The NYA Blog
What’s in a name?
13 October 2009
Teachers can identify naughty pupils minutes into their first day of school – just by looking at the classroom register, a study has revealed.
That at least is what the Daily Mail tells us. Except that paragraph two of the story doesn’t really bear that assertion out. “Researchers discovered that teachers keep an eye out for children who have names such as Callum, Chelsea, Connor and Jack amid fears they are more likely to disrupt the class.”
Keeping an eye open for certain kids because their name carries certain associations is probably a natural reaction, though not one any teacher would be proud of if pressured. It doesn’t mean they “can identify naughty pupils”.
If the young person is called Piers or Algernon, the teacher – and let’s face it anyone else – is likely to make certain assumptions about their character. They may assume certain things about class background, about how much support they get from their parents and about many books there are on the shelves at home.
But they won’t of course carry on believing the child is clever or well-behaved in the face of evidence to the contrary. None of my teachers thought I was nice but dim, or that I was destined to be a gently fist-pumping, terminally middle-class sportsman who would always fall just short of real achievement. And, as the report indicates, the feelings towards Callum and Connor are no more than a quick prejudice that the vast majority of teachers will abandon in favour of a judgment rooted in reality. Of course there is a risk that once you give a dog a bad name, the mutt is going to act up – or rather down – to expectations.
So how sad that the introduction to that story seems to suggest something essentialist – that names by themselves identify someone as “naughty”. Juliet bemoaned that her Romeo was a Montagu, when “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. In other words, and I can’t believe I have to make so simple a point, our names don’t determine our character, it’s what we do, what we say and how we treat people.
Tim Burke is a writer on youth work. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org