Schoolroom Names: One Teacher’s Take

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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27 Responses to “Schoolroom Names: One Teacher’s Take”

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Lo Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 9:11 am

When I taught the Zachs were always a hyper bunch =)

Lola Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 10:18 am

I’ve never taught, beyond teaching my brother how to braid but I’ve long wondered about teachers and their assumptions based on names.
When I was a kid, the teachers (nuns and non-nuns alike) always were surprised that I (a Laura) was not very quiet or orderly! I don’t apparently fit the sterotypical image of my name (which is why I go by my nickname 99.9% of the time).
I’ve also been pondering: my Daughter’s class has a preponderance of long girls names: Genevieve, Josephine, Isabella, Saathvika, Cassandra & Elizabeth. Were they all put in the same class on purpose? Or what?
Any ideas? 😀

suzanne Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 10:45 am

I’m a teacher and this article really tells it like it is. 98% of my school is hispanic and there are always assumptions based on first name. Obviously, those assumptions change as I get to know the individual child. There are certain names that leave a horribly sour taste in my mouth based on the child in my class and I would NEVER use them with my own son or daughter. Since most of the names are hispanic and I am white, there isn’t a lot of crossover in names I would have chosen anyway, but there are a few that will never be allowed due to the association. I’ve had this conversation and most teachers (regardless of their students ethnicities) feel the same way. Interestingly, a lot of the boys names that are put on the “don’t use” list are the same: Zac/Zack (Zachary is okay) and Justin immediately come to mind. Girls names vary much more.
Lola, students at my elementary school are placed in a class based on academic performance (mix up the high, middle and low kids so they’re not all in one place) and behavior (keep certain kids away from each other). Too many kids with the same name or the make-up of names are not even a consideration. That’s how I ended up with the only 3 Cassandra’s at my grade level one year.

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Lola Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Suzanne, thanks! I’ve been wanting to ask someone that question since September! 🙂 I figured it was mostly performance based placement, but it is kind of funny how all those long names ended up together.


Laura Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I always assume Logan will be a boy…but before I met one, the only one I knew was fictional: Wolverine, from the X-Men. It took me a while to realize that the recent flood of Logans are not all children of comic-book geeks.

sadiesadie Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I was a nanny for a decade before having my daughter and have met many children, here are my (probably wrong) assumptions:
Jack = cheeky bordering on naughty
Tate = bully tendencies.
Emily = sweet and shy
Ethan = studious
Ava/Kylie = snobby
Sam/Max/Morgan = sporty

Obviously these are only my thoughts but I have met at least three children with each name that fit thia mold.

Urban Mom Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Any thoughts on kids that go by a middle name? My husband goes by his middle name and always hated having to explain at the start of the school year. Personally, I kind of like the mystery of it. Funny too about Lily – that was at the top of my list…until my husband thought a Lily would be too docile! We went with Amelia and lo and behold – there were 3 in her preschool class…all of which are definitely not shy and quite spirited, but sweet.

Emily Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Good point on the middle names, Urban Mom! I’ve had several instances where a student has an undesirable first name (such as a boy with a name that is predominantly female today, like Adrian or Ashley) and while they can choose to go by their middle name when they introduce themselves, they still have to deal with the first day of class mortification of teachers announcing their first name to the class. For a teenager, this is huge! So if you are considering naming a child something yet calling them by their middle name, think about the endless corrections & explanations!

JenniferMariska Says:

March 3rd, 2011 at 7:02 pm

I’m a teacher and I’ve nannied, so I have a couple of things to add to this!

To what sadiesadie said, I’ve gotta disagree with one of her observations! When I was a nanny I had an Ethan. He was an athletic, rowdy little boy! And many times at our local park, I wouldn’t be the only one with that weary edge in their voice calling out for an Ethan.

As for the middle name/nickname issue, in the school district I’m in, the students are officially registered for report cards and deplomas in their legal names, but their registration forms have an option for their preferred name. So I have many immigrant students who go by an “English name” on my roster, and when reportcard time comes I’m surprised to find out their real names! I’ve also found out who’s going by their middle name or nickname (no, that 18 year old isn’t *really* Lizzy) or who’s got something completely different all together (like one student who got his father’s full double barrel name going by a completely different third name).

Suzie Says:

March 4th, 2011 at 12:12 am

I’m a teacher too, and just have to say: anyone considering naming your baby boy Brandon, please consider Brendan instead! Maybe it’s just me, but every Brandon I’ve encountered has struggled with school both academically and behavior wise. Funny thing is, my much-younger than I brother’s name is Brandon and he fits the profile perfectly…and I met a mother of a Brandon once who was telling me a bit about him and she could have been describing my brother in every respect–it was almost eerie. Don’t want to offend anyone, these Brandon’s definitely are sweet boys in their own ways but had I been a teacher before my mom named my brother, I would have warned her too! And don’t get me wrong, I get to know each child regardless of their name, treat them fairly even if they turn out to be a bit of a trouble maker, and always give the benefit of the doubt to each one (I actually have a soft-spot for the so-called trouble makers…they’re usually the ones that need the extra kindness the most), but had to throw that in here!
They told us at beginner’s teacher’s conference that we’d better hurry up and have kids before there aren’t any names left that we’d want to use (joking of course), but it’s true how past experience with a name can color your perception of others with that name in a big way!
PS, never met a girl Logan before, but one of the sweetest little boys I ever taught was a Logan…and I’ve only taught one Tanner (boy) but let’s just say it’s not on the top of the list for me…

jj Says:

March 4th, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I was the Jennifer J in a class with a Jennifer A, a Jennifer L, a Jennifer P and a Jennifer M. Needless to say my son was NOT going to get a name in the top 10!!!

iris1973 Says:

March 5th, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I am also a teacher. I have a sneaky suspicion there have been multiple repeated names in the same classroom since school has existed…except that way back when it was probably a plethora of Marys or Lindas or whatever the time period’s most popular names were. There were probably even more repeats in one class than there are today since there were numerically less names being used.
I always enjoy it when a student has a name for which I have negative associations and turns those associations on their ear by being courteous, kind, intelligent and sweet.

jwalling Says:

March 6th, 2011 at 1:11 am

I used to teach and one time I had Kelly, Callie, Kylie, Kaylee, Kaylin, and Caitlin in one course. I felt glad there wasn’t also a Keeley.

Emmy Jo Says:

March 9th, 2011 at 6:19 am

I’m a teacher, too. I’ve taught various elementary-school grades for the last six years. The main things I’ve learned about names during those six year:

— Kids don’t care if a name is ethnic, unusual, or invented. They’ll treat a Kyrillos the same as a Christopher. I’ve never heard a child teased for his or her name. I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s not as big a problem as we’re sometimes led to believe.

— Let’s say you want a name that’s not very common, so your daughter won’t have to be Sophia M. or Olivia C. Well, if you choose an uncommon name that sounds a lot like other popular names, that can be just as confusing. In one class I had a Kaitlyn, two Kaylas, a Kylie, a Riley, a Kaylee, a Hayley, a Chloe, a Carla, and a Lara. I was constantly calling them by each others’ names. I was pregnant at the time, and our top girls’ name was the relatively uncommon Clara. I realized that a Clara in that class would inevitably get called Lara and Carla and Kayla and Chloe. It didn’t make me change my mind about using Clara, but it’s something to consider.

— Choosing an uncommon name doesn’t guarantee your child will be the only one in his class. There are weird flukes. A couple years ago, my co-worker had two Kade’s in her class. And only one Aiden.

— Yes, we teachers do have some names that we associate with certain personality traits. In my experience, most Coltons tend to act out a lot; most Ethans are quiet and studious. However, I hope we all realize that it’s ultimately a coincidence (or a situation of parents who have similar backgrounds and parenting styles being drawn to similar names). I hope we would never prejudge the child based on his or her name. And there are kids who surprise us. I have a Connor this year who seems more like a Harold.

— Planning to have your child go by a middle name does complicate things. For one, before I meet your child, I’ve probably already labeled your child’s cubby and coat hook and desk and books with little tags that say “Frederick,” and then the first day of school I find out he really goes by “Rhys.” Do I re-label all his items? More importantly, while I have no problem calling your child “Rhys” and letting him write that name on his papers, I’m never sure how I should fill out his official documents, like standardized test forms. If it asks for a first name and middle initial, does he become “Frederick R.” on the standardized test? Or do I still let him be “Rhys”? And what about the only-slightly-less-official school report card? I always find myself wondering why the parents didn’t just go with “Rhys Frederick.”

Leslie Owen Says:

May 7th, 2011 at 2:48 pm

This will probably be controversial, but as a high school teacher, I’ve noticed the honors/AP kids have classic/ethnic names and the kids in average and ESE classes have the more made-up, creative, unique, my momma made this just for me names.

Olive Says:

May 11th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I’m not a school teacher, but I have baby-sat a fair amount of children, and my mum owned a nursery school until not that long ago.

I think that Emma Jo has it spot on though! I grew up with twins Mercedes and Phoenix (both girls, who coincidentally are right next to each other in the 2010 SS popularity list) who where absolutely never bullied, or even slightly picked on to the extent of my knowledge, and I thought nothing their names until I was into my late teens.

Again, I agree that even choosing a more unusual choice won’t mean the name will be totally unique. In my mum’s nursery I remember their being 2 Magdalena’s AND a Magda, yet only one Isabella.

Olive Says:

May 21st, 2011 at 9:50 am

I have a lot of friends that teach, and they always say that they try not to judge kids before they meet them based on the name, but it is always a challenge.

Elmera Says:

July 26th, 2011 at 1:26 am

In one Kindergarten class I know there was Hayley, Haylee, Hailey and Hailee.

emilymaryjane Says:

December 27th, 2011 at 4:17 am

My sister teaches year nine and has had a lot of Rachel’s and Katherine’s (all variations of those two names), Emily’s, Emma’s, Isabella’s, Isabelle’s, Sophia’s and Sophie’s. Some of the stranger names are a now 15 year old girl called Harlow and a 14 year old named Knightley.

cubasummers Says:

December 29th, 2011 at 11:04 am

I like different names. I enjoyed this article!!

JessicaT11 Says:

May 18th, 2012 at 7:41 am

I wonder if this coincidence where it seems like “almost everyone I meet with this name is ______” has to do with the parents image of a name and projecting it onto their children (subconsciously or not).

Example: If the majority of parents have the image of “Ethan” as the perfect name for a studious little boy, and that’s what they hope their son will be, then they name him Ethan and tailor their treatment of him to project this studious image. Thus teachers later meet many Ethans all who seem to be studious.

jame1881 Says:

August 6th, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I have quite the name story about school. My little sister was in fifth grade, and the class was expecting a new student midway through the year. His name was Linda. Yes, his. The teacher prepared them for this, explaining to not tease him for having such a feminine name. The boy walks into the class, and the teacher goes, “Hello, Linda!”
The boy looked confused and replied, “Umm…my name’s Patrick. My mom is Linda.”
Got to love silly mistakes! 🙂

nativoyoung Says:

August 15th, 2012 at 12:16 am

My sister just named her baby Nicolas despite my vehement protestations (I know, I know–I’m not supposed to have an opinion). Every Nic I taught was charming, hilarious, fun to be around . . and an F student.

GrecianErn Says:

October 2nd, 2012 at 4:04 pm

My sister used to be an Outreach Coordinator for the Head Start program. And when I was pregnant 4 years ago, she kept saying no to “Wyatt.” Over and over, I’d hear about these bad Wyatts. Wyatt was never a consideration.

but it’s funny… we never heard our son’s name when we picked it, and now we hear it all the time!

Aurra Says:

October 5th, 2012 at 9:20 pm

All the Emmas I know are blonde, which is weird.

I was also on a softball team one year with a Melissa, Alyssa, Marissa and an Anisa. And I had a class with a Miley, Kylie and Riley and another with a McKenna, McKenzie and McKayla.

sarahmezz Says:

January 26th, 2013 at 4:12 am

I’m a teacher and the names that really mean trouble are Patrick and Shaun!

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