Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's in a Name Change?

You know about English nicknames, right? When students join English speaking schools in Asia, it's fun for them to name themselves and it makes things much easier for their teachers. So some kids pick a new name as early as the first grade. That's why many have names like "Spiderman," "Pink" and "Little Bean." This year, one of my favorite nicknames is "Wattle." Tarn once had a Chinese student called "Star Power," and I had twins there named "Sonny and Cher."

When "Little Bean" grows out of her name, we simply receive an email stating: "Little Bean will now be called 'Mia'." And just like that, it's done.

But more and more frequently, students are changing their reasonable names, too: "Selena" changed her name to "Anna," "Susan" changed her name to "Justine," and "David" changed his name to "Joe."

These changes are annoying, for sure... but this one really got me: One of my students from last year, Jack, has one of those devious personalities I find quite endearing. By "Near Perfect Vietnamese Children" standards, he was considered a "trouble-maker" - and of course, he was one of my favorites. To me, the name "Jack" is fitting for someone with a bit of a dark side, and I thought he had chosen a perfect nickname for himself.

At the beginning of the year when I saw Jack in the hallway, I said, "Hey, Jack!" and he replied - with some uncharacteristic seriousness - "Ms. Marjorie, I'm not Jack anymore, I'm Jared." And then he flashed his Rocket J. Squirrel smile at me.

I couldn't help but say, "Jared? No way! You will always be Jack to me!" He put up a bit of a fight, but I wasn't having any of it.

Finally, he came up with a compromise. "Well, I guess you can call me 'Baby Horus' then," he said, which was his favorite god name from last year. That settled alright with me and now I refer to him as "BH." It makes him laugh every time I say it.

It goes the other way, too, at times; for example, "Lucky" became "Extreme" (not the Lucky you know from last year) during his junior year.

But there is a trend happening that I really like: many kids are returning to their Vietnamese names for school. My sixth graders are Khoi, Luan, Quan, Vi, Thuy and Nhung; last year not one sixth grader was called by his or her Vietnamese name.

As for my own name, now that I know most all of both the sixth and seventh grade classes, I hear my name hundreds of times each day - but that's not a bad thing. EVERY student who comes into class says "Hello Ms. Marjorie." And EVERY kid I know says "Hello Ms. Marjorie" in the hallways or at lunch (we all eat in the cafeteria with them). That's a lot of "Ms. Marjorie's" to hear every day, but each one is said with such genuine enthusiasm, I never get tired of hearing it. Even if I see a kid going up the stairway and see her again on the way back down, I am greeted with that same enthusiasm. These are truly amazing, respectful kids.

I do like using my birth-certificate name...I have tried it before but it has never stuck like it did last year. It seems fitting and a little more formal than just "Ms. Marjie" - and it is a bit sadistic and fun, since many kids must struggle with it and usually say "Ms. Ma - jo - rie..."

But I take part in my own, secret name change almost daily; I will share my secret with you. You see, by the time I teach the same thing for the fifth time each day, I am really, really tired of saying things over and over. So in between 5th and 6th periods, I become "Roxanne." "Roxanne" is my alter-ego; she is the one I call on when I need to do something that takes a little more guts or nerve or endurance. I just say, "Take it from here, Roxanne..." and then it's her doing it, not me. I decided on Roxanne's name because that was the runner-up to "Marjie" when my parents named me, and because it sounds kind of tough. It came in handy during my first month at Options (a school for at-risk kids): on the way to school, in the car, I would say out loud, "You are not Marjie anymore, you are Roxanne. They cannot hurt you, they can only hurt Roxanne. And Roxanne is a lot more tough than Marjie is, so she'll be fine." So when 5th period leaves and 6th period comes in and I just don't think I can do it again, I give it to Roxanne. She is usually fine with it. She thinks this is nothing compared to that first month at Options.

I actually admitted this strategy to one of the school counselors at Scriber, and she thought my split personality idea was a pretty healthy and cool practice (I didn't tell her about the long, interesting conversations Roxanne and I have, though...).

To end this commentary on names - my "point" I guess - is this: I want to tell "Tubagoa" that I really liked "Mungo" better. And that I am tired of everyone changing names on me, all the time - even on my blog - and that I don't think the practice is OK or healthy. Except when I do it myself, secretly.


Mungo said...

I've been vacillating, anyway, so I'm glad you hear your feedback, Roxanne.... Mungo it is.

Mungo said...

...that's, "glad TO hear..."

Amy T. said...

Yup, no connection to Tube of Goa.
Mungo's got verve, ...and decent literature.

I'm glad Marjie hears too.

Will we now always wonder if it is Marjorie, Marjie or Roxanne writing to & for us?

Brian Bowker said...

I, for one, will miss the guns.

Mungo said...

Just for the record, I enjoyed Tubagoa just because it reminded me of "Tub o' goo," which makes me chortle.