The First Days of School: What’s in a Name?

Sep 8, 2014 by

Every year, in the first days of school, there are books I read to my new students because they unite us and set the tone for what our community will be like. I have books that are old friends that always help me in those early moments together, and I have new favorites that layer in beautifully with the old.


Last week, I read an old favorite and a new favorite as we got to know each other in 3E. Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes, is a book I usually read on the first day. It is a about a little girl mouse, Chrysanthemum, whose parents choose her name to be “everything she is.” Chrysanthemum loves her name, that is, until she goes to school. A teacher helps Chrysanthemum and the other students see how special her name really is. Henkes is a master of writing children’s literature that rings true. His characters, mice or otherwise, echo feelings and experiences we have had, and so my students always respond to this story. We share the stories of our own names, and we promise to be careful with one another’s names, and in so doing, careful with one another’s feelings.



Chrysanthemum is an old favorite that last year became married with a new favorite, The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi. It is a very similar story in that the main character, Unhei (pronounced Yoon Hye), is given a very special name that her parents go to a name master to choose. But, when Unhei moves from Korea to the United States, she finds that other children are not so kind about her name. A classmate helps Unhei see that her name is the perfect name for her and she becomes comfortable with telling others her name and helping them through learning the pronunciation. Choi’s book introduced a cultural component to our conversation about names. Our topics went beyond the stories of our names and encompassed family traditions, special foods, and information about different countries and languages.



These stories start with a difference, a name, and seek the similarities between us. They celebrate the specialness of these different names, while uniting us in an understanding that even when we are different, we have so much in common. What better way to begin together?

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