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Schoolroom Names: One Teacher’s Take

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We’ve often wondered how teachers respond to the new menu of student names on their class lists each year.  Guest blogger Emily Gough, an experienced educator, tells the story from her point of view.

At the start of every school year, I am organizing notes, planning lessons, hanging up posters, and of course looking over the new class lists.  Each year brings 100+ new students, and of course new names.  I am always eagerly checking to see if my class lists are available yet as the countdown to school starts.  For one thing, I like to know what the class sizes are, but mostly it’s the names I’m interested in. 

If I see any that I am at a total loss with pronunciation-wise, I do some research to try to prevent myself from butchering a kid’s name on the first day.  I wonder over familiar last names, and whether this new student is a younger sibling, and if so will they be very similar or complete opposites?  I prepare myself for trying to keep Kylee, Kylie, and Kyley apart in one class and I wonder if Devin and Dakota are boys or girls. 

And the longer I teach, the more I get an impression of what each student might be like based upon previous students with the same name.  I think every teacher can give you examples- for me, a male Jesse is going to be a handful and Lily will be a quiet, shy introvert.  I even will differentiate my assumptions based upon spelling; I would predict John to be studious and Jon a jokester.

One of the most interesting assumptions to me is with the gender-neutral names.  I commented to colleagues at the beginning of this school year that I thought Logan would be male and had some agree while others said they’d assume female.  Several theories were proposed, and none agreed upon.  Could it be that the first person you meet with a certain name determines your assumptions from then on?  I think that’s why I associate Logan as male.  Is it a question of volume- I’ve known probably twice as many female Jamies than male, so that’s what I would guess there. 

Or maybe your most recent encounter sets the tone.  Right after I had a female Riley in class, I immediately assumed female when seeing that name, even though I’ve known many more male Rileys.  Perhaps it is the significance of the people with the name that is more important.  For example, even though I’ve known more female Averys over the years, the fact that I was good friends with a male Avery tends to make me instantly assume male when I see that name.  I think a combination of these factors contributes to our ultimate assumptions.

While I cannot help the predictions that pop into my head upon reading a name, I always try to push those aside and let each student show me his or her own unique personality.  Trust me, I have been completely wrong before and am never surprised by it anymore!  However, I would caution parents to consider what impressions a name gives when choosing for their children.  Even if you like the name Chris, consider making it Christine or Christopher if you want to avoid the possibility of having people assume the wrong gender for your child.  If you are leaning towards very unique spellings or unconventional pronunciations, think about the fact that every time your children start a new school year, teachers like me will be constantly asking them how to spell or pronounce their names.  In addition, it makes the focus more on their names and less on who they are.  When it comes down to it, you have a very fine line to walk.  Nobody likes being stuck as Ashley M, Ashley J, and Ashley N in the same class, but at the same time I have students who hate constantly explaining their extremely “yooneek” names.

All in all, I know that I will never be bored looking over those class lists at the beginning of each year!

Emily Gough teaches biology and chemistry in small-town Indiana.  When she was a little girl, she had a list of eighteen first & middle names picked out for her future children, along with what their hobbies and personalities would be.  She still loves names, and after starting the search for the perfect name for her first actual child, she became hooked on Nameberry and has been following it ever since.  The name she and her husband settled on, by the way, was Kevin, and even though she had a Kevin in class, he had not “ruined” the name for her at all!

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