Each of my three children have a middle name that reflects part of their Korean/Japanese/Chinese ethnicity. My daughters have Japanese names — Keiko and Miyako; my son middle name, Gyung-Won, is the name of his Korean grandfather. Korean tradition does NOT use names of relatives, but it was our way to remembering my husband’s father who passed away when he was very young. Our son, more than his sisters, does not like his ethnic middle name. Perhaps one day he will appreciate the significance of it.
What’s in a name? For some children, it’s a link to their past, a reason to be bullied, a special meaning that boosts their self-esteem. In an immigration journey, a name is something that might be changed because it is hard to pronounce and remember. This book list shows the name sides of the importance of one’s name. I hope it helps teach kids empathy.
How about you? What books that reflect the importance of names do you like? Thanks for your recommendations!
Teaching Empathy through Books about the Importance of One’s Name
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Alma has a very long name: Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. She thinks it’s too long and doesn’t fit her so her father gives her the history of her ancestors, each who have contributed their name to hers. Sophia is her grandmother who taught a love of books. Esperanza arm chair traveled when her son became a sailor. José is her grandfather, an artist who painted portraits. Pura is her great-aunt who connects her to the spirits of her ancestors. Candela, another grandmother, was an activist. Alma decides that her name is just right, with a story of her own to contribute. The story of a name conveys an entire family history making it special and unique. This picture book is also a fun way to learn about Latino culture. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Adopt a new “American” name or keep one’s ethnic name?
As a new immigrant, one of the first decisions to be made is what name to use in the new country. Should a new name signifying an attempt to assimilate be used, or should one’s ethnic, “difficult to pronounce and remember” name be retained? Fit in or stay true to yourself? Unhei has this decision and solicits the help of her new classmates with a name suggestion jar. It’s only when one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and learns the true meaning of her name that the significance of her Korean name comes out. Use this picture book for an immigration unit to help children realize the importance of “foreign” sounding names. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
by Kevin Henkes
When your unusual name makes you a target for bullies.
It’s not just the foreign sounding names that can be the source of bullying by classmates.Chrysanthemum thinks her name is absolutely perfect until she gets bullied by girls at school for her unusual name. The teasing starts to affect her self-confidence but the tables are turned when the class gets a new teacher who helps her recognize the beauty of her name with a secret of her own. [picture book, ages 4 and up]