SIP 12.13 Call Me by My Name

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

MSU Denver Rowdy lanyardOur names are important. Think about those times you have been called by name: at birth, being comforted as a child, during school attendance, being cheered on for sports, during rites of passage or religious ceremonies, being given an award or graduating, by a loved one, being called home, or on a publication or theatre marque. Our names are uniquely us and are much more than just a name. They contain history, culture, expectation, affection, spirituality and belonging.

Even our brains recognize the sound of our name differently than other names or sounds; activating parts of the brain that are stimulated when recognizing one’s own image in a mirror, taking perspective, understanding one’s own and others’ state of mind, and creating self-descriptive adjectives (Carmody & Lewis, 2006). Hearing one’s name has even been observed to cause a reaction in the brain of people who are in a persistent vegetative state (Carmody & Lewis, 2006).

Using names provides connection with others, belonging and familiarity, acknowledgement of worth and presence, and respect. Think about these situations:

  • Being called the wrong name unintentionally or intentionally because someone does not know how to pronounce it.
  • Being at a conference or other professional gathering where someone you know professionally has forgotten or mispronounced your name or avoided introducing you because they don’t know your name.
  • Having your name misspelled or your work misattributed to someone else because of your name or identity.
  • Not using someone’s name in an email because you cannot spell it or don’t know how to add accents.
  • Being called, “miss,” “ma’am,” “sister,” “bro,” “dude,” “hey guy,” or “professor” because your name is unknown.
  • Having your name changed or forgotten because folks cannot pronounce it.
  • Avoiding addressing or calling on a student because you don’t know how to pronounce their name.
  • Surprised when someone from leadership knows your name.
  • Being given credit, by name, for an idea or work you have done publicly.

Names matter.

In higher educational settings, students reported that when instructors used their name in class that they were more comfortable asking for help and talking to instructors, and they were more likely to attend office hours if they perceived that instructors knew their name (Cooper, Haney, Krieg, & Brownell, 2017). In K-12 settings, using student names has been linked with increased accountability, pro-social behavior, engagement, empathy and decreased bullying (Crowe, 2012Sternheimer, 2014).

Given our current context of social isolation and online learning, using names in all forms of communication (i.e., emails, feedback, discussion boards, and videos) can reduce feelings of anonymity and invisibility, increase connection and belonging, and build empathy.

In addition, our current context has been marked by attacks and increased politicization based on one’s identity, specifically marginalized identities and communities. Intentionally knowing and using our students’ names is not only important for connection and learning but an act of social justice. Honoring identities by acknowledging and pronouncing names correctly are two actions we can take to disrupt white supremacy and dismantle power imbalances in higher education.

Take a SIP of This: Call Me by my Name

  • Take the time to learn names, and then practice!
  • Use name tents in class, make it important, collect and pass them out every week. This helps you and all students learn one another’s names.
  • Have students do a video introduction where they talk about their name and state/pronounce their name clearly. This way, you, and other students, can always refer to their name videos to help pronounce or remember. Also, have them write out their name and what they want to be called. Flipgrid is an excellent platform for this activity.
  • Take time to correctly spell names.
  • Create a list of all names in your class with correct spelling and phonetical pronunciation. Include what students want to be called if different from their published name and pronoun use. This way students and instructor can refer back to it easily without having to search through lots of introduction discussion posts. You could do this in a Google Doc, Shared Document, or editable Canvas Page where students can add in their information. Folks can insert a photo of themselves to make it easier to connect a face and name. Some instructors ask for this information before the first day of class to be prepared from the beginning.
  • Provide instructions in your syllabus and encourage students to change their names (and include pronouns) in TeamsCanvasZoomemail, and NetID that reflect how they would like to be addressed.
  • Use student names whenever sharing feedback, emails, or any communication.
  • Learn author and contributor attributions. Look up and try to pronounce authors, researchers, and other contributor names correctly in your class lectures, activities or online videos.
  • Teach and encourage students to honor one another’s names and pronouns in class, discussion and small groups. Teach students by modeling how to ask others’ names and to default to a gender-neutral pronoun until pronouns are expressed.
  • Ask students and other colleagues what they would like to be called in official communications such as graduate school references, job recommendations, interdepartmental advising, etc.

What happens when we mess up?

No matter how hard we try or how much we prepare, there will be instances when we mess up. If possible, address the mistake in the moment and take time to clarify if you need more time to understand a name. Reassure the person that mispronouncing or forgetting their name is about you and your abilities, not them. Often students will try to rescue you and say something like, “don’t worry about it, you can just call me Jon.” Try to resist the rescue unless that is the student’s preferred name. Tell them you will practice and may have to ask again. Correct, apologize, move on, and get it right next time. See the resources below for how to deal with forgetting and messing up.

Still Thirsty? Take a SIP of This: 

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