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Growing Reader

7 Picture Books and Classroom Activities to Introduce the Importance of Names

by Lindsay Barrett

Photo credit: Image Source, Vetta/Getty Images

What’s in a name? Well, a lot! Many teachers start the school year with a focus on students’ names, and for good reason. A young child’s name is often the first word he or she learns to recognize in print. Teachers of younger students can use names to introduce or review important concepts about print, the alphabet, and phonological awareness. Helping students learn about one other’s names encourages a collective sense of belonging and supports relationship-building. Talking about names can invite conversation about children’s cultural backgrounds and family stories. Of course, names are important for many book characters, too!

Check out seven of our favorite name-themed stories, along with ideas for using them in the classroom:

  • A Name for Baby

    by Lizi Boyd

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    As woodland visitors stop by with gifts, a mother mouse thoughtfully considers what to name her baby. She’s not willing to make a quick decision; a name has to have just the right sound. Finally, the moon helps her settle on the perfect choice. After reading and discussing children’s own ideas for what the baby mouse’s name should be — they’re sure to have many — review the names in the story with a focus on rhyme and alliteration. Mother Mouse, Sadie Snail, Kiki Cat, Greenie Grasshopper, Blake Snake, Merle Squirrel — there are many examples to discuss. Then ask students to come up with alliterative or rhyming aliases for their own names.

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  • Almost an Animal Alphabet

    by Katie Viggers

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    Primary teachers write out the names in their class in alphabetical order many times over on lists, sets of name tags, and labels. Depending on the year, they “almost” cover the alphabet, but never completely. The author of this title could likely sympathize; she included animals for nearly every letter, but had to think creatively to fill in a few holes. Use this book as inspiration for an “Almost a Class Alphabet” book. Use photos and names of students where relevant and fill in other school-related words as needed.

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  • The Name Jar

    by Yangsook Choi

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    Being new is never easy, but Unhei is especially self-conscious about how her Korean name sounds to her American classmates. Her curious classmates create a Name Jar of suggestions to help her choose an American name, but none of the new options seem to fit. Ultimately, with reassurance and acceptance of new friends, Unhei decides the best name is the one she already has. Talk about how learning about each other’s names is an important part of getting to know one another. Create your own class “name jar” full of name-related questions and prompts. Draw from it periodically during the first few weeks of school.

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  • Alma and How She Got Her Name

    by Juana Martinez-Neal

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    Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela thinks her name is too long — until she finds out that each part of it has a unique story. Sofia was her book-loving grandmother. Esperanza was her great-grandmother who dreamed of traveling the world. Jose was her observant, artistic grandfather … and on it goes. Names can honor cultural backgrounds, ancestors, and parents’ memories, preferences, and hopes for the future. Brainstorm a list of name-related interview questions as a class. Ask students to talk with family members about the stories behind their names and share their findings. Continue building classroom community by applying some of the same name-choosing principles to selecting just the right name for a class pet or imaginary mascot.

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  • Hello, My Name is Ruby

    by Philip C. Stead

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    Ruby is a little yellow bird with a big heart. She bravely introduces herself to other birds large and small, and invites them to go flying. She finds her flock in the end, but hangs onto the eclectic group of friends she collected along the way. This sweet story explicitly models how to introduce oneself and the pragmatics of back-and-forth conversation. After reading, practice introductions. To encourage students to begin to recognize class names in writing, hold up a card with each student’s name to say who’s next.

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  • My Name is Elizabeth!

    by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

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    “What do you like others to call you?” “Do you have a nickname?” This title will get your class talking about these basic but important questions. Elizabeth Alfreda Roxane Carmelita Bluebell Jones is exasperated by greetings of Liz, Lizzy, Beth, and Betsy. Finally, she makes her preferred moniker very clear — with a satisfying response. After reading, have students decorate nametags that show exactly what they’d like to be called and invite them to confidently share them with the group.

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  • My Name Is Yoon

    by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

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    When Yoon moves to the United States, her parents tell her she must learn to write her name in English. She prefers how it looks in Korean and is proud of how it means “Shining Wisdom.” As she learns English words, she imagines that her name is Cat, Bird, or even Cupcake. When she’s finally ready to write YOON on her school papers, it’s a special milestone. For students still learning to print their names, invite them to choose stickers or stamps they enjoy to trace the shape of each letter. Have older students research the meanings of their names and share or write about how those meanings fit them.

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Which books about names do you enjoy sharing with students? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

For more lesson plans, book recommendations, and reading tips for your classroom or library, check out our Teach Brightly page!