What’s in a Name? Teaching Children the Art of Introductions
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.
– Chinese Proverb
It’s been said that the sound of our own name can be magical. It’s often true and particularly so for a child. I remember the principal saying “Hello Jenny.” to me in the school hallway. And I was in awe. “The principal knows my name?!”, I thought. When your children are entering a new classroom and grade level, there will likely be at least a few new faces they will encounter as the school year begins. We, as adults, sometimes skip or simply forget introductions between children. Teachers may introduce themselves and miss out on the chance to introduce students to one another. For teachers in classrooms, staff of after school programs, coaches for sports teams or Moms and Dads picking up their children on the playground, ensuring that there are full rounds of introductions on multiple occasions is an essential step toward building a sense of connectedness and community. Our name is an important part of our self-identity. Learning names can be a doorway to building relationships. As long-time educator and author Roxann Kriete wrote “Naming is often the beginning of knowing.”1
However name recall can be a great challenge for adults as well as children. Researchers found that when introductory conversations take place, people typically remember jobs and hobbies before they will be able to remember names. Psychologist Jeremy Dean writes that it has everything to do with meaning.2 We are able to better understand people or define their personalities through job titles or activities. A name like Anna on its own provides no specific information about who she is. Although it’s comforting to know that it’s human nature to have difficulty recalling names, it does not lessen the importance of knowing and using names in our daily interactions.
You can certainly give your child an advantage when walking into new environments and trying to make friends by modeling and practicing introductions. This summer, I stood around with other parents dropping off my child at a new camp — with unfamiliar staff and children. After no introductions were made on day one, I started introducing my son to a few other children and myself to other parents. I witnessed a substantial difference in my son’s motivation and eagerness to engage with the other kids and participate in the camp after the introductions had been made.
In teaching any skill, the best educators break down what adults may consider “the basics” into smaller steps and teach children each of the component skills. Try out these next steps with your children and see if they feel more confident starting school in the next few weeks.
Explore why names are so important.
Read Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs 3 to kick off a conversation about the importance of names. Or go through the pile of stuffed animals in your household with your child (if your house contains many like mine) and make sure that each has a meaningful name. Tell the story of how you came up with your child’s name. Why was it a special name for you? If you do not know the meaning or origin of your child’s name, look it up together.
Find a chance to practice an introduction and reflect on it.
Make it silly if you like. Introduce Dad to your daughter at dinner. Or introduce your favorite teddy bear to the rubber duck bath team. “Ted Bear meet Duckie.” “It’s so nice to meet you. I’ve already heard so much about your adventures together.” Reflect on what you did during the introduction. What did your body look like? Eye contact, leaning in and shaking a hand are all ways you can show you are interested in greeting another. What specifically did you say? “Hello, my name is Anna. What’s your name?” is an easy way to begin.
When making introductions, find out one thing about the other person.
Assist yourself and your child with recall by associating a person’s name with something meaningful about who they are. “What do you like to play at home?” or “What’s your favorite game?” might be standby questions for your child to ask to begin to get to know a person.
If you are playing host, facilitate learning each other’s names.
Playdates or birthday parties are times in which friends and family are brought together from a variety of contexts and may not know one another. Help establish connections by providing name tags. And before pinning the tail on the donkey, facilitate a name game to help children learn each other’s names. For ideas on a variety of name games, check out The Ultimate Camp Resource on Name Games.
And what if you forget a name? Help your child know what to do.
Those moments can be awkward when your child wants to interact with another but just cannot remember his or her name. What can he say? “Excuse me. Can you tell me your name again?” Practice and model this with adults when you have the chance so that he can watch how it’s done and be ready when he’s feeling uncomfortable.
And for educators and others who work with groups of children, remember it takes multiple exposures to a name to remember it. Name games such as those described in The Morning Meeting Book can be an enjoyable way to practice introductions, remember names and get to know each person in a classroom community. One of my favorites is the simple Adjective Greeting in which each individual picks an adjective that begins with the same letter of that person’s first name. You can call me “Joyous, Jovial and Jumpy Jennifer.”
Children who are able to recall and use others’ names demonstrate confidence and assertiveness. Using names imbues the greeter with the power to build relationships. However the ability to introduce oneself does not always begin naturally or comfortably. Equipping your child with the ability to introduce himself will prepare him for entrance into any social context. How do you practice introductions with your children?
1 Kriete, R. (2002). The Morning Meeting Book. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
2 Davis, J. Why People’s Names Are So Hard to Remember. Retrieved on August 14, 2014.
3 Whybrow, I., & Reynolds, A. (1999). Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs. New York: Random House.
This is so important. I really enjoyed reading this. As a professor, I’ve noticed what a hard time I have remembering student names and how important they are to building relationships quickly. After a few weeks of class, how do I ask again, “Can you remind me of your name?” without totally demeaning our relationship? This was a great piece to remind me that it is ok to ask and worth the effort to study up and work hard to know all of their names. Wish me luck with the incoming cohort!
Thanks so much, Shannon! There is so much to accomplish at the start of the school year that it’s easy to skip over really learning names. Glad you see the importance as well. Best of luck with the new cohort and looking forward to another year of dialogue!