Politics of Naming

Many of you are familiar with the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

storycorps_animationseriesWe’re pleased to announce that this April, Diversity Month, the Zinn Education Project has collaborated with StoryCorps to share resources on the Anglicizing of names.

Featured resources are “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story,” a community building lesson by Rethinking Schools editor Linda Christensen on the personal and cultural significance of naming, and an animation by StoryCorps called Facundo the Great.

You can also find a list of books and resources for the classroom on the politics and practices of naming for grades K-12 at the Zinn Education Project website.

In the animation of his Storycorps interview, Ramón “Chunky” Sanchez recounts how names at his elementary school in Southern California were Anglicized. It’s a funny yet poignant resource that can be used at different grade levels. In “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story,” Linda Christensen shares a classroom-tested teaching strategy to elicit student stories about the importance of naming.

Excerpt from “To Say the Name Is to Begin the Story”

tosaythename_rwru‘To say the name is to begin the story,’ according to the Swampy Cree Indians. In my English courses we begin our ‘story’ together by saying our names—and by telling the history of how we came to have them. Because the first day of class lays a foundation for the nine months to follow, I want our year to begin with respect for the diverse cultural heritages and people represented not only at Jefferson High School, but in the world.

“We also speak—using student knowledge as well as mine—of how historically some groups of people were denied their names. Many people from Eastern Europe had their names shortened at Ellis Island because their names were too long and too difficult for officials to pronounce. When Africans were stolen from their homeland, their names and their history were stripped as well.”

Download PDF to read more.

“To Say the Name” is one of more than a dozen lessons and articles in our book, Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word.

Facundo the Great

Facundo the Great is an animation that accompanies a story told by Ramón “Chunky” Sanchez about the painful history of school authorities Anglicizing students’ names—in the process, stripping children of their family history and identity. With a humorous twist, Sanchez recounts how the administration calls an emergency meeting to discuss how to abbreviate the name of a new student, Facundo. If Ramón becomes Ray, what happens to Facundo?

Let us know if you use the animation and lesson in your classroom.

You can also listen to Stories of Teaching People’s History from the Zinn Education Project 2011 collaboration with StoryCorps’ National Teachers Initiative.