Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.’ ~David S. Slawson
Meet jeannezoo of zella said purple. In her own words, Jeanne is “an early childhood educator, artist, writer, book collector. committed to constructivist learning environments, documentation and photography as teacher research tools, and joy in the classroom.” Jeanne recently wrote a beautiful post entitled because it is your name , which inspired me to write this one.
In her post, Jeanne says,
KNOW that each name is important – the way it is pronounced and the respect it deserves.
The name IS the child that you are inviting, welcoming, and including into the family that is your classroom.
Uplift the names, uplift each child.
This reminded me of a conversation I once had with Magda Gerber about the importance of calling each child by their name. Magda felt that it was especially important for early childhood professionals (teachers, nannies, pediatricians, etc.) to address even the tiniest babies by their given names, as opposed to calling them by pet, or nicknames. To Magda, it was a question of respect. In our society, it’s still common for many, even professionals, to address both the very young and the elderly, using nicknames or pet names, which is disrespectful for two reasons; it both diminishes a person, and implies an intimacy and a power differential that should not exist.
As a teacher of young children, I’ve often witnessed that sometime around their second year, when toddlers are typically asserting their sense of individuality, they will insist on being called by their names, even by their nearest and dearest. Pet names won’t fly. Just last week, I was at the park and I overheard an exchange between two siblings. The big sister (maybe five years old) was comforting her little brother who had just taken a minor tumble from the slide. She sweetly offered to help him get up, asked him if he was OK, gave him a hug (which he returned) , and then she said, “I’m sorry my wee little sweetie fell and got hurt.” This seemed to offend and upset the little boy more than the fall had. He straightened up to his full height and indignantly declared: “I NOT wee sweetie, I Zwackery ( Zachery) !”
A favorite quote by Dr. Seuss comes to mind, “A person is a person, no matter how small.” And, I might add, no matter how young or old, and thus -deserves the respect of being addressed by his or her given name, instead of as “dear” or “sweetie” or “munchkin” or “baby” or “cutie”.
Because after all, our names are unique unto us, and define who are. I have many roles in my life- that of daughter, sister, student, teacher, caregiver, friend, lover, fiance – but I define myself to myself first and foremost by my name- Lisa.
Words have meaning and names have power. ~Author Unknown
For the same reason I try to avoid labeling children, or talking about them in their presence without acknowledging or including them in the conversation, I try to call each child I meet by their given name. Over the years, I’ve had the honor of caring for and teaching many children, and I remember each one of them by name.
Over time, I have also become very aware of how I am thinking about and describing children, both to myself and others. One day, a Mom who was frustrated with her young daughter was describing her as “clumsy, oafish, a little like a bull in a china shop.” I replied that I didn’t think of her that way at all. I thought of her as delightfully exuberant. Her Mom got tears in her eyes as she thanked me, saying, “You always seem to find and see the best in every child.” ( I try, but I’m not perfect, and I don’t always get it right.)
But doesn’t it make a difference in the way you feel about, and interact with a child if you use these words to describe his behavior:
“He knows his own mind, and is decisive. He needs my help to understand that sometimes others have different ideas and feelings about things.”
As opposed to using these words:
“He is obstinate and stubborn, and needs to learn that what he wants is not the only thing that matters.”
My favorite story about my name and my professional title? I’ve always felt there is no good name to describe my current chosen work – babysitter, nanny, caregiver- none of them feel quite right, or really fit. Magda Gerber came closest to accurately describing the work I do, when she coined the term “educarer” which could apply to either a parent or a professional- anyone involved in caring for a child or children on a day-to-day basis. The term embodies the notion that ” we educate (or teach) as we care, and we care while we educate.”
But in this case, I have to tip my hat to S., who is now almost six years old, and for whom I have been caring since she was just under a year old. When S. was three and a half years old, she started attending a preschool program a few hours a day, in the mornings. When I would arrive to pick her up every day, she’d inevitably be out back playing, and several of her little friends would run to find her, calling out, ” S, your Mom is here.” S. simply replied, “That’s not my Mom, that’s my Lisa,” which the other children seemed to understand, and accept immediately. And thus, I became known as “S.’s Lisa.” When S. started Kindergarten last year, she was thrilled to find another of her classmates had a “Lisa” too. The best job “review” I ever received? “Everyone should be lucky enough to have a Lisa like you.”
I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts with me about “the meaning of words and the power of names.”