On Teaching: Students’ Names
In an English class, students are expected to learn lots of new words. Commonly, 4 words are enough for young minds to wrap their heads around during one lesson. For older primary aged students that number is bumped up to 8 words per lesson.
The teacher helps the students drill, define, apply to sentences, and expand in new contexts. The students dutifully follow the lesson and then forget everything so that we can have a meaningful review the following week. The ebbs and flow of remembering should lean more and more towards quickly recalling the information. But that is a process.
During this process the teacher also has some new words to learn--the students’ names. This can be too daunting when the foreign teacher sees 20 classes of 30 students for half an hour each week. A few faces pop up but there is little time to match names with faces--let alone go through the process of interacting with the students long enough to really learn their names.
At a training center, where there are far fewer students per class. Learning names is much easier. Students enjoy taking on their English names. They usually name themselves but occasionally they ask the teacher to be given a name. How the name is determined is not simply random. Sometimes a certain name sees to match a student.
For example In my Saturday night class we had a boy named Peter. For some reason, he didn’t continue after the Spring 2013 semester. In the Fall of 2013 a new student joined us. As it turned out, his name was Peter. So naturally, I called him New Peter. At first is was just funny and New Peter tried to shake that name. But he couldn’t. It stuck.
Sometimes English names sound like Chinese words. My bosses niece is a very lovely girl. She wanted an English name. My co-worker, at the time, Hanna though the name Emma suited her. The name conjures up the image of a refined, graceful, educated, and beautiful girl. Almost instantly I called her he ma(河马), which is the Chinese word for hippopotamus.
The same is true for girls names Amy. Amy sounds like 黑米, the Chinese word for black rice. Black rice porridge is a popular breakfast dish in some parts of China.
Tina’s have to suffer being called ti奶奶, or T-grandma.
Apple is also a popular name. But a person named Apple begs to be called iphone.
Sometimes the English name actually lends itself to other English words. For example girls names Wendy get their names hybrid with Wednesday for a name like Wendiday. Katie becomes KTV.
Boys names Tony become 驼鸟, ostrich, pronounced tuo niao.
Some times the funny part of the English name is just a random funny thing like with Justine who I call Justine Pizza. There is no reason to call him this other than the fact that he is 6 years old and loves to hate me calling him that. He retaliates by calling me David Pizza.
Sometimes entire classes have students with funny names. Funny names may not be important, on some levels. But funny names that play on other English words, on Chinese words, on random associations, etc. are fun. So by simply bringing a little more fun to class, the stage is set for memorable learning.
Sometimes, the name comes from a situation. When I was at the foreign language primary school, I noticed a tiny second grader hobbling on a tiny pair of crutches. This was around the time of the roller skating craze so it was safe to assume that she had a little accident on her skates. She later told me that was not how she broke her foot. But she looked a little overwhelmed with her crutches as she had to keep her bandaged and slipper-ed foot off the ground. That was how Liu Zhan Lan got the name Monkey Foot. I only intended to try to cheer her up as I noticed a broad grinning monkey head embroidered in the top of the fuzzy slipper that fitted over the cast keeping her little toes warm.
She no longer wanted to be called Betty. She actually kept that name up until last week, when her private tutor renamed her Merissa. Although Merissa is a charming name, I’m a little sad that she has already outgrown the name that I once gave her. But after all, she is about 14 now. It is time for her to be able to introduce herself and leave people to wonder how on earth her English got so good instead to wondering why the hell her name is Monkey Foot.