Wednesday, August 14, 2013

German Names for Students

The school year is still quickly approaching, and one of the big things that comes up every year is student names.  Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of tricks for learning names (I'm terribly - it takes me at least a week to get all the new names, and even then I still make a few mistakes until the end of month one).  What I do want to talk briefly about is German names for students in class.

A lot of teachers give their kids a list of names in German (or French or Spanish or whatever the target language may be) at the beginning of the school year.  Each kid picks a name, and for the rest of the school year (or possibly for the rest of their German-speaking career) that's their name in class.

I know why we do it - the kids have fun while getting some exposure to the target language culture.  BUT... I'd rather talk about the reasons why I DON'T have my kids pick German names for themselves.  So let me just give this entry a quick name change and we'll keep going...

That's Not My Name

I've never had my students pick German (or French or Latin) names for themselves.  Occasionally the kids ask me why they don't get to do that when they got to in Middle School or maybe the Spanish kids get to.  Here, in no particular order are a few reasons to consider NOT giving out German names to your students this year.

School Community
I want to know who my students are.  I want to know their names (first and last), their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, but I also want to know who they are outside of my classroom.  So when I want to talk to the NHS sponsor about Mark or to the field hockey coach about Lacey, I get funny looks when I refer to Mark as "Wolfgang" or Lacey as "Hildegard."   


I don't know how many times I've overheard the Spanish teachers talking to each other about a student that they've all had.  One teacher will refer to the student by his/her given name.  At least one other teacher will have no idea who this student is, even if they taught him/her the previous year.  It's only after a confused minute when they finally say "Ohhhh.... You mean Pedro!" that the conversation can actually continue.

When other teachers are talking about all the good/terrible things Alex is doing... I want to actually know who Alex is without having to translate between his "German" and "American" names.

Learning Names is Hard
You can completely avoid the previous problem by making sure you learn both the German name your student picks for class and their given name (and yes, I've met quite a few teachers who only learn the name the students use in their classrooms).

I probably get around sixty new names to learn each year.  Some teachers get more, some fewer.  I have a hard enough time learning the sixty students I actually get assigned between first names, last names, middle names (if that's the name students prefer) and/or nick names.  I don't know how long it would take me to learn three names for each student instead of two.

From a strictly practical point of view, it's a lot of time.

That's Not My Name
And you're not the only ones who need to learn these new in class names.  If I'm friends with Amy, all of a sudden I have to remember to start calling her Anja in class.  Which is not nearly so complicated as it is for me to learn that my new name, for fifty minutes a day, is Elfriede instead of Jackie.

I took French in Middle and High School.  Every year in Middle School, we did this.  We got French names for the purposes of French class.  You could change it from one year to the next, but once you picked one, that was yours for the year.  I'll admit it, it was fun to pick out a new name.  And then the school year started, and it became much less fun.

My name is Ashley.  By the time I had picked my French name of Anne-Marie, I had had about twelve years of being called Ashley and only Ashley.  You call Ashley, I'll look in your direction.  If you call Leonard, chances are I'll look in your direction.  If you call Anne-Marie, there is about no chance I'll look.  Even in the context of French class, where I knew I had picked this name for myself, it was difficult for my teacher to get my attention.  I have memories of times I was working on some assignment in class, knew the teacher was trying to get someone's attention, and it wasn't until someone sitting near me said, "I think she's talking to you," that I realized what was going on.

Some kids are better at this than others.  They'll adjust no problem.  But there's enough of them who will have trouble that to me it seems more of a hindrance than a cultural bonus.

Go to Germany
I also think there's the issue of the real world.  When I go to Germany, I don't get to change my name to something German to fit in.  My name is Ashley.  It's still Ashley, regardless of whether I'm in America, France, Germany, South Africa, China or Australia.  Granted, they might pronounce it funny, but it's still the same name.

I want my students to be aware of this and focus on the pronunciation difference.  I have students who have names that are legitimately close to German names, and I'll use the German versions to call on students.  Johnny becomes Johann, Jake is now Jakob, and Michael, Christian, Caroline and Susanne all get a pronunciation change.

If students don't have a name that's easily changed into a German version - and this, admittedly, happens a lot - the student may ask why their name hasn't been changed.  I usually just tell them that unfortunately German doesn't have a similar name, but I also pronounce their name as a German person would just so they can see the difference.  Again, I'm an Ashley with siblings named Michael, Matthew and Andrea - there's no German version for my name but definitely ones for them.  I let the kids know I'm in the same boat and talk about the experiences I've had with my name when I'm in Germany.

Other Ways to Get Names
I want to still introduce my students to German names... but I think there are other ways to do it.  Every time I create exercises for my students, I throw in German names.  When they do skits or dialogues, they give themselves (temporary) German names.  It comes up in readings and videos, when we do writing assignments.  There are ample opportunities to expose your students to German names without the downsides of assigning the names to students.

You can check out the German Names: Mädchen oder Junge? Power Point I do with my German 1 students at the beginning of the year.


Hopefully I've given you some food for thought :)  Let me know what you think - do you let the kids pick German names?  How does it work out for you?

- Frau Leonard

1 comment:

  1. In diesem Punkt sind wir uns einig. Sie haben volkommen Recht, mein Name veraendert sich nie wenn ich im Ausland bin. Ich finde es ok, die Namen deutsch auszuprechen aber Christian hoert einfach nicht auf Christian und da muss ich immer wieder in die englische Aussprache ausweichen.

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