School Part 5 Remembering Names

This completes my run of Deleted Scenes from my early days and weeks at school.



A typical classroom, but not a typical class. Some of my best students sat in room 23
A typical classroom, but not a typical class. Some of my best students sat in room 23


My second classroom challenge was more idiosyncratic than cultural. I had a terribly hard time with their names, both remembering them and pronouncing them.


Table tents helped: a single sheet of paper folded in half lengthwise with each name written out so I could read it as it stood upright on their desk. I provided the paper and even brought in crayons so the students could add colorful flourishes and borders. That helped with remembering.


I also asked my students to tell me a story about their name, thinking that might anchor their name in my brain a bit. They could say anything: how they were named, by whom, or why, or an anecdote from later in their life, anything that had to do with their name. I began with a story of my own name.


“My father wanted to name me Janet Irene,” I started. “But, with my last name, Givens, my mother was afraid my classmates would one day tease me by calling me jig. So they named me “Janet Louise.”




I queried, “Do you know what a jig is?” Shaking heads told me no one did; so I demonstrated a short one. That got a laugh.


Thanks to
Thanks to


Between the verbal stories and the visual table tents, I expected to remember their names. I still didn’t.


I had over one hundred twenty different students that first semester and although some had the same name, I couldn’t remember the majority of them. However, no one else seemed to care.


But if the name didn’t have a gul (flower) in it, I couldn’t pronounce it that first year.


Fortunately, I had many flowers in my classes. I had Gulzhan, Gulmira, Gulnara, and Gulnura. I had Gulsaira, Gulsana, Gulshat, and Gulzat. And I had Gulminat, Gulsim, Gulya, and Gulzya.

I also had students with gul as the second syllable in their name: Aigul (moon flower) and two named Botagul (baby camel flower).


But in my focus on learning first names, I ignored everyone’s patronymic and last name, a faux pas I’d not fully recognize until my second year.

The patronymic, along with their first or given name, becomes the professional moniker within the workplace. There is no Miss, Ms., Mr., or Mrs. to be found in Kazakhstan. True to their Bolshevik history, Russians — from whom Kazakhs take this custom — don’t use titles.

Everyone is still a comrade, more or less.



8 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Strange that this story was deleted, it’s such a good one. I like it so much because I struggled with names in my teaching career. And the names were in ENGLISH! I found if I ever learned the name wrong OR mixed up namesat the beginning it was hard (make that almost impossible) to change–like they were set in cement.

    Your technique of having students tell a story about their names is genius–a good way to start building rapport and show value to each student personally. Also, being able to call the name when talking to a student gives one a certain positive power in a teaching situation, I think. Great post!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian, So many good points. First, the story was deleted because of that overarching narrative arc business 🙂 Seems I’d already made my case about struggles in the classroom. So, some of the specific examples were no longer useful, but rather slowed down the over all pace. I swear, I sometimes felt like I was needing to write to an audience with a very low ability to stay engaged. Immediate gratification comes to mind. Oh well. Probably more a function of just so many good books out there.
      I know what you mean about getting a name wrong in the beginning and then having that wrong name hang in there. How true that is for so many things! Glad you stopped by. We’ll have to get you to share your memories here. Sometime this summer, perhaps? I’d love to have you.

  2. Ronny
    | Reply

    Lovely story, Janet. I am reading it on the lanai of what used to be our car port thirteen years ago. It is now a beautifully remodeled studio suite, a vacation rental by owner.
    As I was reading your story, I thought that I don’t know what a jig is, just like your students. Too bad you can’t demonstrate it for me electronically! What IS it?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh Ronny, that sounds lovely. Here, as I look out my office window, I see snow, still about a foot deep. There are patches of ground beneath, so I have hope that spring will arrive soon enough. The daytime temps have been in the high 50s and will go higher this weekend. But the nights are still below freezing. But then that makes for great sugaring (maple syrup flow). It’s been a very long winter, even for Vermont. We’ve been sugaring in February for the past few years. (March is ideal)

      So, a jig. Well, it’s a kind of dance. A happy dance, usually done solo, though many can jig at once I suppose. And, I envision clapping feet as part of it, though I can’t say I’ve ever gone that far in my jigs. I imagine every culture has that kind of short, happy dance; they just go by different names. What do you think?

  3. Kelly Boyer Sagert
    | Reply

    Story of my name: my father wanted to name me Fern, after his grandmother, but my mother said “no way.” As a kid, I would have hated the name, but I might find it cool now.

    So, I was going to be Jennifer. Then, my mother’s Irish roots kicked in (her grandparents immigrated to the US) and she decided I needed to be Kelly (meaning “warrior maiden”).

    So, I was Kelly Ann. At age 13, I decided I was Kelly Anne and used that spelling until I got married — and, at that point, I had my name legally changed to Kelly Boyer Sagert, with my maiden name replacing my middle name of Ann/Anne.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Warrior Maiden. How fun that at 13 you could make your name more personal for you. That “legally changed” term reminded me I’ve never done that. Didn’t do it when I first got married and tood on a new last name, didn’t do it when I got divorced because I wasn’t ready to, and didn’t do it when I began simply using my maiden name again. Hmmmm.

      So, Fern. There’s a young girl in a fiction piece somewhere, I forget the details… Do you know? I can see her standing in a field of … something blowing in the wind, shorter than corn.

      • Kelly Boyer Sagert
        | Reply

        Hmmm . . . trying to decide where Fern is standing — and why . . .

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Charlotte’s Web. That’s the Fern I’m thinking of. Just now remembered. Funny how memory works (or doesn’t).

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