What was once a very common practice in Spanish classrooms has now become a bit controversial. While many teachers are choosing to no longer give students random “Spanish names”, the practice still continues. But those that continue to give names may not realize the unintended and harmful consequences.
While I don’t know the true origins of this practice, I can guarantee it was done with the best intentions. In that time, Spanish truly was a “foreign language” to a majority of the country. The Internet didn’t exist yet and connections to the world were limited. White, American-born people who could speak Spanish were few and far between.
Fast forward to the 2000s and now many programs are no longer part of a “foreign language” department but rather a “world languages”. The internet has allowed us to connect with classrooms around the world using Skype and social media and latino artists are a huge part of our entertainment industry. Thanks to the work done by those early teachers who inspired a new generation of learners who became fluent in the language, the number of Spanish speakers is not limited to people of Hispanic origins.
So, what’s the big deal? Many will argue that by assigning random* names to students sends the wrong message. That message is:
Your name is not good enough to speak Spanish. “Brittany” isn’t the name of someone who speaks Spanish. You need a “Spanish-sounding name” to speak Spanish. You need a new identity. Your identity isn’t valid for someone who wants to speak Spanish. Only people who have “true” Hispanic names are real Spanish speakers.
The following was posted in the comments and I liked it so much I asked her permission to post it in the blog. We can’t base “Latinidad” on someone’s name.
Imagine the follow scenarios and tell me your reaction:
- Juan arrives to the United States from his native Mexico. On his first day of class at his new school, the teacher says “I can’t pronounce your name. I’m just going to call you John instead.
- Silvia is the daughter of Mexican parents but is not fluent in Spanish. In High School she enrolls in Spanish class to learn the language of her family. On the first day, her teacher says she can pick a new name.
- Confused about why her name isn’t good enough, Silvia is even more dumbfounded when a student from another class tells her that her new name in Spanish class is “Silvia”.
- Alexandra is a Hispanic American. Her name is not Alejandra. Her mother chose her name and is proud of it. But Alexandra’s Spanish teacher thinks she should choose a name that “sounds more Hispanic” or at least answer to “Alejandra”.
- Teddy is a freshman in Spanish class. His teacher lets him pick a name from a list. He sees the name Nacho and thinks it sounds hilarious. He picks it and every time someone says his name, he laughs.
- A teacher continues to mispronounce a student’s name despite being corrected by the student. Other teachers in the building try correcting this teacher when she says the name because they know it is important to say a child’s name correctly.
Your name is who you are. It is part of your identity. We shouldn’t ask kids to choose a new identity just because it’s “fun”. Can you imagine a math teacher assigning new names to his students of famous mathematicians or the names of math terms? No, because that would be ridiculous.
Your name doesn’t change when you go to another country. We want to promote interculturality and we want students to know that THEY can and should be interacting with other cultures as themselves. We want students to know that “Brittany” can speak Spanish and that you can speak ANY language with WHATEVER name.
Without fake names, we can get to know the real student. We can connect to them and build authentic relationships with them.
*Some people have wondered what about nicknames or common translations of names? What if my student’s name is Andrew and I call him Andrés? If you have built a relationship with that student and the student is ok with this nickname, then yes, by all means, use it. But just because it works, doesn’t mean it is appropriate. One teacher commented on twitter how she HATED when people changed her real name to something similar. It is all about creating relationships. Using Spanish pronunciation is a more authentic and natural way to address students.
Completely disagree with us? Tell us in the comments. Agree? What was your major motivation for not using “Spanish names”?