I used to really dislike it when we had a supply teacher. As soon as they started attendance, I’d say “here” right after the student before me – so that the teacher would not have a chance to butcher my name. I was very embarrassed of my name when I was young, and especially my last name, it was 12 letters and really stuck out on the attendance list. I grew up in a neighbourhood with just a handful of Tamils, so there were few other kids who could understand my frustration.
I believed that if I had a simpler name, it would be easier in life. And to some degree, there is truth to this. It has been shown many times that English sounding names receive more call-backs in hiring practices, when looking to lease a home, and open more opportunities to get your foot in the door.
However, as I grew older, and my identity became a greater part of me, I began to look into the meanings of names. I became taken with Tamil poetry. When I heard the beautiful meanings behind my cousins’ Tamil names, I started to really fall in love with Tamil words, names and meanings, and had a better appreciation for my own name.
When I had children, choosing pure Tamil names was very important to my husband and me. We wanted strong names that were pure Tamil and had a nice meaning. Our children are named after the elements. My daughter’s name, Aruvi, means mountain stream and denotes the element water. My son’s name, Theeran, includes the root word “thee”, and denotes the element fire. The characters in my book, Mazhai and Sudar, are alternate names for two of the 5 universal elements. Mazhai meaning rain, signifies water. Sudar, meaning flame, signifies fire.
I really believe we should embrace our names, especially our ethnic names that hold so much significance and meaning. If people can learn to say Häagen-Dazs, Schwarzenegger or Rumpelstiltskin without struggling too much with practice, we can help people learn to say our names properly too. (By the way, did you know Häagen-Dazs is name made up by its American creators, Reuben and Rose Mattus? They just put together made-up words to sound like a Danish name, in the belief this would cause some attention to their brand.)
For children who are gifted names that do not always fit in, reading books by other children who have struggled with similar challenges can be helpful. For those with names that fit in, these books can help them be more empathetic towards those with names that may be difficult to pronounce. Here are 5 of my favourites.
This is a story about Chrysanthemum, a little girl who loves her name. However, when she begins school, her classmates begin to make fun of her name for not fitting on the name tags and including half the letters in the alphabet and for being named after a flower. Chrysanthemum begins to dislike her name. Then one day, a heavily pregnant teacher, Ms. Twinkle joins their class and share that she too is named after a flower, Delphinium, and that if she gives birth to a girl, she too was considering Chrysanthemum as the name. Together as a class, they put together a dance of the flowers musical, where all the students are different flowers, and begin to embrace names that are named after flowers. Chrysanthemum begins to love and take pride in her name again.
This book is very special to me, as it was one of the books that was given to me by a teacher that helped me when I was a child struggling to accept my name. My teacher also read this as a read aloud to the class, and for that I will be forever grateful.
The Name Jar
Unhei has just moved from Korea into a new school. When her classmates ask her for her name, she lets them know she will decide and let them know the following week. In the meantime, she has a jar of name suggestions, and practices being one of those names. One of her classmates who finds out her real name loves the meaning behind her name, and this allows Unhei to embrace and realize the beauty within her own name, which she chooses in the end.
Your Name is a Song
Luisa Uribe (Illustrator)
“Tell that boy some names have fire.”
“You can put fire in a name?
“Kwaku storms in on a Wednesday,
And fire dances in Sagnika!” Momma said.
“Names are that strong?” the girl asked.
This is a story of a young girl who did not want to go to school anymore because of everyone mispronouncing her name. Her mom then teaches her about the music behind names. I loved the illustrations in this book, and how you felt some of the names come alive.
Alma and How She Got Her Name
Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names. She asks her dad the meaning of each one of her names, and how she ended up with so many of them. Through their conversation, she learns of stories the women who she has been named after, and learns to appreciate the history behind her name.
Hello, My name is….How Adorabilis Got His Name
Joey Chou (illustrator)
This story is based on the true story of how a small new species of octopus got his name. This new species meets other sea creatures and learns about their names and abilities they are named after, and wonders what his name could be. This book is very light-hearted with bold and beautiful illustrations that are perfect for young children.
What are some of your favourite books about names that you recommend?