Family names, nicknames, going by your middle name, common names, cherished names, meaning of names, unique names–these were all up for consideration as students drafted a poem about their name.
Students wrote their full legal name at the top of a blank sheet of paper and spent a couple minutes making a list of all the names they are called or call themselves, including nicknames, terms of endearment (or other terms), mispronunciations (if applicable), and any information they may possibly know about why their name was chosen for them. Thank you to José Olivarez and The YCA The Lesson for inspiring this prompt and the pre-write!
We then looked up the meaning, entomology, and history of our names using baby name websites, Behind the Name, and even Urban Dictionary. The majority of my high school students did not know previously what their names meant, so they were extremely engaged in researching their names. They jotted down notes and phrases they came across underneath their pre-writing list. And, can I just add here that students were, in fact, performing RESEARCH and ENJOYING it? The research was authentic and relevant to them personally, which makes all the difference.
Mentor text poems
Next we watched a video of Idris Goodwin reading his poem “Say My Name.”
We discussed how Goodwin includes material from all of categories we made in our pre-writing. He shares so many facets of his name–how he perceives it, how other perceive it, how he feels about that, what his name means, why and how his parents chose it, etc. Here are more poems by living poets that would offer rich discussion opportunities:
“Eytmology” by Airea D Matthews
“first name cassandra, middle name remembrance” by Cassandra Anouthay
“My Mother’s Name Lucha” by Juan Felipe Herrera
“How I Got that Name” by Marilyn Chin
“Choi Jeong Min” by Franny Choi
“What’s in a Name” by Jani Rose
“Her Name Was Name” by Matt Hart
“On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
And here is Sha’Condria “iCon” Sibley’s poem “To All the Little Black Girls with Big Names” featured on All Def Poetry.
We had worked some with spoken word poetry previously, but it had been a while, so I really wanted their name poems to be written with the intent of it being spoken word. The only requirements were: they talk about several aspects of their name (using their pre-writing), use figurative language intentionally, and it must be 1 – 1.5 minutes long read out loud.
After three days spent drafting, collaborating, and work-shopping in class, students were ready to record their poems using Flipgrid. I love it as an instructional tech tool. It’s user-friendly, the kids love the stickers and selfies, and there’s a billion things you can do with it. I use the free version, so students have only 90 seconds in which to read their poems. I also offered students the opportunity to do a live performance for the class if they wished to. Over half of the class took me up on that opportunity, and it makes my teacher heart happy to know so many of them felt safe and comfortable enough in my classroom space to share, and that they felt proud of their work and wanted to read it for us.
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