Remember those schooldays when you came into class and there was a substitute teacher? A new-to-your-class substitute teacher? Please don’t get too far into a reverie about what a fun time the class had or how much you missed the regular teacher. Instead, please think with me about taking attendance – a simple thing, and yet … .

Attendance is basically how the class and the teacher introduce themselves. Sometimes in lower grades, there may even be name tags involved. If your name is Joan or Cindy, Frank or Evan, no big deal. The teacher says your name, you answer and life goes on. In essence, your easily pronounced name is acknowledged and affirmed by the newest adult in your life. Your unique, totally personal to you, family-based name!


But suppose your name is Mamdouh, Kimiko, Anuprabha or Susonita. Now a challenge is ahead. For whom? Since I am a substitute teacher, I often see this moment as a challenge for me. Phonetics has never been a strength of mine. To this day, I usually don’t try to figure out how to speak unusual names that appear in books I am reading. And I suspect I am not alone as a substitute teacher in struggling in these situations when reading out names that are new to me.

But as a white teacher, I will admit that I have too often in the past treated these situations as “oh well, just deal with it” moments for a child with a name that is new to me and with a name over which I have stumbled. I have not always appreciated the way in which speaking a child’s name correctly is an opportunity to affirm that child and to be in relationship with him or her.

When I get beyond my position of privilege, I am forced to think of how a child with an unusual name not only has to tell the substitute teacher how to pronounce his or her name, but also often has to tell that teacher more than once.


And from the subordinate position of a child in relation to a teacher, that child must correct the teacher who thinks she or he remembers how to pronounce the name. Such children may also find this happening to them with other adults in the school setting who see them less frequently than their classroom teacher – folks who matter to the child, like the specialist teachers, volunteers to a classroom, docents on field trips, the list goes on.

And this “name struggle” is not only faced by children. What frequent situations must be dealt with by folks who have names that are not as regularly found in the American “name roster,” in places like the doctor’s office, Motor Vehicles Bureau, child’s school, placing an order via phone or in person. I am sure readers can easily add to this list.


Here again, the adult, who may also be new to our country or state, and not as comfortable with the Motor Vehicles Bureau or the hospital lab, must not only figure our procedures, but also must face questions and sometimes even comments about his or her name. When our India-born granddaughter again corrected her camp counselor on the pronounciation of her name, on the third day of camp, the counselor told her, “Well, that’s not the way it should be pronounced.” Ouch.

So it seems appropriate, in a column called “Maine Voices,” to suggest that names matter. They represent family, parental choices, heritage and individuality. Let’s all – substitute teacher or not – challenge ourselves to make the extra effort to pay attention to the names of all whom we meet, to ask for reminders or to try to come up with a strategy to help oneself remember a new name (whether easy or hard to pronounce) because names matter.

Our own matter as do those of folks whom we meet today and in all the days going forward as we get to know folks who may be new to our state or just new to us.

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