The Name Game

Your name can make you feel special-different or just different-different. Having your name repeatedly remarked upon, mispronounced, mangled, rejected by spell check can be a little wearing at best. At worst, it is another way of being made to feel “other” in the world. To be proud of your name is a way of being proud of yourself.

Giving our daughter an ancient and vowel-heavy Irish name (my husband is from Co Tyrone) inevitably makes her ‘other’ to a degree, even with some of her closest English family, who weren’t sure what to make of it at first. She will have to explain how to pronounce it and spell it many times in her life. It is beautiful, hers, and I hope she will treasure it.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal is an adorably-drawn origin story of young Alma’s name, which is so long it doesn’t fit on a single piece of paper. Each of her names comes from one of her forbears. Alma’s Daddy tells her about each one of them, and she sees how she might be like them in one way or another. She decides her name “fits me just right”.

In My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe, the little girl takes pride and pleasure in her name, even saying each syllable gives her a kick. Forsythe’s drawings brilliantly show “all the fun things my mouth does when I say it.”

But she doesn’t like it when people shorten her name – to Lizzy, Liz, Beth, Betsy – and in the end she makes sure everyone knows what she’d like to be called.

Tomie de Paola’s Andy, That’s My Name is wonderfully playful: a story and a game. Young Andy approaches a group of older kids pulling the letters of his name along on a cart. They grab the letters from him and combine them with their own letters, spelling out word after word (Andy is very useful like that). But when Andy finds himself pushed aside over and over again, he takes action and takes back his name: “I may be little but……. I’m very important!”

Have you read any books that tell stories about names?

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