Goals

To: 

  • Describe why it is important for all instructors to learn students’ names as a core component of effective teaching, and
  • Provide instructors with strategies to learn students’ names effectively and efficiently.

Introduction 

Learning students’ names is an important inclusive teaching practice. When instructors learn the names of their learners, it can make their students feel valued and as if they are not just a number in the course. Even in larger courses, research supports that instructors need not know every students’ name in order for their learners to perceive that they know their names (Cooper et al., 2017). However, when instructors do not take the time to learn their students’ names, it can undermine the identities of their learners, and be perceived as microaggressions, “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership” (Sue, 2010). Unfortunately, throughout their schooling, some students may have had their names repeatedly mispronounced, which can be continual threats to their sense of identity. Learners may therefore feel appreciation when instructors take time to ask them how to pronounce their names even when they appear unfamiliar (Igwe, 2016). This can be particularly important for, but not limited to, international students for whom the correct pronunciation of their names can signify acceptance into a culture, foster a sense of belonging and demonstrate that they matter. Listen to the narrative of a college student who experienced their name continually mispronounced describe how it made them feel invisible. 

A person’s name is part of their cultural identity. A failure to recognize this extraordinary significance can cut deep in the classroom. Honoring a student’s name early within the academic year creates an inclusive environment in the classroom and helps students thrive. The ending result of this practice is mutual respect. Once respect is gained from the student, the learning can fall into place. Students will be more able to access where you want them to go with the curriculum.

Given the many obligations that come with teaching, learning students’ names does take time, effort, and intentionality. This resource provides several recommendations to instructors to support their usage of students’ names.

FAQs

Below are some common questions and answers regarding learning students’ names. 

How can I find out my students’ preferred first names? 

Lafayette College has a Preferred First Name Policy where any member of the College community can use their preferred first name. All students’ preferred first names are listed in your Moodle course roster. See this webpage for more information on accessing your student’s preferred first names.

WHAT ARE SOME STRATEGIES TO HELP ME LEARN MY STUDENTS’ NAMES?

Before the semester:

  • Intentional review of course roster – Schedule 5-10 minutes over a few days prior to the start of the semester to review students’ preferred names and photos in Moodle to increase your familiarity with the class.

During the semester: 

  • Use name tents – Supply name tents at the first class session and ask students to write their names on them and bring them to each class session. Leverage the name tents to call students by their names. This strategy can be used in classes of any size and can help build community and encourage students to learn each other’s names as well (Cooper et al., 2017). You can also invite students to also share their pronouns on their name tents and write out a phonetic spelling of their names. Watch this vignette where the students use name tents.

  • Practice retrieval – Ask students to state their preferred names before they speak in class and then follow their comments up by using their names. This strategy, called retrieval practice in the learning sciences, can be useful in learning students’ names. Rehearsing students’ names also gives you the opportunity to double-check correct pronunciations, and can be an opportunity to take notes on the phonetic spellings of your students’ names. 
  • Incorporate an introduction activity – Consider facilitating an icebreaker activity such as The Story My Name on the first day of class. This can be a meaningful and memorable experience for both the students and the instructors and also help with the learning of names.
  • Leverage features in Zoom/Google Meet – If you are teaching synchronously online, at the beginning of the class ask students to rename themselves with their preferred first names if they are not already listed. Pronouns can also be added to their profiles.

How can I learn how to pronounce student names that are unfamiliar to me?

There are several sites that can assist with the pronunciation of names. Two examples are NameShouts and Forvo. Be sure to also ask students the correct pronunciations of their names to verify the accuracy as they might slightly differ from what is provided on the website given the many variations in names. 

Challenge students to also learn and use each others’ names to build community 

Sharing the responsibility of knowing everyone’s name can establish a sense of community within the classroom. Ask students to introduce themselves during the first couple of classes when participating. When giving students an activity, have a “pair-like mindset” by reminding them first to introduce themselves to their partner. 

Be kind to yourself and patient with the process of learning students’ names. It’s perfectly normal to not get names correct the first time, and it might seem overwhelming to learn all of your students’ names in larger classes. When in doubt, ask your students their names and let them know that you are intentionally trying to learn them. There are many rewards to learning students’ names which may be seen or unseen. 

References & Other Resources

Bryan, J. (2021). Say my name: The importance of correct terms, titles and pronunciation. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/say-my-name-importance-correct-terms-titles-and-pronunciation

Cooper, K.M., Haney, B., Krieg, A., & Brownell, S.E. (2017). What’s in a name? The importance of students perceiving that an instructor knows their names in a high-enrollment biology classroom. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(1). 

Igwe, N. (2016). Getting students’ names right: It’s personal. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/getting-names-right-personal/

Johnson, E. (2018). Picking your own name. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/09/17/growing-number-colleges-let-students-pick-their-names

O’Brien, M.T., Leiman, T., & Duffy, J. (2014). The power of naming: The multifaceted value of learning students’ names. QUT Law Review, 14(1). 

Sue, D.W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley. pp. xvi.ISBN 047049140X.

University of Warwick. Say My Name Project.