Equity & Diversity Opinion

How ‘My Name, My Identity’ Can Create a Global Consciousness Locally

By Dr. Yee Wan — August 29, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The “My Name, My Identity” initiative is a collaboration between the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) and the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE). Dr. Yee Wan, Director of Multilingual Education Services for Santa Clara County Office of Education, had the idea for the campaign given her own personal experience of being called the wrong name. She explains the ties between one’s name and one’s identity.

What’s in a name?

As children we learn to identify people and objects by their name; young children are immediately encouraged to learn the correct names for objects. Our name has great importance; it is what introduces us to the world. It is how we navigate through the world. And there is much we can do in a local context to support this idea.

Reports like The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun questions whether people with easy-to-pronounce names are often raised higher in personal estimation because their names are easier to pronounce. While “impression formation depends on a variety of cues,” including ethnicity and gender, the study removed those variables to demonstrate the “potency of processing ease in impression formation” and its effect on “how we evaluate others”. The study suggests that snap judgments are made based on how well we recognize and pronounce someone’s name.

However, this should not be the case—we can all learn to say a person’s name correctly if we take the time. Consider the alternative: What does it say when people do not bother to learn our correct name? That is the question that sparked the “My Name, My Identity” initiative.

To Know My Name is to Know Me
When I moved from Mainland China to the United States as an international student at 17, I immediately enrolled in an English as a second language (ESL) course. Shortly after starting the course, my teacher elected to call me “Winnie” instead of “Yee,” and the name caught on with my classmates.

I really did not have the courage to tell her, “I’m not Winnie. Can you call me Yee?” I respected her so much that I just didn’t feel that it was the right thing for me to do.

But at the same time, I felt as though she had not taken the time to get to know me. Because my name is Yee. It means friendship in Chinese.

I was born in mainland China, and my name was given to me by my parents. My name connects me to my family members who live outside of the United States. I visit them every year. Losing my name means losing connection to some of my close family who I care deeply about and my identity because I communicate with them in Chinese.

Take the Time to Know Your Students
While it may seem a little thing to some, mispronouncing a student’s name does have an impact on their identity. By mispronouncing a name, it may indicate you are not taking the time to get to know that individual. What does this tell them? What effect might this have on academic progress? How does this impact their sense of belonging at school?

The goal of the “My Name, My Identity” initiative, is to build a more inclusive, respectful culture by asking educators and community members to make a pledge honoring students, neighbors, and co-workers identities by promising to learn how to pronounce their names correctly.

In the context of global education, we talk about how important it is for students to feel proud of who they are and to have the ability to connect with people from different languages and backgrounds locally, and also around the world. Names may have deep and important ties to both family history and culture, and making the extra effort to use a person’s preferred name and pronounce it correctly is a small step that can create a big impact.

Everyone has the right to be acknowledged as an individual. Everyone has a right to be called by the name that represents their identity. Together we can build a respectful and caring culture in school communities that value diversity.

Visit mynamemyidentity.org make a pledge, and share your name story or that of your children on the “My Name, My Identity” Facebook page, or by following @mynamemyid_ and using the hashtag #mynamemyid on Twitter.

Image courtesy of the author.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!

Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Do Students Have What They Need? One Survey Looks to Answer That Question
Even before the pandemic started, one state started thinking about how to understand student needs better. That plan accelerated with the virus.
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week