What's In a Name? Part II

Back in 2016 I wrote this post about the use of French names in the classroom.  While I still agree with all the benefits I proposed for adopting French names in that post, I have since shifted away from having students use French names and in this post I will explain why.


Why I Used to Do It

The main reason I used to allow students to choose a French name because many of them enjoyed it!  Students would often want to know how to say their name in French anyways, so I gave them a list and let them choose their equivalent or closest match or a completely different one.  There are a few other reasons I mentioned in the post, but ultimately it came down to it being a tradition that students enjoyed, and it helped them learn how to pronounce a few French names.


Why I No Longer Do It

Well, to be honest, there are actually quite a few reasons I no longer do this as of this year.  Over the years, I started to notice some things about this practice that felt bizarre or inauthentic.  First, as one person commented on my 2016 post, many students come to believe that everyone has a different name when they travel to a French speaking country.  If I had a student named Jack who went by Jacques in class, it wouldn't be uncommon for Jack to believe that he should pronounce and spell his name Jacques if he were in France.  This is obviously not true, and even though I would explain this to my students, many of them remained confused about this.  When I started my pen pal project with a school in France, the students used their French names at first.  The teacher in France asked me why I did that, and he said the students thought it was bizarre.  In other countries outside the United States, students don't adopt a new name when they study a foreign language.  Then, this post from Spanish Plans sort of summed up a lot of things I was already starting to think.  In the article, the author makes the point that if you make students adopt a new name when studying French, it's like telling them their name isn't good enough for a French speaker.  It also gives students the impression that speakers of the target language only have stereotypical French-sounding names like Jean-Paul or Suzette, when in reality, French speakers have names that originate from all sorts of languages, not just French.  I have had native French speakers as students who did not have French names.  How can I tell them they need a new name in my class?  How can I tell a student named Nathan or Emma that their name isn't French enough when those are two of the most popular baby names in France right now and millions of French speakers have those names?  I also started to realize that if I only allowed students to pick from names that originated from French, I would inadvertently be ignoring a huge population of French speakers in parts of the world where most names typically originate from other languages, such as African languages or Arabic.  I eventually added some Afro-French names to my names list, but ultimately, we know there is really no limit to what kind of name a French speaker can have, and showing students a narrow list of names that only originate from a few languages gives off the impression that a French speaker would not have names from other languages.  

Another point that the post on Spanish Plans makes is that a name is a part of a student's identity.  If we can't use the student's real name, we can't connect with them as well.  Annabelle Allen a.k.a. La Maestra Loca, quoted on her blog Dale Carnegie when he said "The sweetest sound to a person, is the sound of their own name."  Her post about saying students' names as much as possible makes this same point of how important a person's own name is to him or her.  I know this to be even more true this year as I have begun addressing students by their REAL names!  Psychology and interpersonal experts tend to agree that people feel more important and more special when you address them by their name.  This year, with so much reduced face to face time with students (and my inability to greet them at the door like I normally would), I try my very best to address every student by name every day when they come in my class or sign onto Zoom.  Using their real names for the first time after ten years of addressing students by their French names, I feel like I am building a more authentic connection with them, and that is more important than ever this year.

Now one thing I did tell my students this year was that I am likely to pronounce their name with a French accent, especially when I am already speaking French.  I told them that this likely how their name would be pronounced if they traveled to a francophone country.  Figuring some students might be interested in choosing a French names or want to know how to say their name in French, I incorporated a little bit about this into one of my lessons earlier this year.  First, to teach them, how to say "His/Her name is" I created this graphic showing French speakers with a variety of different names originating from different languages (it should be noted that these are stock photos from Unsplash and that I made up their names and ages):


I then shared the following reasons with my students why they would not be receiving a French name:

-Because your name stays the same no matter what language you’re speaking. You don’t translate it when you go to a French-speaking country.​

-Because native French speakers have names that derive from many different languages, so there’s really no such thing as a “French name.” “Emma” and “Nathan” are two very popular names in France, and yet neither of them come from French. In Africa, many people’s names come from African or Arabic languages. Think about it: even though you speak English, all your names don’t necessarily come from English. I have had students with Italian, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Japanese names, for example.​ It’s very possible, even if your name doesn’t come from French, that there’s a native French speaker out there with your name, so who am I to tell you that your name isn’t “French enough”?​

BUT REMEMBER…​ It’s very hard for the brain to switch back and forth between languages, so if I’m speaking French and I call on you, I will probably pronounce your name with a French accent, especially if it’s a name that could already be French. I’ll probably do it without thinking about it!​ This will help you know how a French speaker is likely to pronounce your name. My first name is Samantha, which is not French, but when I am speaking French, I pronounce it with a French accent because it flows more easily.


So where do you stand on this argument?  Do you give your students target language names?  Why or why not?

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1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this. You inspired me to question this practice of mine after years of not really thinking about it.
    A Twitter association of mine pointed out that in Spanish class “you get to have a Spanish name for fun with none of the actual stereotypes or racism that comes with it”.

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