Finding out about nicknames respectfully


I recently started substitute teaching, and I’m wondering about calling students by nicknames. Specifically, I’m wondering when to ask if a student has a nickname. So far, I usually just ask “do you go by (name on the roll)?” when a kid’s…

ischemgeek said:

I teach martial arts and I also TA courses.

If I can get a list of names ahead of time, I do. Then I Google the pronunciations of any names that are unfamiliar to me before class. If the name has more than one possible pronunciation, I note them both and make a note on the list to ask which pronunciation is correct. Many websites exist with sound recordings of how to pronounce different names. If I can’t find it, I make do with the phonetic pronunciation, though this doesn’t work as well for tonal names.

If the class is big, I announce at the start, “My name is [my name]. I know it’s annoying to have your name mispronounced. If I don’t say your name right, let me know either by email, coming up to me after class, or speaking to me immediately, whichever you prefer. It might take me a few tries because I’m bad at learning names, but I will get your name right. As well, if there’s something you’d prefer me to call you, let me know however you prefer.”

And then I move on. I don’t do an attendance list in big classes because  I know that it can out trans students. If attendance taking is mandatory (usually not), I’ll send around a sign-in sheet instead. Sure, it’s a bit more work to transcribe it, but if it keeps people safe, it’s worth it. If I do send around a sign-in sheet, I ask people to write it with their nickname, and either put their legal name in brackets or come up to me afterwards.

In big classes, people will usually come up and tell me after the lecture what they’d like me to call them - I write it down on my enrollment sheet, next to their legal name, and I ask them to sign everything with their nickname (seeing names in writing helps me learn them - I’m a very visual learner).

In small classes, I go up to the person and introduce myself. “Hi, I’m [my name], one of the instructors here. Nice to meet you.” They will usually introduce themselves with whatever they like to be called. “Hi, I’m [their name].”

The other thing I do is keep to my word that I will get people’s names right. I’ll keep practicing until I do. We had a kid in my martial arts class recently who had a name that sounded like two other names. It took me four tries to get her name right because I was having a bad auditory processing day and at first I missed a sound and then I could not get the sounds in the right order, but I got it right eventually. People usually don’t mind too much if you’re sincerely trying (I won’t lie: they do mind a bit because they probably have to put up with this more often than not when they meet new people, but they appreciate that you’re not going to just rename them for your convenience and that you’re putting effort in to learn their name).

Important: Thank the person for their patience after you’ve learned how to say the name. From experience: It’s aggravating to always have to correct how people pronounce your name, even if they don’t mean anything by it. A “Thanks for being patient with me!” helps a lot - showing appreciation tells me that you actually give a damn about me and my time, and it tells me that you know you imposed a bit.

And note to teachers: I’ve never found that making sure I get names right undermines me with students. I know some people are worried about that when they ask students to teach them how to say stuff. It doesn’t - if anything, they respect me more because they know I care more about getting it right than I do about how I look.