Why Must It Be A Secret?

I’ve had this same situation happen numerous times at different schools:

A teacher pops in during the day — maybe just to ask a quick question. He/she always begins with, “Aviva …,” and then quickly follows up with, “Oh no! I’m sorry. I meant Miss Dunsiger.”

There’s always such concern over the fact that the students heard my first name. Why?

I’ve always told my class my first name. In fact, since I’ve started using social media tools in the classroom, I often model how to do so with the use of my first name. If the app says to use your name, I show how I write, “Aviva”: mentioning that we can stay safe online by only using our first name or our initials. When I model for students how to write a card and a letter, I show how I sign both with my first name because when I’m writing to friends or family members, they don’t call me, “Miss Dunsiger.” This provides a perfect introduction to how we’re often called different names depending on where we are and whom we’re talking to. Students share some of their stories connected to this topic — often discussing how their parents are called different names at different times — and it becomes a nice learning opportunity for everyone.

I understand why students call us by our last names. I get that it’s often a sign of respect. I’m fine with this practice, but I also think that respect comes from far more than just a name choice. My parents run a private school, and all of the students, parents, and teachers call each other by their first name. Having taught at their school every summer since it opened, I can tell you that there’s definitely still an atmosphere of respect, but there’s also an important “connection” that happens when we share a personal part of ourselves with our students. There are many blog posts, Twitter comments, and face-to-face discussions lately on the importance of building relationships with students. I agree with this! I think there’s many ways to do this. I wonder though if one of the easiest ways to start is sharing something simple, but nevertheless, meaningful: our first name. Let the conversation continue from there!

This year, a few of my students even named one of the many class critters (a.k.a. our snails) after me: Aviva. I don’t think that there’s ever been an “Aviva snail” before, and now I’m just hoping that it wasn’t the snail that ran away. 🙂


And while this may be amusing, I think it means something too. We connect first with new people by learning their names and addressing them by name: why then must first names often be seen as such well-kept secrets in elementary education? What do you think?


14 thoughts on “Why Must It Be A Secret?

  1. Aviva, great post and good point! I’ve only had a couple of kids “test the waters” by trying to call me by my first name, and it wasn’t a horrible kind of rebellion – really, much worse can be done! Names are powerful and it’s an educational discussion. I’ve had a team named after my Minecraft character on our server, and that was quite an honour. Nothing new to add to your post – just a lot of nodding in agreement.

    • Thanks for the comment, Diana! This does seem like quite a compliment, even if I’m still not 100% clear on how Minecraft works. 🙂

      I agree with you though that “testing the waters” and calling a teacher by their first name is really not that “horrible a rebellion” in the grand scheme of things. And if it does happen — just like with other problems — it becomes a good learning opportunity as the problem is worked through together.

      I’m very curious to hear what people have to say about this “name topic.” I always find it a very interesting one.


  2. I like this post. I actually wish that all of my students had the option of calling me by my first name. I will tell any of them that ask 🙂 I worked in a school where in one of the programs they called teachers Mr. Or Miss and then their first name. Not sure if that is better. I think after the first few times of students snickering about calling a teacher by their name then it would be normal. All of my children’s friends call me by my first name. I feel like it is more me than Mrs. Bell

    • Thanks for the comment, Heather! I tend to agree with you. On Twitter, Lezlie mentioned that a name doesn’t earn you respect. It’s how you treat students. I think this is a very important point. I’ve seen in action, students as young as Grade 1 and as old as Grade 12 calling teachers by their first name (and even the principal and director of a school), and there’s still definitely respect there. This makes me stop and think … I’m very curious to hear how different people feel on this “name issue,” and why.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Aviva,
    In many cultures including mine, calling peers at workplace by last names in considered respectful and formal. Whereas,first names are used when he/she is a very close friend. So now I do not mind using either ways to address people around me but I ask them about their preference first.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sandhya! You make a very important point about preferences and asking people what they prefer. I actually don’t mind being called by my last name, but I just wonder if our first name needs to be such a secret. I wonder if telling students it (in a meaningful context), allows us to connect with students (even if they call us by our last name).


      • Aviva,
        I had my linkedIn profile checked by my first year university student using my full name. He knew about me even before he stepped into my classroom. So how much about oneself should be a secret is up to each individual and that can be communicated to peers so that they address us appropriately.

        • Thanks Sandhya! I have to wonder though, does this information need to be a secret, or could it still be shared, but just with a preference on how people address us? I can’t help but wonder if we create more interest over our first names, just by keeping them a secret.


  4. I think it’s funny that the first name is such a mysterious, well guarded secret! I like your idea of showing students how you use your own name online – no better modelling than authentic modelling. I don’t keep my name a secret – if I am doing an exemplar I will often write “Jon” on it. The kids get a kick out of it, and we all laugh if and when they call me by my first name because it seems so out of place. I think the shift from last-name only to being more open to using first names (even in cases like Mr. Jon or Ms. Aviva) is a reflection of the shift from teacher-centred classrooms to student-centred ones. Being open to using first names, in my eyes, shows more trust and mutual respect than an environment that frowns upon practices that stray from the “traditional.”

    • Thanks for the comment, Jon! I can totally see your point. I wonder why we continue, so firmly, to hold to this practice. Why must our students address us with our last name? How might colleagues feel if we made a switch? Why? Maybe it could be a teacher-by-teacher decision. I’m curious to see if conversations at our school would vary from the ones on this post and why.

      Thanks for giving me more to think about!

      • Where I am, the practice varies. I teach French Immersion, and some teachers go by Mme First-Name or M. First-Name but most go by their last names. The francophone school division here, for the most part, is all Mme/M. First-Name. It’s one of those practices that begs the question “What really matters?”

        • Thanks Jon! It’s interesting to see the difference. Maybe it does come down to what teachers feel comfortable with, but I do tend to think that “respect” is about so much more than just a name. Is this just a practice that has existed for so long that we continue to perpetuate it? What causes people to reconsider their thoughts on this? For me, it’s just a name, and it wouldn’t really matter to me if students called me “Aviva” or “Miss Dunsiger.” Either way though, I don’t think our first name has to be a secret.


  5. Wow. Awesome topic, Aviva. (See what I did there? 🙂 )
    I really don’t get why we keep this such a secret either. I remember last year, whenever my Grade 5 teacher was reading something with her first name, she would lower her voice. It took me a few months to learn that it was Abby.
    Some students in my class actually look at the top of class lists to figure out names of teachers. It’s become a contest: Who can figure out the most first names of teachers.
    But why does it matter? Why do teachers make this a big secret?
    Thanks for getting me thinking!

    • Thanks for the comment, Yusra! I’m not sure why it has to be such a big secret either. I’d be curious to know what teachers would say if students asked them why this “first name secret” matters. This could lead to an interesting conversation.

      It’s always great hearing your point of view on these topics!
      Miss Dunsiger a.k.a. Aviva 🙂

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