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My full, complete, legal name is Allison Marie Leach. My parents named me Allison because they wanted to give me a name similar to my paternal grandmother's, which is Aldora. Her name was formed in a combination of her parents' names. Her Dad's name was "Al" and her Mom's name was "Dora." Al + Dora = Aldora. My wonderful grandmother. I love this story.
Aldora's nickname, dubbed by my older sister, Mary, is Gong-Gong Strawberry. She was given this moniker because she and my Grandpa grew strawberries in their green backyard in Missouri. And Gong-Gong? Who can explain. I don't even think Mary can recall. It was a name that she invented when she was a toddler; it was a name that was easier to say than "Grandma," or perhaps she just thought it more interesting and original. I tend to think the latter.
One of my favorite writing activities to use with students--particularly middle-to-high-school-aged students--is the "My Name..." writing prompt. Originally piloted by Poetry Center staff Julie Lauterbach-Colby and Sarah Kortemeier, the purpose of this exercise is to provide a writing activity for students to deepen their self-awareness. I find this such a great activity for this age group, as they're trying to define not just who they are by their names, but who they are as young people of this world. This activity is perfect for helping students to establish their own unique voice and identity, their own stamp on this world.
Inspired by Roger Bonair-Agard’s “Allegory of the Black Man at work at the synagogue," this exercise gets students thinking about the significance of their names on a small but also large scale. I'd also add that Logan Phillips' "So Many Names Inside This One" is another great poem to show students before they write their own. After watching and listening to the above poems, this is a great opportunity to discuss craft elements, like anaphora, other types of repetition, the literal and figurative use of the “name” theme, as well as pointing out interesting metaphors and similes.
Using the example poems as models, how would you encourage your students to write their own "My Name" poem? What kinds of prompts and brainstorming techniques would you use? Based off model poems, here's an imitation poem that I've written:
My name is Allison Marie Leach
The high school halls yelled, "Allison!"
The college dorms slurred, "Allie!"
I'm still Allie
I'm active Allie
My Mom--when angry--barked, "Allison Mah-REE!"
My Grandma Lurkins dubbed me her Allie-oop
Isn't it weird, someone once told me,
That you chose a diminutive name later in life?
Isn't it usually the other way around?
People usually choose a tiny name for themselves
When they're younger, and use their more formal
Name when they're older
Think: Ricky, Mikey, Johnny, Sammy
Think: Gracie, Addie, Susie, Becky
But I like small things, miniatures
Microscopic names that require
A magnifying glass to see the whole person
Photo credit: Daniel Lobo (Flickr: Daquella manera) via Creative Commons.
Allie Leach is the Poetry Center's Education Programs Assistant and co-editor of the Wordplay blog.