afternoons, 27 April 2016)

The name and the face by Lia Incognita (Overland, 2012)
An essay on much more than just names.
Innocent misperception: the linguistics of Starbucks name fails - Hopes and Fears blog
On speech errors and language change: accidental or goal-oriented?

A Malvika by any other name (preferably Monica) (Immersivities, 16 Nov 2016)
Adi Rajan on incorporating ‘globally acceptable’ names in teaching materials.

I Have One Of Australia’s Most Common Surnames, But No-One Can Pronounce It  by Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen (BuzzFeed , 24 Jan 2017)
"Nguyen is second only to Smith in the Melbourne White Pages, and the seventh most common family name in Australia. And yet people still struggle to pronounce it correctly."
Much more than just a piece on one name, this also discusses issues of identity, culture and racism (includes link to research that showed that jobseekers with non-Anglo-sounding names had to submit more applications in order to be offered an interview).  The comments on the post are interesting too.

Changing my name the first time was easy. The second time was harder by Saeed Fassaie (The Sydney Morning Herald 16 February 2017)
Fairfax media reporter Saeed Fassaie discusses why he decided to change his name, then later revert to his birth name, and the challenges: “Those around me were warmly supportive, but my own feelings were a different matter: the whole process proved to be surprisingly challenging.”
The face-name effect: How computers can guess someone's name from looking at their face - (ABC News, 27 Mar 2017)
Fascinating research that shows "that the stereotype that a given society has of a first name can influence the way people look".

Where is my name? Afghan women protest to claim their identities By Edwina Seselja and wires (ABC News, 31 Jul 2017)
"A group of Afghan women have launched a social media campaign to protest the country's custom of erasing women's names."

The soft bigotry of having to change your name. Because somehow Tchaikovsky is easier.  (The Washington Post, September 2017)
"...But there’s a difference between a name you can choose for yourself and a name that’s given to you because other people can’t be bothered with pronouncing it, even if the same sounds exist in the English tongue."

How Australian Nicknaming Conventions Turn an Afternoon Into an ‘Arvo’
A thorough explanation for why Dazza ate a sammie at the servo.
Australian English is a jumble of abbreviations, diminutives, and what are called hypocoristics.

How much does a non-Anglo name affect your job prospects? by Elly Duncan (SBS The Feed, 11 September 2018)
A recent study has found unconscious bias against non-Anglo job applicants is worryingly high.
""I prefer online tests because if I have to put my name on a job application I rarely get through," says job-seeker Cheng."

On 'ethnic names as a barrier to getting a job...

Job hunt success is all in a name by Alison Booth (Canberra Times, 4 March 2013)
"Australian employers are not giving a fair go to all" 
Also here on the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy website.

Stereotyped ethnic names as a barrier to workplace entry by Ingrid Piller (Language on the Move, 4 Nov 2016)

On women/men taking their spouse's name after marriage...

The Name Game: Yours or Ours, but not Mine by jodi sh doff (shemustchallenge, 1 Feb 2013)

Why I’m keeping my Vietnamese surname when I marry by Sheila Pham (Peril, 2012)
(Don’t miss the comments at the end - interesting reading) [Thanks to Lidya Blue for this link]

Do women take their husband’s surname after marriage because of biology? by Beatrice Alba (The Conversation, 7 April 2016) ... and related ... 

Are women still taking their husband's name? (ABC Radio National Drive, 23 Jan 2017)
Short radio piece on what is the status quo in Australia re women taking their husband's name when they marry.  Prompted by Kylie Minogue saying in a recent interview that she plans to take her partner's last name when they get married.
Why aren't men changing their name after marriage?  (ABC News , 1 Feb 2017)
"Why, in 2017, do we still assume that a man and a woman who share a home must also share the same name? It is likely because women are still choosing to take their husband's surname when they get married."
Most Australian women still take husband's name after marriage, professor says (ABC News, 26 Apr 2016)
"More than 80 per cent of women take their husband's name after marriage, while debate continues over whether the tradition is sexist, a Flinders University professor in Adelaide says."

Giving up your name after marriage is a choice that's worth questioning / Clementine Ford  (The Age, 1 March 2017)

General resources

Baby Names Australia 2014

Given Names on ABC Radio National Showcase A series of four radio programs about given names:

What’s in a name? SBS True Stories podcast
What's really in a name? And what happens when you change your name? Hear writer and comedian Cyrus Bezyan grapple with just that question in his signature laconic style.

Peter, Paul, Kylie … David! Why we forget family members' names (The Conversation, May 2016) "The finding that we often mix up names that are semantically and phonetically related, rather than at random, gives insights into the way our memories for names are organised in the brain."

Baby name regret: A guide for living with a unique name (ABC News, 5 Sept 2016)

How to change your name - SBS Settlement Guide
A good overview of why some migrants choose to change their name,

5 steps to change your name - SBS Settlement Guide
And a guide on how to change your name

Nicknames - an episode of the A word in your ear podcast (ABC Brisbane)
Nicknames are names which pick up some characteristic of the person and usually have no link to the sounds of the original.

Buggered if I know where I am: the stories behind Australia’s weird and wonderful place names by Joshua Nash (The Conversation 24 Oct 2016)

How popular are Australia’s multicultural names? by Jackson Gothe-Snape (SBS 1 Jun 2017)
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists that Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world, and more than one in four people living in Australia today were born overseas - the highest proportion in more than 100 years. But the list of Australia's most popular names might make you think otherwise.

What's in a name? (Word for Word podcast, 5 Sep 2017)
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or would it? In this episode, we dive headfirst into the history of naming. Tiger Webb from ABC Language helps us get to grips with given name trends, surname extinction and Australian place naming; the Macquarie Dictionary editors peel back the secret stories behind everyday eponyms; and Kate is hard at work cuddling babies.

If a baby isn't named within a certain period of time, can the ACT Government name a child? (ABC News, September 2017)
Also mentions the process and rules of reviewing - and rejecting - names in the ACT and around the world.

* Speakeasy: say my name, say my name (ABC Radio Perth Breakfast, 23 May 2019)
Orazio Fantasia, Anthony Albanese, Nic Naitanui - just some of the names that have proved vexing to pronounce in recent times, despite best efforts to clarify matters with the subject, who's usually unfazed by the controversy. But for the rest of us, it's embarrassing to get it wrong, so what's in a name? Linguist Daniel Midgley talks us through some examples on this edition of the Speakeasy.

I hope my English language teaching colleagues will find something useful in this list. Do let me know in a comment if you know of something else I could add to this in a comment on this post.

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