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delves into finding a voice. Posted on Tuesdays

What’s your name?

It’s a question we are asked and ask many times in our lives. But how often do we consider all the layers of story and identity connected with the answer?

Some strangers may not even bother to learn your name but size you up by the way you look. You may be identified by your first and last name on paperwork and be judged on that basis. Colleagues might know your name but not your nicknames. Friends might know your nickname but not the story behind them. Family might know the history behind the name but maybe not your feelings.

Each and every name carries a world of stories, feelings, histories, associations, cultures and identities. Here are five ways to mine the richness in a name so that individuals can be seen and known for a tiny, yet monumental, part of who they are and how they feel they belong or don’t.

  1. Ask Questions. What does your name mean? Who were you named after? Why? How do you feel about you name? Has your feelings towards your name changed?
  2. Use These Poems or Story Excerpts as Writing Prompts: 
    • House on Mango Street’s “My Name” chapter By Sandra Cisneros
    • Z is for Zuri in Damitra Brown Class Clown by Nickki Grimes 
    • The Name I wanted by Richard Blanco 
    • Ismi by Suheir Hammad in Born Palestinian, Born Black 
    • His Long Tapered Fingers by Fan Chiang
  3. Have the students or group create a visual representation of their names and their feelings about it and make a name quilt
  4. Investigate historical or contemporary situations where groups or individuals have had to change names to “belong”
    • Ellis Island or Angel Island and current immigration to the U.S
    • Native American “assimilation process”
    • job, loan, and other forms of paper work discrimination based on perceived ethnicity of name
  5. Role play and examine the negative impact of name calling and brainstorm creative ways to be an upstander in those moments

And in case you want one more. Here’s a bonus activity! 

Read any of the books from this “what’s in a name” bookshelf and start a discussion with whomever you are with. ( click the image for book summary.)

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And by the way: my name Samantha means listener in Aramaic. I was named after the Bing Crosby Song “I am a one gal guy” from the musical High Society. When I was a reporter I used the byline Sam because I liked the gender ambivalence. And when I hear my full name, it’s usually because I am in trouble with my mother.

Feel free to add your own name stories to the comments below or share other name activities.

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