Playing the Name Game

One of the most persistent issues I’ve noticed as a classroom volunteer has been that for elementary school-aged students, trust is hinged on knowing names. What a novice concept and yet it’s one that has held true for each of the classrooms in which I’ve worked over the past two years. Indeed it seems as though learning kids’ names wouldn’t make much of a difference, but in fact it makes all the difference in the world. I learned early on in my time as a volunteer that in order to foster any sort of relationship with students, you must be able to call them by their names on a consistent basis.

No matter what age, children respond better to people who address them individually than to people who don’t. According to an article by Tamara Glenz, doing so recognizes that that student exists and is important. She goes on to discuss helpful techniques for learning names and, specifically, not being afraid to ask students to repeat it the first few times. Glenz recognizes the importance of consistent name association because it fosters relationships and individualizes each student.


Credit: Google Images

Earlier today, as I arrived at Phillips Middle School and prepared for the upcoming class period as a 6th grade AVID tutor, I looked around the room to see how many students’ names I now knew. It was my third day in this class and by now I usually have high expectations for myself in regards to learning names. I found that I knew about half, maybe a few more, and so we got to work and I practiced the ones I knew. I found a striking correlation between my knowing their names and the ones I knew responding positively to me, and vice versa. Another finding was that as I used their names more to address them, the kids used my name to address me. Thus, the importance of name association extends to the middle school level.

One of the aspects of education about which I’m most passionate is teaching students that they are more than just students. Shouldn’t we be aiming to teach all students that they matter, that their voices should be heard, that they have the ability to stand out as individuals? All of this begins with name association.

Falling Creek Camp is my home away from home and my summer job. At one point this past summer, one my best friends who was also a fellow counselor joked with me that I had a mental encyclopedia of every camper’s name, age, cabin, hometown, interests, etc. He also told me that I tried to stop and talk to every single camper – whether I knew them well or not – when on our way out for time off. I laughed every time he said this but it reinforced the idea that knowing and using each child’s name made a difference and stuck out, even to other counselors. If it meant something to another twenty year-old, it had to mean so much to the kids themselves.


Credit: Falling Creek Camp

Indeed, the importance of name association extends beyond classrooms and into everyday life. Children deserve to feel important, as Tamara Glenz pointed out, and using their own names when addressing them goes a long way in achieving this. The “Name Game” that is name association is an important one, and one that should be present in classrooms as well as all areas of life.


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2 Responses to Playing the Name Game

  1. liznels says:

    Thank you for this post! I am a WyldLife leader at Phillips Middle School (which is YoungLife for middle schoolers) and one of our main focuses when we visit the school is to learn and use kids names. There have been multiple occasions when I use someone’s name after having only met them once and they get this happy, surprised look on their face and kind of puzzled say, “You know my name?” and from that point on, we are friends. This is such a simple way to show someone you care and that they are seen, and yet it’s importance is so often overlooked. I mean, I know as college students, we long for people to know our names and shy away from people who we know but who don’t know our name. Thank you for brining up this simple and critical way to make a student feel comfortable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • haydenvick says:


      Thanks for the comment – I have had so many similar experiences where kids were blown away by my remembering their names, and I knew in that moment that we would have a great relationship. Let’s chat about it soon!



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