What's in a Name?

One of the more impactful movie scenes I remember in my life came from the movie the Crucible. Near the end of the movie, John Proctor, who was  sentenced to be hung, gives an impassioned speech. The court asked him to sign his name to a legal/religious document that would state that he was guilty of the charges before him, which he wasn't. John refuses to sign the document, which would have spared his life. He was willing to lie, willing to "confess" at least out loud, but he was unwilling to put his name to the paper saying as much. His reason, he shouts "because it is my name!, and I may not have another". Here is a short video clip, which doesn't do it total justice but will give you an idea.

This scene always spoke to me. Ever since watching this movie I have thought more about the quality of what I do. If I am going to attach my name to something it better be the best I can do. Think about your own name. What crosses your mind when you say it? Better yet, what crosses the mind of others when they hear it? Like it or not, there is a whole lot "in" a name.


Now that I am all grown up and have become a teacher, this idea of a name and its importance still resonates with me. So many things in our classrooms are set up for the business of school and not for the students. For example, take this schedule hanging outside a teacher's door at my school:

Each of these seventh grade classes is given a number, not a name, but a number. Ask yourself, if you were a twelve or thirteen year old child, would you remember that you were in section 7-2? Would you even care? I don't think so. This is a clear example a system that was set up for the ease of the school and not the student. While this is understandable, it is our job to be the best for our students.

7-2 what does that mean to you? What feelings do you have when you hear it? I think we can agree most people will fall into one of two camps answering those questions. First, and most likely, it feels cold and soulless. Or your part of the second group . You think in numbers, spreadsheets, and algorithms all day . If so, then all you hear is a number, an organizational technique.

No matter what group you're in, Ith ink you would still agree that the name 7-2 wasn't given to inspire students or make them feel a part of something. The name 7-2  has been just a placeholder to organize the schedule.

As part of the gamified class, you begin to retheme several aspects of your course or unit. For starters, my class has moved away from the 6-1 to medieval houses. 6-1 becomes the house of Aleria, 6-2 is the powerful house of Remal, 6-3 is the mighty house of Torin, and lastly 6-4 turns into the house of Zemar.

I know it might sound simple, or even too easy. But with this change I have seen so many other positive changes within my world history class. Students now feel a part of something that is larger than themselves. They belong to something. At the start of the year, they have been passed the torch of their house. They are now the holders of the is experience. It is in their hands alone that they will succeed or fail. Those that have come before, have left their legacy and helped get their house's where they are today. But it is current students that decide the house's future. Now, when a 12 year old hears that, they get excited and proud of the new found place in world history 6-1, or I mean the House of Aleria!

Now this is just one example of the power that is in a name. It can transform how we feel about ourselves, the activities we take part in, and the outcomes we produce. I want to encourage you to think about the theme of your class. Challenge yourself to create an experience for your students. Think about what you call things in your classroom, from tests and quizzes to courses and content.