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Honoring Our Names

Featuring Your Name is a Song

Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Luisa Uribe

Perhaps you’ve been a student in a classroom when attendance is taken and the teacher trips over the pronunciation of your name. Or maybe you’ve experienced new friends who avoid saying your name completely, out of fear that they will get it wrong. You may be a person whose name is often easy for others in your community to wrap their lips around, but you’ve felt embarrassed when the sounds you make do not do justice to the way a new friend’s name is meant to be spoken. 

Raise your hand if you’ve been there.

Your Name Is A Song, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow shares the journey of a young girl, who in her first few days of school, is upset that her teachers and classmates do not say her name correctly. Feeling different, she doesn’t want to return to school. The girl’s mother teaches her that names are like songs. They are meant to be felt like a rhythm or a melody. Names, like songs, must come from your throat, your stomach, your heart, or your imagination. The girl learns that when her names are sung, they come into being with spirit and meaning. When she sings the names of others, they feel seen. 

Your Name is a Song, is an opportunity. When read aloud, it opens the hallways of conversation in classrooms. It can be used to emphasize not only the importance of our names, but to appreciate the beauty of the diversity that we hold inside of our classrooms. Students learn that names come from different places. In some cultures, names are invented. In others, they are passed down, or intended to carry symbolic meaning. 

Made-up names come from dreamers. Their real names were stolen long ago so they dream up new ones. They make a way out of no way, make names out of no names-pull them from the sky.’ The girl reached up to pull names too. ‘Ta’jae (TAH-jay)…and Trayvon (tray-VAHN)…They sit on clouds with Jalonte (juh-LAHN-tay)!’”

As we weave in and out, working to delicately stitch together our classroom communities, we begin to define ourselves as individuals and as groups. Morning meetings feature lessons about how we are alike, and how we are different. Workshops teach students to think about text as windows, mirrors, and doors. (Sims Bishop, 1990) Students learn to work collaboratively with peers with whom they might not otherwise have the opportunity to speak. 

Your Name is Song, is a chance to think about how your classroom community will celebrate the differences in your classroom and you will honor one another’s’ identities through the year to come. Though it is a story about the importance of names, it is a story about the importance of identity and how we will treat our peers. After reading this book to one fifth grade classroom, students were asked to reflect on what they thought this book was really about in its core. This rainbow of notes shows how much can be gained from reading Your Name is a Song to your class. Please read, sing, or chant this book to your students as soon as you can!

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