Should teachers be encouraging the use of ‘English’ names in our classrooms?

Last week I went to an art show held at my last placement. It was great to see my former students and their families again as well as see the art projects I had helped the kids create come to fruition.

During the show I was chatting away to my Korean student‘s family who were excited about my move to Wellington. Though they pointed out that there aren’t many Koreans down that way so I wouldn’t get much of a chance to practice my Korean! As were chatting, naturally I talked about their child. The student had an English name that we use in class but it felt so wrong in the context of speaking Korean to continue using it so I reached for the student’s Korean name.

That split decision reminded me of what it must be like for so many of our learners to live in two separate worlds. The one world is that at home where they speak a different language, a different world view and even have a different name from the one they use at school. But should teachers be condoning this practice? Because using ‘English’ names as a replacement to a child’s name really, really bothers me.

I understand that there may well be compelling reasons for changing names to make life easier in a foreign country. I had a Korean name gifted upon me by my students which is a portmanteau of my surname and the Korean slang term for teacher. Because Korean has no ‘st’ or ‘f’ sounds my name is pronounced Seu -te -pa -ni. So alongside my Korean name sounding  a bit nicer to my ears it is obviously a lot easier for Korean people to pronounce.  So it is important to acknowledge that part of the reason children are given English names is so that teachers don’t lose face by mispronouncing a child’s name incorrectly.

There’s also the issue of teasing. I quietly suggested to a student who was going to America that he might want to change the transliteration from ‘Bum-Suk’ to ‘Beom-Sook’ to avoid problems. Likewise anyone named Jill might be advised to use their middle name if they are in the Land of the Morning Calm.

So I understand why some children might be given English names but to be honest I find neither of these reasons particularly compelling.

Because surely our classrooms and schools should be places where children are free to be their authentic self?

Shouldn’t that start by using a child’s real name?

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10 thoughts on “Should teachers be encouraging the use of ‘English’ names in our classrooms?

  1. I make a big effort to use my student’s given names, and their formal names. They seem to appreciate it, especially when I ask them to help me get it right. It seems to help break down barriers with international students, and it seems to help them to feel that I am very happy to work with them, and to help them get through the course that I am teaching.

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    • Hi Deborah
      I’m glad to hear that your international students appreciate the effort that can (sometimes) go into learning new names. At a basic level to form a relationship with learners you have to get the name right.

      Stephanie

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  2. My name is unusal and it’s a pain. I’ve spent my whole life explaining it and trying to help people pronounce it correctly. I use a dimminutive form of it to make it easier and would much rather people use that than mangle my full name.

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    • That’s interesting. I guess my point is that in a lot of cases the ‘English’ names aren’t even close to the diminutive but yes having a name constantly mangled is a good reason to change. But do you think teachers should spend time learning how to pronounce the name properly themselves and encouraging other students to as well.

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  3. I gave my student who this applies to a choice as to which name she prefered that I use. For her first two years of school she had been called by her Sudanese name however in grade 2 her English name started to be used a lot more. Knowning this, I gave her the choice and she chose her English name. I/We/the child herself use her Sudanese name for offical things like certificates, etc., and she is quite content to move between both. I’d prefer to use their real, given names where I can, like you, but want to give the child or parents the choice.

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    • It’s such a tricky area isn’t it? I guess it is important to acknowledge privilege and that what might be making it easy for teachers/other students to have an English name means we don’t confront and learn about privilege.

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  4. Pingback: 25th Edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival – Here in November. « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

  5. Pingback: 25th Edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival – November 2011. « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

  6. I don’t know. When I was learning Spanish, we all got Spanish names. I was excited to get one, though don’t use it anymore at all. Now as a teacher I see some other teachers who force their students to choose nicknames and some end up with odd ones, such as Dragon or Lotte.

    I give my students a choice. Sure, it’s easier for me to remember their names if they have English ones, but most of the time my students flat out refuse to take an English name. that’s fine with me. I don’t think they should be forced to use an English name.

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