Nicknames: Unique, Priceless, Unforgettable

Sooo I just read an old blog from Spanish Plans. It spoke about giving “Spanish” or “Latino” names to students in our classrooms and WHY the author doesn’t do it. There were many reasons included that I hadn’t even thought about. If you’re interested in reading it you can find it here.

I’ve never given students names, or let them choose their own name. I know MANY teachers that have because students really like it. In fact, the teacher that I replaced in my current Middle School did it, and the kids really liked it, and were disappointed when I said I wasn’t going to continue it,  but for me, it just never felt natural.

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I am one of those people that REALLY struggles with names. I have to meet you 20 times before I remember your name, and even then it is probably because I wrote it on my hand or thought of another person I know that has the same name as you so I could find a cheating way to “remember” and not have to ask you AGAIN, or maybe I even invented a diddy to sing in my head when I see you to recall it quickly… I am the WORST….

CONNECTING with your students is the NUMBER ONE KEY to classroom management. You have to KNOW them… REALLY know them… Show them you LOVE and CARE about them as real “whole” people in your class. How on earth are they going to feel like I “care” about them as more than just students in my classroom if I can’t remember who is Tristan, who is Romell, and who is Keon?! Well…. at first, at the beginning of the year, EVERYONE is: cariño, mi amor, amorcito, querido, etc. (all endearing terms in Spanish)…. It is my way of them hearing immediately that I care, because I say their “names” affectionately, but it doesn’t let them know that I have absolutely NO clue what their real name is…. It all goes back to the power of deception and the white lie….

Then, as a month or two goes by, I start to learn their given names and also because of the extensive PQA (personalized questions and answers) I am doing inside and OUTSIDE of the classroom, I am really getting to know my students… and not just on a superficial level….

As I learn some of their more quirky or unique traits… things that make them the person they are, I MAY decide to give them a Nickname (un apodo). This is an ENORMOUS honor in my class. Truly…. Some kids receive nicknames right away! Other students, it takes years! I have been teaching some of my current students for three years now and many still don’t have nicknames…. while some still bug me WEEKLY about it, they ALL understand that when it happens, it will be the most meaningful and special nickname EVER…. and let me tell you… it really does feel that way for them…

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Students receive their nickname from ME. I do not take suggestions or requests. It happens in the spur of the moment.  I am going to share some examples with you….

Popular, class clown, athletic boy walks in on the first day of 8th grade Spanish and my first year of teaching middle school at my current school, he starts by singing in ENGLISH, LOUD as he waltzed across the room…. “HELLLOOOOO, it’s meeeee” doing his best Adele impersonation…. I looked at him with my hand on my hip and with my best valley girl attitude I said, “Perdóname, pero esta es la clase de español… absolutamente NO inglés en la clase de español….”  (Excuse me, but this is Spanish class… absolutely NO English in Spanish class….”) he then proceeded to walk out the door, head hung low, seemingly embarrassed, and RE-ENTERED with the same enthusiasm and confidence, and sang “HOLAAAAAA… SOY YOOOOOOOOO”…. It was amazing… I immediately announced his apodo “Adele” and so he remains to this day… I didn’t learn his “real” name until conferences with his parents. I didn’t bother chastising him for being the class clown… it clearly was who he was, and who he needed to be…. Instead, I embraced him, and his character, and gave him a deserving title…

A very timid, shy, new student in class who was unfortunately placed in a period WAY above his level due to scheduling conflicts, was doing his absolute best, as usual, to “hang in there” and just listen to every word I said and follow my every move.  He was concentrating so hard, and suddenly confidently answered a choral response question with the rest of his class, and his voice was LOUD because he was excited he knew the answer. I was ECSTATIC  for him (NATURALLY!) and sprinted to him in my usual La Maestra Loca style to give him a high five…. he high fived me SO hard my hand was still throbbing THREE periods later… So he earned the nickname HULK….(and oh my GOODNESS was he chuffed to bits when I gave him the title).

I have a student who is just brilliant and a natural with languages and a true scholar… in all classes… Everyone loves her because she is sweet, but she is a total know-it-all. In Spanish this is “sabelotodo” but it can also be considered pretty derogatory… like calling someone a smart-ass. However, since my class is a safe space where everyone loves and respects each other, I didn’t think anyone would see it as disrespectful to her. To make sure, I just asked her during a Brain Break one day, when everyone else was occupied, “hey, me gustaría darte un apodo que es ‘jerga’ en muchos países… es sabelotodo y es como un ‘know-it-all’ en inglés, está bien contigo o no…?”  (I’d like to give you a nickname that is slang in a lot of countries and it is like “know it all” in English, is that ok with you or no?”) and she smiled and was SO excited to finally be receiving a nickname after a year and a half!

I have a VERY nosey little girl in another class. There is another slang term (derogatory in some places) for a nosey person… it is “metiche”…. this little girl is SO nosey…and she OWNS it. She begged me for over two years for a nickname and then one day in class when she was trying to be sneaky to find out what we would be doing next, I whispered in her ear to get her consent first and this child…… started CRYING! HAPPY HAPPY TEARS!!! She hugged my neck and started squealing and said “me gusta me gusta me gusta MUCHO!” and after leaving class it was all she could tell ALL of her peers and family about for the next three days….

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One of my favorite parts about this other than the incredible relationships and community it helps me build with students and my classes, is the VOCABULARY it is building too! Each class ends up having a very unique set of random vocabulary that everyone acquires quickly because it is, as Carol Gaab would say, emotionally valuable to them. They’ll use it when they speak or write in the target language!

Your students will remember their nicknames FOREVER too…. I had one student in Colorado named Victor, but his nickname was “Secreto” because we did a story one day about a girl who had a secret obsession with butter. Victor played the girl, and the class named him Victoria… and Victoria, of course, had a secreto… (el SECRETO de VICTORIA) which the kids found HYSTERICAL and they were ALL giggles thinking we were secretly referencing the lingerie store, Victoria’s Secret, the entire class) Well, from that day forward he was ‘secreto’! I went home to Colorado last year and saw him and when I hugged him and said “HOLA MI VICTOR” he pulled away abruptly and another student said , “NO! MAESTRA! Secreto! ¡se llama secreto!” (No Maestra, secret! His name is SECRET!) and everyone laughed. It had been 5 years since I had seen them! They don’t forget!!! 🙂

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So, there you have it!!! I hope you will consider starting to use nicknames as another nugget to build those important relationships with your students… and remember! YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED to give EVERYONE a nickname… It takes time…. THAT is what makes them SO important and valuable!

(Side note: the only time I have ever been slightly embarrassed about a nickname is when I met a mom for the first time after 7 months of teaching her daughter and I realized, I ONLY knew this child as Kevin Hart… HAHA! I said, “I LOVE Kevin, she is WONDERFUL” and the mom said,  “Oh! I think you have me confused with another person, I have a daughter, her name is Lauren….” OOOOPS!!!)

Other nicknames in my classes:

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Until next time,

HAPPY TEACHING!

Love,

La Maestra Loca

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“Sabelotodo” stole my phone and took 50 selfies with it of me helping her and Kevin Hart on their turn for Scrabble!… what a cheeky girl..

4 comments

  1. I have gotten away from nicknames this year for some reason. Or maybe nothing has really stuck…but I have a fun story of a nickname that allowed incredible buy-in. The boy was the “super jock” of the school. Super athletic. Every sport. He also made it his goal to make you feel like he HATED your class. And he was super moody, so if you made him do something in class that he didn’t feel like doing, he acted pretty childish. I would say this boy was an EGR student. (Extra Grace Required) So the first basketball game of the season came around and he was so pumped and amped up that in one of the first plays, his head connected with the teeth of a tall player on the opposing team. It connected HARD and there was LOTS of blood. They had to rush him to the ER where he got several stitches. When he returned to class, I spoke with him privately to make sure he was ok with being “dubbed” with his new name in my class. He smiled ever so slightly, because after all he would never want you to know that something about your class was awesome. So with lots of Pomp and Circumstance, I called him to the front of the room where I had him kneel like a knight would upon being dubbed. And I used my special dubbing wand to give him the name…CHOQUE which means “crash” in Spanish! He was much more willing to participate in my crazy antics after this. And he always smiled when he heard me shout, “Vamos, Choque” (Let’s go, Crash) at all of his subsequent sporting events!!

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