It’s common in many classrooms for teachers to give English names to their students. The students often find this fun and it also helps the teacher remember the names of their students.
However, it is not as easy as it seems and there can be issues caused by simple misunderstandings which can lead to problems in the class.
This article is a guide to how to have your students use English names without heading into problems.
Don’t Force Names
First off, do the students really want an English name? You may well find that some classes love the idea and some hate the idea. A name is a very personal thing so it’s always best never to force the issue and so you should always give them the choice whether to have the English name or not.
Some schools will insist on having English names for students and others will have an open policy. Before you rename the students, check with your Director of Studies to see what the official line is.
Although it’s hard to generalize, it’s often younger students who prefer to have an English name and also students whose names are very different from English. Perhaps an ideal class would be young Chinese students!
Having said that, you may often find older students wanting English names as well so you can never be sure. The answer here, then, is to play it by ear. In some cases you may find that giving English names to your class will be seen as linguistic imperialism and frowned upon.
So it’s best never try to force a name on someone.
Having said that, in some cultures there are common names and you may well find yourself in a class with 3 Marias and 3 Kostas. In this case you can try to persuade them to adopt different names to avoid misunderstandings.
The Naming Process
Ideally you should work with your class to name each student (excepting those who want to keep their own names). This being said, there’s often a case where the students don’t really know many English names so you need to prepare these before hand.
Make a List of Suitable Names
Sit down and make a long list of names. When you do this, it’s often a good idea to add both the “meaning” of the name (if it’s still relevant) as well as its equivalent in the local language. For example:
John (male) – in other languages, Giovanni, Johann, János, Ivan, Jan, Ján, Honza, Jovan, Ion, Eoin, Juan, João, Ivo, Jean, Joan, Jan, Gjon, Gjin, Ieuan, Ifan, Evan, Sean, Seán
A good resource for names is Behind the Name which has meanings and derivations.
Check for Suitability
When you have a good selection, make sure you ask another local teacher at the school to go through the list and remove any which might be unsuitable.
For example, the following are potentially dangerous names to give your students:
- Peter to a French student; in French, péter means to fart
- Dick to a German student, in German, dick means fat
In addition, some names are specifically associated with certain religions so are best avoided. In other words, keep the names “neutral”.
Offer the Names to the Class
With a list of names you can suggest them to your class. If there’s a Johann in the class who wants an English name, offer him John, for example. Alternatively he may want to choose his own name from the list or choose an alternative (perhaps a character he admires from cinema, for example).
Once each student has their new name, the first thing to do is have a few activities where the students introduce themselves to each other. Later you can instruct them to create a name tag and you can turn this into a lesson activity in itself!
See also, Remembering Student Names – a useful activity to help remember the names of your students in class.