Recently, I ran a series of workshops with about 700 students in grades 6 and 8. The workshops were about diversity and acceptance and how to treat migrants coming from different cultural backgrounds. One of the questions that came up in every session was about names – what do you do with your name once you move to live in a different country?
I have been running these workshops over the last 4 years and have seen over 10,000 students from grade 4 to grade 12. In many places, the kids were convinced that changing a name is a must when you move to a new country and when I ask them if they know the meaning of their name, surprise, surprise (or maybe not), most of them do not know the meaning of their own name.
Out of 700 students, only about 30 raised their hands to share the meaning of their names with others, while the rest were nameless. They did not know what the meaning of their names was or why their parents had given them that name. They knew nothing about the story of their name.
I believe that explains why they people change their names once they move to another country and why the people in their new country expect them to “localize” their name.
To get the kids’ interest, I told them that in my tradition, the name you are given determines your destiny. You will have the character of the name or the character of the person you are named after. My name is a Hebrew name, which means “little happy song” (in a female form). I think I live up to my name, because I dedicate my life to “singing the happiness song” and teaching others to find their own happiness. It is no coincidence that my life coaching business is called “Be Happy in LIFE”.
I am also short…
I find that it is easy for people who do not know the meaning of their names to suggest to others to give up their names once they move to another country and I think this can be easily fixed.
At the end of that section of the workshop, I always tell the kids that my daughter Eden says, “Google is your friend” and they can easily discover the origin or their name by googling it, along with “name” and “meaning” or “origin”! For example, if your name is David, google “david name origin” and consider a few sources.
Usually, I see the students for one day and I do not get a chance to discover what they have done with my suggestion. But in this series of workshops, I stayed at each school for 3 days and an hour after each session, kids came to me with beaming smiles and shared their discoveries with excitement. “My name is Sophie. I am Wisdom”.
In the primary school, when I came to work with the kids on the second day, one of the kids gave me a piece of paper, on which he had copied his research from the internet. He came to me excited and said, “I found out my name, Earl, means Noble Man”. 5 other kids came to me looking happy and pound and told me their names and meaning. “My name is Liam. My mom said she loved he actor Liam Neeson, so she named me after him”. A Somali boy who could hardly speak English managed to tell the class that his name means “Servant of God” and all the kids smiled at him and thought he had a cool name.
When I was packing my things, a teacher told me many kids had come to her that morning, happy to share with the rest of the class the meaning of their names. “They shared their names with pride”, she said, “And there was a happy buzz from the first minute of the day. It’s amazing how differently they behaved today”.
I just smiled. It was not that amazing. Our name is like our fingerprints – it is part of our identity. Knowing the story behind our name and the meaning of our name is an important layer of our existence. It is required to help us define who we are.
I flew back home after a whole week of workshops, feeling tired but very happy and proud for helping 700 kids discover something important about themselves.
If you want to help your kids carry their names with pride, tell them the story of their names. If there is a meaning, tell them the meaning, but if you do not know the meaning … Google is your friend.
While you are at it, search for your own name too and share it with your family.
Little Happy Song