Names are important

Nearly every culture believes names are extremely important. The reasons for giving babies particular names can be family tradition, culture, religion or a combination of all these factors. As people grow up, the first thing they learn to say and write are their names and the names of people they love. In turn, hearing their name being used by people they love links it strongly with their identity. As they grow up this process continues as classmates, teachers, friends and colleagues use their name, and it helps them establish their place in society.

This sense of self becomes most important when students move to different countries to study, work or live. Suddenly, they are no longer surrounded by friends, family and a familiar society. One of the only things that remains the same is their name. It is a powerful reminder of who they are and where they are from. Hearing their name being used in the new environment reinforces their identity and helps them to feel more emotionally and psychologically secure.

Therefore, teachers and students MUST learn and use the names of EVERY student in their class. Doing this is a sign of respect. By taking the time to learn a person’s name and use it, you are actually showing that you’re willing to take the time to get to know them as a person and an individual. This recognition of individuality is the most important aspect. If students feel they are being treated as individuals, not “just another student”, they in turn will feel encouraged to show more of their personality and true character. This not just bonds them to the rest of the class, but also helps them feel more at home in the new culture they’ve entered. This has an enormously positive influence on both their emotional well-being and language learning.

So, the next time new students enter your class, take the time to learn ALL their names and USE them. Once you’ve used someone’s name 3 or 4 times, you will remember it much more easily. Try your best to pronounce it properly but don’t worry if it’s not perfect – people just appreciate the effort, and they usually enjoy trying to teach you the correct pronunciation. Think of the positive effect you will have on other human beings by doing this and how much it will help your own language learning.

At this point, you may be thinking “that sounds wonderful Mark, but I am terrible at remembering names”. No excuse! You can train your memory. Teachers can try this simple exercise:

Assign each student a number depending on where they are sitting in the classroom. As you call the roll, write the number next to each student’s name. Then, when the students are doing a speaking or writing exercise, take 5 minutes out of your valuable monitoring time and focus on memorising the names of the students you don’t know. Start with student 1 and work your way around the room. When you get to a student whose name you can’t remember, check it on the roll. When you get to the point where you no longer need to look at the roll, you are finished. Then it’s just a matter of using the name as much as possible so that you don’t forget it.

For students it’s even easier:

Ask the names of everyone you sit next to and do pair/group work with during a lesson. Then, sit next to a different student each day until you have learnt the names of everyone in all your classes (it’s also a good way to make friends). Then, use the names every time you see the student, whether it be in class or walking along the corridor.

As a student at BROWNS, you can also use your PASSPORT to help both your teacher, and your fellow students remember your name. See the photo below:

Students' names


If you have problems remembering the names of students from a particular country, then try different techniques. For example, when I first started teaching, I had trouble remembering Korean names. So, I would listen very carefully to the way each student pronounced their name and then try to copy them, even to the point of putting on a bit of a Korean accent. I would also use the initials of each part of their name as a reminder. First names in Korea (and lots of other Asian countries) usually have 2 parts. For instance, I remember Kyoung Tae as K.T., and Jeong Hyun as J.H.

Just be careful about shortening or making jokes about another person’s name – you may not be aware of the offence you are causing, because, as outlined above, you are actually making jokes about their identity.

Lastly, I’d like to give you an idea of how some Australian names are chosen by using my name as an example.




My parents were Catholic so they chose the name of a Christian saint (a holy person). However, this name first appears in ancient Rome (well before the Christian religion started) when boys with names like Marc, Marcus, Marco were all named after “Mars” – the Roman God of War. So I was named after a holy person/God – whether you believe in the Christian God or the Roman/Greek Gods – which is actually fairly common in most Western societies.


Because I am the 2nd son, my middle name is the same as my paternal grandfather’s (my Dad’s Dad) first name. My older brother is the 1st son, so his middle name is the same as our Dad’s first name.


My last name was actually a job in the north of England hundreds of years ago. A “Bowron” was someone who made bows (a weapon used in war to shoot arrows). Again this happened a lot. Common Western last names like Smith, Carpenter and Fletcher were all originally jobs.

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