Language Educators

Spanish Names for Class????

  • 1.  Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 00:37

    I have heard a lot of Spanish teachers say they assign Spanish names to students in the classroom.  I know others who aren't really for it.   I was wondering what everyone else thought about the benefits and drawbacks to each approach.

    Eddie Bowerman

  • 2.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 07:02
    Sometimes sorry I don't do this, but really, I find it disingenuous.
    Those who have names like: Mary (Maria), Joseph (Jose), I may find myself using, simply because that's what they would be called in a Spanish speaking country. But I don't take a name like Heather, and try to "castellanize" it.  It allows me to talk with them about how names are selected in different cultures and the role of 'la religion' y 'la biblia' in selection of names for children.

    That said, if they want to be called by a Spanish name, they can certainly choose one from a list and not offend anyone by doing so, as long as it comes from a desire for belonging rather than any effort at making fun of someone or something.

    Karen Melaas

  • 3.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 07:50
    As a new teacher, I've thought a lot about this question, too. For now, I have students keep their names, the main reason being that I don't want them to think of language acquisition and use as something distinct from the rest of their lives. I also think having two names complicates things once we're in real-life situations. (A new friend in Spain might say, "Why are your other friends calling you Billy? I thought your name was Memo.") In French classes, I speak their names with a French accent, just as would happen if they traveled to a French-speaking country. In Spanish class, many names already end in vowels so I simply pronounce them with an accent. In other cases, "Mark" might become "Marco" and "Lucy" "Lucía," but that would be the extent of the change. I didn't have any students complain last year, and I plan to take the same approach this year. That said, I'll be curious to hear the perspectives of teachers who do encourage their students to choose new names.

    Douglass Crouse

  • 4.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 08:48


    I've taught Spanish, French and Latin.  I've had the students select their own "foreign" names for the year. 
    I think selecting names help to validate the FL being studied in class and sets up a "FL linguistic island."

    Also, with beginning students or returning students, you introduce them to the sounds of the language.... how the FL vowels are different with names for the class.....  how the written system corresponds with the spoken word....  the similarities and differences between English and the FL.

    I don't "give" my students names.  I have a classroom set of boys/girls names that I pass out.  They select their own names.   Previously, I've gone through my class rosters to see if any names might present challenges in order to help a student who might be stymied.  I tell them to select carefully as we will be using that name all year long. 

    I give them an 8x5 index card and they select markers from my marker box.  They do up their own name cards.  We go over their names as a class.   I call attention to differences.... the J, G, V and Qu in Spanish...  how the vowels are different.  Then they introduce themselves to each other.  Hola, Me llamo...   y tu, como te llamas?  mucho gusto.   We try to learn names that day.  Some kids can name everybody in the class.

    I wouldn't give them names... let them select.  That empowers them more.   FL language is something "they" do to express themselves.   Not something that "teacher does to me."   Several kids feel that FL instruction is like having an appendectomy at the hands of their FL teacher.  They are victims of it.

    First week, I seat them alphabetically to help me with administrivia.  Then I tell them that we will have new partners and seats every month.  They get to know more people in the class and practice Spanish (or whatever) with others.  (Computerized gradebook/seating program is great for this.  I can also type in their FL name in one of the extra fields in the program.)

    Using names also sets the FL class apart from their other classes taught in English elsewhere in the school.

    With names you get a running start with the sounds and written system of the FL.  Those first days you can "imprint" your FL students.  Names are very powerful things.  Why not harness that power for learning a FL.

    My Latin students always enjoyed their Latin/Greek names, too.  We used "oral Latin" in class, but clearly our Latin program was not geared to oral proficiency as the conversational world languages are.  They reaped the same benefits with a good pronunciation of classical Latin.

    When I taught adults at the college level, I did not use FL names.   When I taught ESL to adults in Adult Ed, I did not American names for them.  Always ask yourself, "Who's coming to learn?"  

    I think FL names are great for grades K-12.


    Okay. Now the negative. 
    One of my colleagues said, "These are American kids.  They should have American names."  He also taught his Spanish classes in English.  (He later got out of FL instruction and became an administrator.)

    Robert L. "Bobby" Oliver
    Suffolk, VA

  • 5.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-08-2010 21:49
    I must say that I agree very strongly with Bobby's approach.  I've taught in an intensive, full-time Russian language program in which the students study only the target language and culture 8-hours per day, 5 days per week.  In that situation, we had adult students who were building their language identity so we had them chose their own Russian name to help them assimilate and begin to understand the culture from day 1.  

    Now I am teaching English in a Japanese university so it doesn't make sense for me to have them pick American / Western names because their level of language study is not as intense as it was for my Russian students.  Instead, I call them by their first names like I would in an American university instead of the traditional  last-name use of Japanese culture.  I think this is a better approach to preparing my students for a visit to the US than by having them pick a random name that they'll have little association with outside of my 1 90-minute class every week.  

    Bottom-line:  as Bobby said, it depends on your audience and your / their expectations for their learning objectives.  

    Good luck!!!

    Edward Forsythe

  • 6.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-09-2010 11:27
    I appreciate the thoughtfulness and experience that all of you have shown. I think the answer given by a couple teachers is a good one--let students choose, especially the older ones. I taught English in Taiwan for 8 years. At that time, it was standard for Chinese students to get English names, ostensibly because Americans have trouble pronouncing their Chinese name. Most received assigned names from the teacher, so some were lucky.  There was a heavy preponderance of J names since that is a common sound in Chinese--Jenny, June, Jill, Jane, Johnny,  Jackie, Jimmy, Jade, and Jasmine, as well as translations--Pearl, Ruby, Lily  There were so many already in town that I banned those names from my list. I also banned diminutives and gave only full names-- Elizabeth, Richard, James (OK, I snuck that one in), Edward, Charlotte, Michelle and Patricia.  When I returned to Taiwan after a 15-yr hiatus, I noticed that the names I had used were all over the place. But I had to make a new banned list for the kindergarden teachers who gave names to all the kids--no cartoon character names (Mickey, Minnie, Winnie (!), Bambi (funny, they never chose Dondald, Daffy, or Goofy); no non-standard celebrity names--Cher, Queen, LeBron, Keanu, Madonna, Shakira; and no non-names--Superman, Wolverine, Rogue, Megatron.

    It is still common in Taiwan for the students to take on English names, but in China it is less common. Those in China who do take names often add the initials of the English spelling of their Chinese names after the English name-- Janet J.Y. Wang, Richard T.C. Zhang.

    On the other side of the issue, it is much easier as a foreigner in China/Taiwan to have a Chinese name. They have trouble saying our long names full of consonant clusters and l's and r's.  I have a Chinese name I use; it is not the name my first Chinese teacher gave me, it is much more beautiful and more Chinese; I worked it out with my roommate years ago. It gives them an easy handle, and helps me fit in. Now that I teach university Chinese, I offer names to my students. Fewer than 5% of these students do not want Chinese names, and are happy to have me choose them. Granted, it is much harder to choose a Chinese name than a Western name, since there is no list of names such as we have. Their names are more like Native American names and there are several cultural norms for choosing a name. I spend hours choosing names, and then always, always have a native speaker review them for me because I might inadvertently choose something that sounds bad if it were written in different characters (homophones). I do not have my native TA's do the initial choosing since they tend to choose the Chinese equivalents of Bob and Jane. I try to match any meanings, and then try to match sounds.  Ususally I give students a choice, but not always.  I tell them if they don't like the name, they can see me after class or discuss it with the TA.

    About Japanese names--Japanese syllables are easy enough for Westerners to say, so I see no reason for Noriko or Masahiro to take Englsh names.  But then, if they want Nancy and Michael, why not? It can be fun for them, and give them the cultural entrada, as has been mentioned.

    I hated Tulita, the Spanish name my 8th grade teacher gave me; I accept my Venezuelan friends' calling me Truddy, and if I studied Russian I might go by Tatiana. There, that is more than you wanted on that topic. I see you are all sensitive to students' feelings, and will do what is right in each individual case.

    Trudy Owens
    Utah Valley University
    Orem, Utah

  • 7.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 08:50
    I tried it when I first started teaching but it always felt fake.  However , some kids like to keep the names that other teachers gave them in the past and ask me to call them that name, so I do. But with such diversity (at least in my school) the names do not have a translation, so it feels even more fake. What I do however is that I say their names with a heavy Spanish accent. 
    Benefits???learn new Spanish names with the right pronunciation.
    It really is a personal choice I guess.
    Martha Hayden

  • 8.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 09:35

    Thomas Silva

    I assign nouns... that way each class learns 30 nouns that describe the person.  Only "positive" nouns are assigned. 

  • 9.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 10:26

    I've tried this both ways.  I think the kids like it (about 75% of them anyway).  If you have a reasonable number of students - it's probably a treat for them.

    Right now, I teach an exploratory (rotational course) class and have 150 students in that group alone.  I also do French 1 (2 sections) and 2 high school groups (one each semester).  That's about 235-40 kids each year.

    Frankly, that's a LOT of names to remember.  So, I don't assign French names - I prefer to get to know the student and his/her parents.  I do use the French equivalent of the student's name if there is one or otherwise use French pronunciation/intonation with the American name, as our goal is to maintain the target language.
    Alberta Norton

  • 10.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 10:26

    l used to require every student to take a Spanish name because it helps the flow of of oral communication.  However, today's students seem to value their names more than before and it is not a battle I choose to fight.  At the beginning of the semester I pass around a list of boys and girls names and say them outloud so kids can here what they sound like.  Then I pass around a class roster and have anyone who chooses someone else".
    Luann Smith


  • 11.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-07-2010 11:14

    I have enough difficulty remembering my students' real names, let alone Spanish pseudonyms.  To compromise, I Hispanify names such as Mary and Adam into María and Adán, and leave others such as Heather alone (my professors from Spain & Latin America could never pronounce it).  I remind the students that some ideas and names simply don't translate well from one language into another, and that  I have lived for years with people pronouncing my name the way that sounds best for them, given whatever native language they may speak.  I follow a similar practice in my French classes.

    However, years back I eliminated my own nicknames, Bob & Bobby, completely from my workplace:  I can deal with /rubErt/ , or the Fr. pronunciation of my name, or Roberto just fine, but must draw the line at /bub/ & /bubi/.

    Robert Owen
    Northport H.S.
    Northport, NY 11768-3456

  • 12.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-08-2010 10:54

    Margaret Rose

    I like the idea of the teacher who assigns nouns for names.  My son's French teacher did the same thing.  He and his friends loved calling each other by their French names not only at school but at home.  I was a French teacher who always used the traditional French names but I think the boys liked this idea better.  It was a way of teasing each other.  My son's name was "fromage." One year in my own class of upper-level students (only 10 or so) they all chose an adjective that started with the same letter as their French name, so they became things like "Daniel le dindon" or "Thomas le trouvaille" or in some cases I made exceptions and there was "Mathieu le chouette."  We had so much fun with that.

  • 13.  re: Spanish names for class????

    Posted 08-08-2010 09:59

    Hello All! This is the first I have participated in these messages, yet I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them.  I must say that, as usual, I agree with Robert Oliver.  I have been teaching for 35 years (9-12 for most, but the last 4 only college).  One of the aspects that has not yet surfaced is the amount of comaraderie that can develop because of the unique connection Spanish name choosing can bring.  For most of my students, I only knew them by their Spanish name.  Like I have read, that is why it is important to emphasize the importance of their choice.  When I see my former students (many of them now when they register their sons for classes as I am now a full-time school counselor), it continues to be a bond and special memory when he refers to me as sra. Bonn and I refer to him with his Spanish name.  Sometimes I will even translate his last name if appropriate and it always bring hearftelt humor (not ridicule).  The fun we have when I see my former student who is a linemen on the U of Wisconsin football team, Juan (John) Moffitt or former NFL player Diego (Tarek) Saleh.  Like in any situation, we may get our "naysayers", but our approach and willingness to "rope them in" to being open and adventurous I think is the key.  On the college level, however, I have chosen not to have them choose names.  But, there will be times during class that I may "throw" one out there when communicating with a student.  As was said, it is  a matter of personal choice, but how heartwarming it is when I have students refer to each other with their Spanish name outside of the classroom. Colleagues then hear it and refer to them that way,  as well as to each other at times.  And for the alumni, as I have mentioned, it rekindles fond memories (mostly!!!)  It can be a real "community builder" in a different way.  Thanks for all of the input so far - very interesting. 

    Kathy Bonn

  • 14.  RE:re: Spanish names for class????

    Posted 08-09-2010 12:16
    I do a project with my students in which I have them talk to their family about their name.  They ask their parents about why their name was chosen, is it a family name, were they named after someone, who picked their name (I often get answers other than Mom or Dad).  We also go online and research the meaning of their name, then they choose a Spanish name that has a similar meaning.  It makes the Spanish name more meaningful and gives them an opportunity to have interesting dialog with their families.  Then they design a nametag that they put on their desk during Spanish class to help their classmates as well as the teacher learn their Spanish name.

    Susan Buffa

  • 15.  RE:re: Spanish names for class????

    Posted 08-10-2010 06:16
    I love this.  Many of my students have great pride in their names and do not want to choose a Spanish name.  However, by doing this activity and trying to find a Spanish name that has a similar meaning does nothing to diminish the child's given name.  Rather, it validates the name.  Thank you.
    Luann Smith

  • 16.  RE:re: Spanish names for class????

    Posted 08-10-2010 12:33
    Selma, love your idea to have them associate a country with the name -- so many Spanish-speaking countries to choose from! Well done!

    Jacquelyn Boone

  • 17.  re: Spanish names in class

    Posted 08-08-2010 13:36

    Over the years I have heard many reasons to use/not use target language names in class.  All have been valid.  Students are the ones who convinced me to allow them to select names from lists.  Their reason is the atmosphere the names help to create.  We have posters, realia, music, etc to create the right environment.  The teachers speaks to them in Spanish.  They speak to each other in Spanish.  Using their given names breaks the spell so to speak.  The flow of language seems to come to an abrupt stop with the use of English names.  Never mind I had 4 boys in one class last year named Forrest.  If someone does not want to select a name I don't force it.  Also I see it as a victory if 10 years after they leave school they meet someone named Joaquin and can correctly pronounce the name.  Relaying on the limited names used in text books, etc that student might not have ever heard the name pronounced correctly.  
    Susan Himsl

  • 18.  Names for Language Classes

    Posted 08-08-2010 21:25

    i have some thoughts on anwers because everyone will do as they feel best.

    1. names are part of ALL cultures and naturally become curriculum...for meaning, pronunciation, and social customs and traditions.

    2. if the language classroom is to become the spanish speaking world for most learners, i believe we must create as close to reality as we can with language...thus, create situations where students 'need' to use language in 'real' ways, i.e. pronounce and spell their own names in the L2

    3. i had a student who wanted me to call her 'burrito' and her best friend guessed, 'enchilada'. i had a hard time within myself to accept this or deny it for all sorts of reasons...i finally allowed them to have this name as a second name to thier own first name...they understood after i explained that english learners in other countries would not select hamburger or hot dog for their english language class!

    4. after the above year, i did hand out legitimate latino/hispanic names for students to select IF they wanted a  new name...the list included names like rigoberta, fidel, cesar, gloria, mercedes, and other famous spanish speakers.  some wanted to keep their own name and liked how i said it in spanish, i.e. michael/miquel, mary, maria, etc. they espcially liked if i added the 'ito/ita' to make it miquelito, teresita, etc.

    5. one year i asked the students come up with a spanish nick name that represented them as a person; a word that expressed something/place that they love; a talent they have; etc.  very personal!  this is also very cultural, as i have learned by traveling that nicknames are universal.  i.e jesus/chuy, guadalupe/lupe, gulliermo/memo, a man from a small town in nicaragua walks with his feet out and is known locally as 'el helicoptero'. they students liked this and when they came up with an english word i helped them translate it to spanish....i had some good ones: 'fili.'..his favorite cheese is philadelphia, 'pila' because he never runs out of energy; 'princesa' the princess of the family, etc.

    6. final thought for now, if names, real or selected from a list, can be used to enhance language aquisition in any of the four areas, i would use them, if not, move on to what does.
    Maestra Tere
    ¡Pura Vida!

  • 19.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-08-2010 21:59

    I have my students chosing a spanish name at the beginning of the year and they really enjoy doing it.  I don't force anyone.  It is a choice.  Some preffer not to, which is okay, but the marjority of the students enjoy having a Spanish name.  Along with the names they choose a Spanish speaking country they would like to pretend to be from.  During the year as we learn different themes, they are able to share their culture.  For example, if we are speaking about food, each student will research a few traditional foods from their country to share with the class.  It makes things fun and interesting for everyone.  -------------------------------------------
    Selma Ballew

  • 20.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-09-2010 08:06

    Oh, Wow!  Along with selecting a name....  select a Spanish-speaking country of your "origin."  What a great idea!  In the past, I've done an "Adopt-a-Country" project, now and then, with my students.  But I had never taken it to the level of application and personalization that Selma has mentioned.  What a great idea!  I shall use it in the future and share the idea with others. 

    Even my heritage speakers in AP Spanish had a weak idea of the diversity and geography of Spanish-speaking countries.  (Outside of world soccer/FIFA, that is!)

    Here's a link to a project that I did for a professional development relicensure class.  It draws upon the "Adopt-a-Country" concept.  Selma's suggestion will make it even more worthwhile to the student and class.

    You will find many helpful ideas and resources at the "Web de AP Spanish," hosted by Rita Goldberg. The site is free to all.  One of my postings is:

    Creación de una sobrecubierta o salvamanteles cultural - Bobby Oliver
    Actividad muy completa para que el alumno busque y presente una variedad de información sobre un país latinoamericano.

    Robert L. "Bobby" Oliver
    Suffolk, VA


  • 21.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-08-2010 22:01

    I have my students chose a spanish name at the beginning of the year and they really enjoy doing it.  I don't force anyone.  It is a choice.  Some preffer not to, which is okay, but the marjority of the students enjoy having a Spanish name.  Along with the names they choose a Spanish speaking country they would like to pretend to be from.  During the year as we learn different themes, they are able to share their culture.  For example, if we are speaking about food, each student will research a few traditional foods from their country to share with the class.  It makes things fun and interesting for everyone.  -------------------------------------------
    Selma Ballew

  • 22.  Names in class

    Posted 08-09-2010 05:21
    There is nothing like watching/hearing technology fulfill its promise! Aun aprendemos! (We are still learning!)
    Thanks for all of the new ideas. Where I was not thinking of assigning names this fall, I am now realizing that using a noun (increase vocab!), letting the kids select a name (democracy!), encouraging more difficult words like 'Joaquin' (pronunc. practice)  can be used in combination to accomplish a number of teaching/learning objectives, while students are also having fun and building memories in our classrooms. (I also asked a student of 20 years ago, and he REMEMBERS his 'chosen' name from Spanish class! Now, I wonder why I stopped!)

    Mis companeros me ofrecen unas ideas superiores! Mil gracias!
    Un fuerte abrazo,
    Karen Melaas

    Karen Melaas

  • 23.  Assigning Spanish Names

    Posted 08-09-2010 09:00

    I always assigned   vnames to my students using their own as the base.  I have a name book that helped the process and I would translate the English meaning if there was no correlation (like John and Juan for example).  To help keep the Spanish name and the English one straight, I put one on one side of a "stick" and the other on the other side.  I use the popcicle sticks as a way to help choose participants for oral exercises, team sides, etc. The use of the sticks allowed me to "call on" each child during the course of the block. Seeing both names allowed me to get to know each child by both names...repetition being so helpful even to us!
    Gail Valdez

  • 24.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-10-2010 00:45

    Mis Estimados Colegas, 

    Thanks so much for your wonderful contributions on this subject.  I appreciate so much your openness and desire to share.  I think that many wonderful insights and ideas have been offered and I think that none of us have gone away empty handed.  Thanks to everyone who has given an opinion and shared their ideas and to the many who have read and taken away something from this discussion.  Please keep sharing wonderful insights and questions with all of us so that we may all benefit from both the wisdom and practice of others.  Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo. 

    Again, many thanks to all!

    Ed Bowerman

  • 25.  Nametags in class

    Posted 08-10-2010 09:33

    Fane Young
    What a wonderful exchange!  I've picked up several ideas I now plan to incorporate.  Thanks to everyone for sharing.  I always let my students pick their Spanish names from a long list I have, but struggled with remembering my exploratory middle school students' names due to the fact that I only saw them once every 6 days.  I solved the problem by buying those pin on nametags that you put in the plastic sleeve.  I wrote the Spanish name in large letters with the English name in smaller letters in the bottom right corner.  Each class had a basket where the nametags were kept and they picked theirs up as they came into class and dropped it off at the end.  Since some didn't want to pin anything on their clothes, I told them the only rule was that it had to visible at all times.  Reminders were in order from time to time, but that worked pretty well for me. One year I decided to let them personalize their tags by decorating them. They loved doing that, but the result was that the decoration often overwhelmed the name, so I ditched that idea.  At the end of each year I let them keep their nametag if they wanted to (their choice) and every year I have someone, often upperclassmen 4 or 5 years after the fact, tell me that they still have their nametag at home on their bulletin board and love it.

  • 26.  RE:Spanish Names for Class????

    Posted 08-11-2010 15:27
    I'd like to add to this marvelous exchange of ideas one key idea that hasn't been mentioned in support of allowing students to choose a new name. When students walk into our classroom, just as they may enter a new culture, they are able to take a new identity or explore an aspect of themselves they might not otherwise. In the world of make-believe, they might try a new food, say a funny word, in short, do something they may not do in their real life. Simply taking a new name can aide the process of learning to take risks in a new environment, ie growing a sense of biculturalism.

    Kudos to all my wonderful colleagues! Love the name-researching idea as well as adopting a country. This personalizes the experience all the more, making it relevant to their lives.


    Jennifer "Susana" Duronio