What’s in a Name?

All I want to do is have a little fun before I die
Says the man next to me out of nowhere
It’s apropos of nothing he says his name is William
But I’m sure he’s Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy

No Sheryl, just no.  If he says his name is William, call him William. Maybe your first impression was wrong or he’s trying something new. Either way, give the guy a break and call him by the name he’s asked you to, it’s a matter of respect.


One of my most vivid memories of my days at school is of a KS3 art lesson. Our Art teacher, who we shall call, Mr Grumpypants, was a long-in-the-tooth traditional teacher. Traditional in the 90s meant “mock them and cane them” mould rather than “teach them and test them” that I’d like to think it means today. He always refered to students by their surnames, a phenomenon that was being phased out by a new headmaster, but was clearly a progressive stept too far for Mr Grumpypants, who only learned the surnames of anyone with an inkling of artistic talent; refering to everyone else as “boy” (for it was an all boys school).

I can’t remember how many lessons we’d had. I could be generous and say it was only two or three, but honestly my peers could insist we were two terms in and I’d easily believe Mr Grumpypants had barely learned a student name.

On this particular day, things were kicking off. Perhaps it was windy, or there was a wasp in the room, but whatever the reason, we were doing little and Mr Grumpypants was furious that his lesson was being derailed and he started shouting at one of the ringleaders of the tormentors who he’d just witness throw a pencil across the room, for which he was going to issue a detention.

“What’s your name, boy?”
“Andrew, Sir”
“Not your first name. your surname, boy.” Shouted Grumpypants
“That is my surname, Sir. My name is Joseph Andrew.” and Joe Andrew was not lying for that was his name.
“Well, Andrew Joesph, you will be sharpening pencils after school on Friday.” said Mr Grumpypants, writing his name on the board

He spent the rest of the year calling Joe Andrew, Andrew Joseph seemingly oblivious to the sniggers from the rest of the class. Needless to say that Joe had little respect for Mr Grumpypants, and few of the rest of us did either.


Names are important. As the replies to a recent viral tweet show, people are understandably attached to their names and find it annoying when people get them wrong.


Yet, we are likely to get students names wrong, unless we ask them.  My parents christened me William, but called me Billy from the day I was born onwards. My Dad always said he could tell which teachers had no real interest in helping me as an individual when looking down their lists at parents evening or in reports as they refered to me as William, or worse, Will.

As the above tweet, and it’s quoted replies show, people lose respect quite quickly for people who make no attempt to get their name correct. Whilst some names that are alien to your culture might be difficult to pronounce, if you make no effort at all then you are alienating that individual and they will quickly lose respect for you.  But you don’t have to do your research ahead of time, (though you know that students preferred names are often listed on SIMS, right), just quickly circulate the class in the first lesson and ask each student how they’d like to be addressed. For sure, there are plenty of students who don’t mind whether you call them Tom or Thomas, but you’ll be amazed how often students use their middle names, have a preference for shortened or full versions of their names or even preferred spellings of Ollie/Olly/Oli which is worth getting right when you write written feedback.

Our name represents our identity. Our name is who we are. Those who do not use our preferred name are not acknowledging us as individuals. We become words on pieces of paper, faces in the crowd. We lose our individualism. Do you think a teacher gets their student’s name wrong gets the same respect as the teacher who gets their name right?

Whilst, my A-Level Chemistry teacher who wanted to call me Bill (“Billy is so childish“, he would say) would eventually be right; that I would grow up a bit and refer to myself as Bill, it didn’t happen until long after Univeristy, and it’s still never Mac or Buddy, Sheryl.

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