Growing Reader

5 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 five of our favorite name-themed stories, along with ideas for using them in the classroom:

  • A Name for Baby

    by Lizi Boyd

    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.

  • Hello World!

    by Kelly Corrigan, illustrated by Stacy Ebert

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    We meet new people every day, and the relationships we create are what make life meaningful. This gorgeous picture book celebrates those relationships and shows children that they can get to know some fantastic people through curiosity and asking the right questions. 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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  • 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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  • G My Name Is Girl

    by Dawn Masi

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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. From A to Z, this beautifully inclusive picture book names girls from 26 different countries, demonstrating how diverse the world is with a joyous look at what unites us all. Use it as inspiration for a "My Name Is" classroom book, with everyone's name and an empowering trait that describes them.

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