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What’s in a name?


Tuesday 04 April 2017

Every day we use children’s names without realising. Mark Twain (1835-1910) reminds us names are not always what they seem. The Welsh name Bzjxxllwcp is pronounced Jackson. However, what is in a name? Does it matter if we say a child’s name wrong, shorten it or don’t use it at all?

Irelands population is growing, with 182 languages spoken in our small island. English is Ireland’s first language, with Polish as the second. Working with different cultures, and languages on one hand may offer challenges, but is also offers many positive experiences. But, it does remind us, we need to be mindful, and respectful of children, and their names.

For us, as adults, we can all remember the time when someone got our name wrong through mispronunciation, or even shortening of our names. From an early age, I have been conscious of people spelling my name correctly, and as a child is was something which I found challenging if it was misspelt. As it didn’t represent me, the child behind the name. it was someone else. In my last position, we had children from diverse cultural backgrounds. Imagine, being part of a group of children, and one of the significant adults in your life doesn’t call or sing you’re your name correctly, or perhaps doesn’t say your name at all.


I remember, another practitioner and myself were reviewing the enrolment forms and there was a discussion regarding the pronunciation of one child’s name. There was a level of uncertainty on saying the name. On the open day, I approached the parent, and asked the correct pronunciation of their child’s name, and their also their own name. However, I felt the conversation challenged me as a practitioner, and I felt a level of vulnerability in my ability to ‘care’ for their child as I didn’t speak the language.

However, what I did know was, children learn from their surrounding environment, and from the adults around. From this, I could see the correct pronunciation of each child’s name was the first step towards an inclusive environment. There is a sense of identity which comes with a name: a culture, a story, and an individual. From this, there is a sense of belonging, where you feel respected as an individual, and affirmed for who you are.

Recently, as an adult, I experienced this sense of disconnect through a study visit to Norway. We visited an early years setting where Norwegian was the key language spoken. It was the first time I had experienced, we, as English speaking, were the minority within an early year’s environment. As an adult, introducing myself, I over-pronounced and shortened my name. While at the same time, my name was not used by the practitioners within the room throughout the 2 days. Within the group, I felt disengaged and a sense of sadness, but more so, I felt a sense of disconnect and embarrassment. Within this, I was the adult and I did have a voice.


Imagine being 3 years old, and being the minority. Mispronouncing, shortening or not using a child’s name may create a sense of isolation, a sense of loneliness, or a sense of frustration for them. A name signifies self-esteem, independence, emotions, culture, positive interactions, and respect. It signifies the child as an individual, with unique traits and abilities, and their own story. Using parents and children’s names in everyday practices from the time the door opens in the morning, to the time they leave your care is the foundation of respect, embracing diversity and sustaining positive interactions with the child and their families.

As the adult, we have the responsibility to encourage each child to be confident within their environment, and to create a positive sense of identity and belonging. Using the child’s name, shows we respect all children, and families. But more-so, that each child is provided with their right to a name, regardless of their ethnicity, background or culture. So, what I have learned is, to ask how to say a name if you are unsure and write down the phonetical pronunciation somewhere in the room where you can see it. As Mark Twain (1835-1910) remined us at the start, names are not always what they appear to be.

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