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Getting it Right: the Importance of Names

In their recent book Your Name is a Song, author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrator Luis Uribe tell the story of a young girl who is saddened by her teacher’s (and classmates’) inability to pronounce her name correctly. Eventually, the girl’s mother helps her to see the musicality in her and others’ names, empowering the girl to speak up and stand up for the beauty of her own name, but one does hope the teacher in the book will do things differently going forward to create a more inclusive classroom community.

As adults working with children, we should not put the young people we work with in such uncomfortable situations. As a whole, the librarian and teacher professions are overwhelmingly white. And while we all agree that the children in our classrooms and programs deserve to be seen, heard and respected, we may spend more time worrying about curriculum, or finger plays, or slime recipes, than student name pronunciations. In her piece on the inherent problems with white adults mispronouncing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) children’s names, Ali Hodge writes that “a sense of belonging is critical to building the classroom environment we need to achieve educational gains. Therefore, if we know that our inattention to the correct pronunciation of a student’s name could make them feel unimportant, we must change our ways.”

When children from marginalized identities are treated in ways that make them seem different, or “other,” we all lose. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control which can adversely effect our children as well, such as the violence in Atlanta last week. While AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) communities are reeling from the devastation of these targeted attacks, following a year that has seen violence against AAPI communities rising steadily, our responsibility to make sure all of the children in our classrooms and programs are seen, heard and valued is more important than ever. While booklists are helpful and books can and do change lives, one crucial thing we must do is pronounce all of our students’ and young patrons’ names correctly.

Today’s post was written by Sam Bloom (he/him/his), a Youth Services Librarian in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Chair of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation. Sam can be reached at sibloom24@gmail.com.

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