Names: Why Do I Care?

I took photos of my students with name tags so I could study.

I took photos of my students with name tags so I could study.

I’m working with 200 students, spread out over 10 classes. That’s a lot of names to learn, but I’m determined to do it. Why? Answer: There’s something powerful about being able to address people by their names.

What is so powerful about a name? In Paraguay you can tell a lot about a person by their name. Almost everyone has four names—first, second, mom’s last name, and dad’s last name. Often, one of the first two names can give you a clue as to when the person was born because it relates to the saint of a person’s birthday. And, in a community where few people move away, the two last names can help you make connections between people. It’s a relatively safe bet that if two students share one of their last names they are related somehow.

My worked is founded on relationships. I’ll never know how my time here impacted the lives of the people in my community—development and public health are a slow process. And, on top of it, I’m focusing on intangibles like self-esteem. The way I see it, the one thing I can do is set example. I can really only control what I do, so I might as well try to exemplify the life skills about which I’m preaching. For me, that starts by respecting people. Respect starts with giving people the time they deserve.

When working with youth it’s easy to lump them into categories—the studious, the bad kids, the troublemakers—but that practice won’t help anyone. I’ve noticed that as I get to know my students a little better each has his or her own way of being, a way of being that is as unique as their name. I want know the person behind the name, so I might as well start by learning the names.