If Children Named Themselves

That’s just the first part. What others call you, you become. It’s a terrible magic that everyone can do — so do it. Call yourself what you wish to become.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two


The Ritual and Surprise of Magical Naming


– or –  


If Children Named Themselves: A collaborative blog post by Wendy, Nikki, Marisa and the afterschool teachers.


In our after school, for several years, when we sing our welcome song and go around the circle we don’t give our real name, we give our very special imagined name for the day.  This happens for both children and adults alike. Last Tuesday we were named:


Belly button, Mermaid Princess, Shoe, Clothes and Mama Papa.  It goes like this: We sing,  “Welcome to after school, welcome to after school, welcome to after school so nice to see you here.” And then we sing, “Welcome Mango Queen Cat, welcome Tow Truck, welcome Elsa Princess Mermaid Glitter… so nice to see you here…” Some of us use these names for the afternoon, or for many days in a row, and some of us return to our given names.  


This naming ourselves is playful and silly and more importantly it is also wise, radical and community building.  Globally naming has many traditions and purposes.  Sometimes it is linked to the past of heroes, beloved relatives and traditions and sometimes it is linked to the future and filled with hopes and dreams.


In preschool, magical naming ourselves daily keeps to the core values of play and imagination.  It allows each individual to define themselves (often beyond gender, racial, or other societal norms). Naming supports seeing others in how they define themselves both realistically and magically.  Naming also builds community through the daily ritual of it which makes children and adults feel rooted and connected, and through the surprise that brings something unexpected, fresh, magical, and joyful to the individuals and the group.  As Vivian Gussin Paley, Early Childhood expert, author and MacArthur genius, says, “Get in the habit of thinking of yourself and the children as partners in an acting company. Once we learn to imagine ourselves as characters in a story, a particular set of events expands in all directions. We find ourselves being kinder and more respectful to one another because our options have grown in intimacy, humor, and literary flavor.”


Some days everyone has different names and other days there are many many children with the same or slight variations in names. Other schools and families, especially those aligned with imagination, play and getting to be ourselves have pretend names and if we had some real data we could tell you the trends more scientifically like the New York List of Most Popular Baby Names, but we don’t, so we will have to do our best to give you the top names of the year if pre-schoolers named themselves.  Even our most creative and amazing adults, for example Prince, would change his name not only for art but to assert his beauty and power in the world as the artist formerly known as Prince, or a symbol.  He also returned, as we often do, to our royal original selves.


The regular themes we have witnessed in our naming ritual can be divided  into  categories: superhero, princess queen (which is related to superhero), animal names, vehicle names, pragmatic what you are in the room names, the make everyone laugh names, the be who or what you love or miss a lot names, the lineage-biographical every thing that matters name, and the hybrids of all of the above.


Let’s go through them quickly and carefully like a college lecture: Magical Naming 101.

Then later we can continue collaborative learning about celebrating and magically naming ourselves again and again.


The Superhero Power Names:  I recommend you talk to our 4 year old expert Rhys about this.  He knows how to make a superhero name.  Most recently he explained to me that he was Aki avatar who is also an airbender and that he has watched many videos in order to choose this important name.  The superhero crew also suggests super batman and want you to know it’s important to not confuse this name with super spiderman. I am sure in many of your homes you have experienced or have been asked or asked others to call you Superman, Ironman, Fairyman, Wonder Woman, Ninja Turtle,  Spiderman, Deadpool or something else.

The Princess Queen Glitter Names:  The names are also powerful and originate a little more from our sparkly selves.  These include:  Princess, Rapunzel, Mango Queen and many versions of Elsa including Mango Queen Elsa, Rose Elsa Flower, Anna Elsa Anna, Ballerina Elsa and Teddy, her doll, and Frozen Anna Fever Elsa.  If you need a teacher in the Princess Queen Elsa names, I would refer you to children in both the day and afterschool programs including Ola Mae (age 3), Niro (age 5) and Jaielle (age 4).  In the world these consultants can often be spotted as either overtly or subtly their royal glitter selves peak out from their coats.


The Animal Names: Sometimes these names appear in spirit animal ways; bears, moose and more magically dragons.  Pets like cats, dogs, geckos and tortoises are also a favorite.  Animals do not have to be real in this category and I recommend you consult with Liv, age 3, as she uses the names Fuzzy and Momo often which are technically not animals but snugglies.  Animals also can represent moods as well as spirits so you may get something like Shy Lion or Dinosaur Stomper.


The Vehicle Names: Children sometimes name themselves Tow Truck which is interesting and perhaps a little stressful to grownups. Grey and Milo are often Diesels or Diggers. Grey did not only want his own name but his whole disco band to be called Digger and we sang it together. Maybe take a few moments to sing Digger or Tow Truck over and over and you will get the power and feeling of having a vehicle name.  There have been several types of trucks and a variety of vehicles beyond most of our adult vehicle knowledge that are very big and powerful, have many wheels, are very strong, mix things up, save people and do all sorts of cool things. If I were a vehicle I would be some kind of Lever truck and get a lot done together but that’s a different tangent.  Finally, vehicle names often include any and all of the Thomas the Tank Engine line.


The What You See in the Room Pragmatic Names:  This is one of our favorite categories and Finn (age almost 3, and you should know his parents call him Keyser Soze) could be your consultant.  His name is often Curtains, Floor, Pants, Shoes or Zapatos on Spanish Viernes.  It is extremely fun and invigorating to chose the things you see around you as your name and we recommend you try this on occasion. Finn’s latest name has been Sushi so these names also give you interesting updates.


The Make Everyone Laugh Names: These are often weird sounds and gestures from our youngest or new children like Aaah or Ooh or Eeee.  It comes perhaps from a magical evolving pitch child development moment that a neuro-linguist could teach us more about.  These also can be a “where in the world did you get that name?” Mr. Leaf Book and Yeah are two names that recently appeared.


The Be Who You Miss or Love A lot Name: This is a top choice. Malcolm (Age 2) likes to be named  Mom and Dad and one day Rhys was  Sad Cowboy Who Misses His Mom. Shiloh is often his brother Isaiah and Louie is often his brother Ezra. Naming is a chance to put what is going on inside on the outside so we can see and love you more at Maple Street and in the world.


The Lineage-Biographical-Everything-That-Matters-Name:  This is a very special category, it’s for those who don’t want to choose and instead go for the whole list and everything that comes to mind or heart. These names feels chanty and a little spiritual like a list of Saints in Catholicism, getting called to the Torah in Judaism or  Buddhist and Zen teacher lineage and probably more traditions.  Nikki our teacher’s magical lineage biographical everything name is Nikki Ruby Mountain Palm Tree Mommy Daddy Jaguar Mango Rice and Avocados on my Bike.  Children are often things like Baby Mom Dad Cupcake My Dog Purple Stars or Rainbow Elsa Strawberry Princess.  One child even named himself The Little God of Everything.  


The Hybrids of the Above: Often categories blend or get mixed as there are many hybrids and versions of lots of names.  Elsa, Baby, Princess and Super are words that get hybridized the most.


Unnamed Categories:  These are categories that will emerge from our children in afterschool, your children at home or you.  At the end of this post there is a link to a  list so we can have have a silly and wise time while being organized and efficient in The Magical Naming of Children and ourselves.


Here are some new categories that we are continuing to explore.

  1. Forbidden Names (also called potty names)
  2. I Am Just Going Always to Have My Regular Name Names.  
  3. Historical Figures and Current Events (Lo Ha, Evita, Malala)  


We are leaving you with our conclusion of the top 10 names in 2015-2016 at Maple Street if pre-schoolers named themselves:


  1. James (the train)
  2. Ballerina Elsa (and Teddy, her doll)
  3. Sparkle
  4. Anna Elsa Anna
  5. Rose Elsa Flower
  6. Shoes
  7. Frozen Anna Fever Elsa
  8. B Train
  9. Glove
  10. Baby Mom Dad Cake Cupcake My Dog Purple Stars


Finally, yes we are going to ask you to sing “Welcome” to wherever you… and please let us know your magical categorical transportational animal superhero royal beautiful changable imaginative names.  And you too can use them for your evening,  the week,  just a moment or for as long as you wish.


Marisa aka Zapatos

Wendy aka Relax Suprise Love Rainbow Galaxy Bubble

Nikki aka Ruby Mountain Palm Tree Mommy Daddy Jaguar Mango Rice and Avocados on my Bike.  

And the rest of the afterschool magical naming crew.