What's in a Name? – California Teachers Association

Learning about and pronouncing students’ names correctly goes a long way toward making students feel seen
Educators know that making students feel valued and respected is critical to children and youth learning and achieving to their fullest potential. Honoring — and correctly pronouncing — students’ names is an important first step for everyone to have a sense of belonging and being seen. It also goes a long way to strengthening educators’ bonds with individual students.
The diversity in California and in our schools means students bring their rich languages, cultures and traditions to the school community. This includes their names, of course. “A person’s name is part of their cultural identity,” Rita Kohli, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, said in a 2021 NEA article. Failure to recognize this can cut deep in the classroom. In 2012, Kohli co-authored a paper titled “Teachers, Learn Our Names! Microaggressions and the K-12 Classroom.” She and colleague Daniel Solórzano interviewed 41 students of color in K-12 schools and found that the failure to pronounce a name correctly can negatively impact the worldview and social-emotional well-being of students.
“When the child enters school and teachers — consciously or not — mispronounce, disregard or change the name, they are in a sense disregarding the family and culture of the students as well,” Kohli and Solórzano wrote. “The consequences of these subtle racial experiences are real and can have a lasting impact on the wellbeing and self-perceptions of youth.”
Strategies to consider
What are the best ways educators can learn students’ names and convey the story and meaning behind a name or culture to the rest of the class?
The campaign is also for all students and educators to understand the importance of honoring their peers’ identities by learning to pronounce their names correctly — and learning the stories behind the names. Engaging in these activities will help cultivate an inclusive learning environment.
The campaign offers a comprehensive toolkit and multiple resources for classroom educators. It asks educators to take the pledge to respect student names.
Getting It Right, a publication from the Regional Education Laboratory Northwest, offers information on naming conventions in 11 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Ukrainian, Urdu and Vietnamese.
Learning about each other and valuing each other’s backgrounds and cultures — including our names — is key to an inclusive, thriving classroom and school.
CTA asked members how they learned to pronounce students names. Popular responses:
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