Having…the talk

2012-02-20_042110_language_iconOne of my colleagues told me this morning that she’s going to be forced to have the talk with a few of her students. No, not the birds and the bees or anything like that; the  your chosen English name sounds ridiculous talk.

We’ve all had students who choose to go by an “English” name in English class that is not their given name. There are the arguments in favour–it helps the student take on an alternate identity that can speed their learning of English, they think (rightly or wrongly) that their teacher won’t be able to pronounce or remember their given name, they have fond memories attached to this particular name because they’ve been using it since elementary school. And it’s a free country, right? Anyone can go by whatever they want.

But then there are the rants and raves (and laughs) at the expense of those who adopt this practice. We teachers love to swap stories of students choosing a particularly dated, or bizarre name, or a name that’s not even one in the first place. My colleague now has a Deft, a Gecko, a Pawn and a Creed*  in her current class! We’ve had numerous Echos, a Beyond, a Chamber, a Purple, a Snowy and a few Floyds, Bobs and Bills  whose names were more fitting of retirees than undergrads. And the list goes on.

So, do you say anything? Do you have the talk  with your students? My colleagues and I have debated this topic. While some are firmly in the “Live and let live; do whatever you want!” camp, I fall on the other side. In an EFL or private language school environment, going by an alternate name for the few hours a week you’re in English class may not be the biggest deal. But we teach EAP at a university in an ESL/EAL context. If students choose an alternate name, this is the name that will follow them throughout their academic career, with professors, fellow students, and into the workplace. We, as EAP instructors, are often the first English-speaking people they come into contact with when they move here. I think it’s our duty to at least inform our students if they’ve chosen a completely ridiculous name that people might have a hard time taking them seriously. A student can then knowingly choose to accept these consequences if they continue to go by their chosen name. If we don’t say anything, there is a danger they will interpret our saying nothing as tacit approval of their choice of names. And next thing you know, someone is requesting that a letter of reference from a prof be addressed to Gecko.

Have you ever had  the talk with your students?

[*This is only slightly preferable to being called Nickleback.]


4 thoughts on “Having…the talk

  1. What you say is true, we do have a responsibility, as their first contact to prepare them culturally to blend into degree classes. So I think it’s good you tackle this directly. I tend to be more of a coward and just aim to plant doubts in their mind with vague comments like ‘interesting name! Did your teacher give you this name? Did you choose it? Why did you choose it?’ A more direct approach and less sniggering in the staff room would be more useful!!

    • Don’t get me wrong–I think this is incredibly awkward. It’s also much easier to bring up when it’s a word that’s clearly not a name, versus a name that’s just old-fashioned or bizarre.

  2. Grand topic for a post, Jen! I subscribe to your line of thinking, though I admit I’ve only had the talk very informally and in passing with a few students. This does give me pause, however, as to its effectiveness. I doubt my most recent name casualty, “Jelly”, has yet to heed my advice, especially when in our class FB page, she adopted the descriptive, “Sexy Jelly” as a moniker…. sigh. Great post for #tleap for August’s discussion I’d say.

    • Let’s do it! I will have some more points to add that have come up with colleagues since the post. For example, it can give rise to interesting conversations about names vs nicknames; when nicknames are appropriate and when they’re not, language around nicknames (“my name’s X, but my friends call me Beyond” or whatever…)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s