A Teacher’s View on Names

I chuckled as I read this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge about the significance of names.  Any teacher will understand why.  Being a teacher ruins names.

I don’t have children yet, but they are in my life plan.  Like any girl dreaming of her future family, I’ve tossed around ideas for potential baby names with my girl-friends and my husband. However, for a teacher, names immediately lend themselves to memories of students.  Sometimes the association is good, and sometimes I can only picture saying the syllables in an irritated voice commanding a kid to stop talking.

Tyler, for instance.  I associate the name “Tyler” with an obnoxious inability to sit still and be quiet.  I’ve had three students named Tyler who fit this description.  Unfortunately, two of them were in the same class period, so simply yelling “Tyler!” didn’t do much, because they never knew where my yells were directed.  Fortunately, Tyler was never on my list of potential baby names, so it isn’t too much of a problem.

“Anthony” is also ruined, and it only took one student to do it.  He was actually a good kid, not intentionally a trouble-maker, but working with him was a struggle.  He constantly had to be refocused in class, reminded to do his work, and refrained from talking too much.  I liked the guy, but I’m hesitant to pass on his name.

“Austin” has a mixed association in my head.  One of my first victories as a teacher came from an Austin.  He was a great kid, but then, giving his name to one of my kids still seems weird.  However, now I have a few Austins that must be refocused quite a bit, so the positive memory is mixing with a more easily distracted one.  I don’t plan on naming my kids after cities, though, so either way it’s OK.

I’ve had a lot of Jordans as students, too.  I don’t really have any specific frustrations or celebrations tied to the name, but when three different faces pop into my head at the mention of the name, it makes me not want to pass that name on to my child.  The same is true of Ryan.  And Zachary.  And Matt.  And Andrew.  George just makes me laugh.

I guess those names aren’t completely ruined, but I do have to pause and think about it.  They are good names, but it is hard to separate the names from the faces.

Girl’s names are interesting.  Katelyn, with all its various spellings, is off the table, even though it has a nice ring to it.  I’ve had some very sweet Katelyns, but I’ve also had some that remind me of the movie Mean Girls.  The same goes for Mackenzie – some really nice ones, but others that make me want to steer clear.

Kelsey has a good association with it, as do Emily and Erin.  I associate Amanda with a sweet girl who was bullied, and Felicia with the girl who did the bullying.  Andrea has mixed associations, depending on the face that pops into mind first.

But whatever the connotation, positive or negative, the power of names is undeniable.  Just a few syllables, a few consonants and vowels, and it’s more than just memories that spring up.  It’s reliving the celebrations and frustrations.  It’s the involuntary smile or shake of the head.  It’s wondering what I could have done differently, if I made a difference, or where they are now.  All from the power of a name.

Yep. That about sums it up. (Image Credit: redpoet2)

And what of my own name?  There’s a certain poetry to “Christine” that I like.  I was in college when Phantom of the Opera came out as a movie, and soon my friends and acquaintances were serenading me with “Christine, Christine…” in the vocal tones of the phantom.  The novelty wore off for me faster than it did for them, but I didn’t mind the association between my name and the music.

But then there’s “Mrs. Roberson” – a name so inherent to my identity that it’s how I introduce myself on my blog, even though I haven’t kept my first name a secret.  “Mrs. Roberson” is my teacher name, and teaching is a core part of my identity.  There was a time soon after my first year of teaching when I went an extended period without a permanent job.  I subbed, but there’s a trend in the private schools of Seattle to have students call their teachers by their first names.  I wasn’t really a teacher, and I wasn’t known as Mrs. Roberson.  It felt like a piece of me was missing.  When I found it again, when I took on a long-term job where I was known by my last name, the relief I felt was palpable.  Mrs. Roberson is the signifier of my career, accomplishments, and goals.  It’s who I am.

Names are powerful.  What will your name mean?

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17 thoughts on “A Teacher’s View on Names

  1. Oh yes! There are some names that set my teeth on edge, and I’m with you on how they ruin the idea of applying them to my children.

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  2. I’m so glad that someone else thinks some of these things, too. My aunt is a teacher as well as I am, and she was told by her aunt (also a teacher…yes, I come from a long line of them) not to name her daughter Sydney, because it was a student’s name that gave her a bad connotation. Fortunately, most of my students have names I wouldn’t consider for my own [future] kids, because they are Islamic in origin, and I am not Muslim, but I totally get this frustration.

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  3. My brother Steven died when he was twenty seven. I had a hard time calling on students named Steven for many years. I know it is only a name but it seemed to bother me. My son is Samuel, my daughters, Beth and Danielle. If we had another child I wanted Elijah. My last name is Wax.

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  4. Love this. I can remember when we were picking out the name of our first born, I was hooked on Brandon, but my husband had a fellow seminary student by that name who drove him nuts… so he wouldn’t have it. LANDON is now twenty and we have never seen Brandon again… funny how we think…

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  5. This is great! My mother was a teacher her entire life and if she were alive today, I would totally send this to her which would spark a great conversation. I am named after one of her former students so I really think she’d be able to relate to both sides of this post. She had one student that wore her out all day and every day that it came to known as the “Beth Smith year” (not her real name). The “Beth Smith Year” eventually evolved into an adjective years later. I’d ask her is so and so student Beth Smith bad? It’s so true. I have many teacher friends that can relate to this as well as the unique spellings. Thanks for the great post.

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  6. My name is thought of as a purely feminine name but actually is an old English male name that then became gender neutral… and then morphed into a feminine name. I’ve always enjoyed that, since upon learning my name, so many people compliment me on its femininity. I’ve always felt that it suited my refusal to be put into a gender box, even though that wasn’t at all what my parents were thinking of when they innocently named me after my grandmother.

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    • Oh, and my mom twitches whenever anybody calls me Evie, because that was the name of a girl in middle school that she hated. I just hate being called Evie because without fail, the people who call me that are annoying.

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  7. I have a close friend name Austin. He is a high school English teacher. He is an amazing man although he has the memory of a gold fish. ha, Names are powerful. But, what is overlooked is the experiences and life choices of the individual. It is our choices that assist us in defining and reinventing ourselves.

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  8. I totally understand. My husband and I are both teachers. By the time we had our 2nd child, we had taught more than 1,000 students collectively. We agonized over his name for that very reason. We ended up deciding on the name Deacon as we had neither taught a student with that name.

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  9. I love this post. There are so many things I can never name my children, even in only 6 years of teaching. So far, it’s mostly boys’ names, though there are a couple of girls’ names as well. This made me chuckle and think. Great post 🙂

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  10. I have thought a lot about what my name means recently, as I am engaged. I value my father’s name like a childhood blanket, though I also feel like a new name is fitting. My oldest sister kept our father’s name, my other sister did not. I am going to change my last name upon marriage, but I feel a slight sense of loss in planning to do so. It’s strange I guess. Sorry for the rambling, lol, I really enjoyed your post!

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  11. At first, I thought you would be talking about how some kids’ names have weird spellings and all that. But I can totally relate to having students ruin names for me. Names are so important, not only for how you perceive your own child, but how others will perceive them as well. You have to think of the potential jokes kids might come up with (but of course my mom couldn’t forsee me being called Monica Lewinsky at school… but she could have forseen harmonica as a tease..) and you also have to think about how spelling/pronunciation will affect your child. Having a name that is hard to spell or read is such an annoyance and a hassle. But all of the simple, clean names seem to be associated with your students for you! To me, the most important thing in a name is its meaning. I usually always look up origins of names when I name characters in my books. It helps me determine if their name suits their personality.

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  12. This is exactly why we chose a name that no one knew… a German name. No connotations. Funny about the Tyler’s though. In my first few years of teaching I had 3 Michaels in one class. They all had nicknames, thank goodness. What is really frustrating is when you have 2 or more kids in a class with the same name yet creatively spelled. Tracy, Tracie, Tracey. Seriously?!

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  13. As a teacher I get frustrated by parents who change the spelling of a child’s name for no other reason, I often think, than the fact they can’t spell. Or give a name that no one can pronounce or even guess from the spelling. Any boy with a name ending in eyn such as Bradeyn, Jayden, is going is to be trouble I have learnt too.

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