“I will give you three days,” said he, “and if by that time you know what my name is, you shall keep your child.”
Like the Brothers Grimm tale of Rumpelstiltskin, names have power – especially if their utterance causes you to sink into the earth and to split yourself down the middle into two.
A new semester is about to start, and I thought Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy ‘Episode 23: How We Say Our Students’ Names and Why it Matters’ was a good choice to listen to. Knowing students’ names and pronouncing them correctly allows us as educators to show them respect and interest in them as individuals.
Our students come from a range of different backgrounds and social characteristics including but not limited to age, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structures, geographic locations, immigrant and refugees, language, physical, functional and learning abilities, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic status. This means there are going to be a lot of names, and even more names that I am unfamiliar with pronouncing. My institution held a conference in July 2019, on ‘Improving Retention and Continuation: Enhancing Student Success’ and knowing names was one of the recommendations to build student experience.
It is a big deal to get student’s names incorrect as it marginalises them and may make them feel like they are not worth the time to learn their names. Gonzalez talks about three categories:
- Fumble-bumblers – these are people who put it on themselves when they get a name incorrect and they try to learn the name but essentially give up and work with an approximation.
- Arrogant mangler – are the worst group who persist even if corrected by the student. They may assign the student a nickname or even waive away the rest of the name which Gonzalez aptly names them ‘f*cking ar*eholes.’
- Calibrators – check and then check back and apologise and insist on the importance. They are humble and take time.
I’ll admit, I fall into the fumble-bumbler category, I get anxious when it takes me too long to get the pronunciation correct. At my previous institution, my student numbers were very high, and I may only see some of my students once a week (if they attended class in person). The lack of repetition made it difficult for the name to stick in my memory. However, I will say I have been good at remembering student’s stories so I can have meaningful conversations with them about their degree and life.
As an educator, I want to ensure that I foster an atmosphere of inclusion and lead by example. Research has shown that not knowing student names contributes to a lack of belonging, feeling excluded, especially for minority students. All this leads to poorer outcomes for students. Because my current institution’s student numbers are lower, I’m not the new staff member (going now into my second year), and I get to see students’ multiple times a week, I believe I can do a better job of remembering and pronouncing names correctly this semester.
Gonzalez provides resource link to website – Hear Names where you can hear native speakers pronouncing names.
What I’m going to do this coming semester is become a ‘Calibrator’ by:
- Print class registers which give me more space to make my phonetic notes – with their photographs.
- Ignore the awkwardness I feel and make time at the end of the class to work on pronunciation with students.
- Go to website Hear Names before semester start to calibrate before seeing students for the first time.