Saturday, February 11, 2012

What's in a name?

In the classroom I am known as Ms. Lander.

Sometimes just Ms.

Ms. Ms. Ms. for added emphasis. Occasionally, by mistake, my students call me other teachers' names – their focus on their question, or their story superseding all else.

My students’ names are much more varied, particularly the nicknames they construct for themselves and each other.

Ziggy, Zizi, Nini, Nay, Timye, Lelo.

Names come and go like fashion trends. Giggles for a girl who laughs often; Cricket for a boy’s childhood fascination with insects; JRbeats for an aspiring rapper.

They sign their assignments with these names. On their folders, they scratch out their real names and replace them with names like Skittles and Beba. Their folders grow ragged with morphing personalities. In class students reprimand me for not using this week’s nickname.

The girls in my class have recently taken to calling one of our boys Patrick. Patrick is not his name, nor does it have any relation to his name. They call him Patrick and can offer no explanation. “Patrick” himself seems not to mind.

Rarely in my life have I been addressed with the formality of Ms. Lander. And equally rare are the times I have called my own teachers by their last names. I went to small schools growing up where first names were the norm. I have yet to get accustomed to the change.

But, sometimes in the classroom I am not Ms. Lander, I am “a dude.” I’ve been called “hip.” “Yo, Ms. Lander’s cool, she’s my Bro.” Other times I am a “buzz-kill.”

A few weeks ago two of my students decided that I was in need of a nickname.

We were traveling on a bus, off to visit a Boston college. Teny they christened me – for tenacity, they explained. Teny. And, for the next two weeks, I was instructed to answer to no other name.

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