What's in a Name?


Author: Jennie DeFriez

Grade Level: Early Elementary (2-4)

Objective: The students will write a reflection letter discussing their feelings and the

meanings about their "new Yoruba name".

Materials Needed:

~Book: Don't Call Me Names! By: Jennifer Dussling, Tom Brannon (Illustrator).

~Listing of names from the Yoruba Tribe and their meanings.

~Paper and pencil for each child.


1. Begin by reading the story "Don't Call Me Names!"

2. Talk to the students about how people get their names

Ask a few students where their names came from or where they think they came from.

3. Discuss the importance that a name has:

Again allow the kids to brainstorm ideas about the importance of names and how they feel about their name and the identity that it gives to them.

4. Tell the children that certain cultures have naming ceremonies where children are given names. Explain that they are going to learn about one today that comes form Africa. (See Background Information.)

5. Introduce the students to the African Yoruba Naming Ceremony. Tell them what happens in the ceremony. Discuss with them the different categories that the names come from

and that the parents and grandmothers choose the names for the baby.

6. Choose several names from each catergory of the Yoruba names and have them on chart paper with the pronunciation and meaning.

-(Yoruba names: )

Have the students look at the list of names. Go through and have them pronounce the names and read the meanings aloud as a class. Possibly use this as a "show off" reading time when one student shows off their reading skills.

7. Next have the students choose from the list of Yoruba names (or you assign) one of their favorite names to them. Have them practice the pronunciation of their name to you or a partner.

8. Have them then write a reflection letter on how they feel about their new name. Have them talk about the respect and the meaning behind their name. Then have them write a story about how they got their name and the ceremony that was performed to give them their new name. Encourage them to be creative and use new and different ideas that are realistic.

***Throughout the lesson encourage respect for the names of other people. Talk to the students about differences and that diversity is good. Model respect for people's names and talk to the students about respecting names that originate from different cultures and their own.


Evaluation will be based on how the student reflects on their new name. Through the letter the students should demonstrate respect and understanding of their name and the meaning behind it. Use it as a writers workshop project. Be sure to publish and have students share their work with the class and their parents.

**Other Books**

- Chrysanthemum By: Kevin Henkes

- Heart of a Tiger By: Marsha Diane Arnold, Jamichael Henterly (Illustrator)

**Resources and References**

- 1,001 African Names: First and Last Names from the African Continent

By: Julia Stewert

Naming Ceremony:

Yoruba Names:

Our Towns:



Background Information

Naming Ceremonies-Yoruba

Like many other cultures, Yoruba African people believe that an individual doesn't exist without a name. With this in mind it is not surprising that a great importance is placed on giving names in traditional ceremonies throughout African communities. The naming ceremony was the first of many initiations that a Yoruba African had to undergo. It is believed that as the mother gave physical life to the child, it was the role of the father to give it a name. Both the parents and grandmothers choose the names for the child. The names can be chosen from a list that has the names in catergories with the pronunciation and meanings listed also.

The Yoruba naming ceremony is very traditional. Yoruba naming ceremony participators consist of the father, mother, baby, siblings, officiant, a community member, ritual foods, and invited guests. In Africa, this ceremony would take place outside. In the U.S., the ceremony usually takes place in the home of the family. The guests begin arriving early in the afternoon. They bring gifts of money and other baby things. After about an hour, the ritual gathering takes place. The officiator explains the foods and objects around the ritual table to the baby. As he does this he declares the symbolic meaning of each, expresses prayers for the child's well being, and passes each object for all to taste or touch. Then the baby's names are announced and the meaning behind each is explained. Guests then eat festive foods. Other guests arrive in the evening and the night is filled with music, dancing, and eating. These festivities will last through the night to the morning.




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