What’s in a Name? Literacy and Identity through Name Play
From the moment your child is born one of the words they hear more than any other is their own name…
As parents, we are delighted the moment they start to recognise and respond to hearing their name. But what about learning to recognise it written down or even writing it themselves – are these important milestones?
Nurseries and pre-schools often focus on a child’s name encouraging them to recognise it as early as possible.
As one of our play club partners explains:
“We encourage children to recognise their names and the first letters by having them at story and on the tables at snack time to find their seat. They take book folders, books and activity bags home all with name cards in to share with their parents.”
Clearly, there are practical advantages to a child recognising their written name, such as being able to find their peg and identify named possessions, but the value goes far beyond this.
Literacy is one of the most vital skills a child needs to learn and it is not an easy journey. It is so important to find the right motivations to start children along this path and there is no doubt that their name can be a crucial tool. Typically around the same age a child is recognising their first words and letters, they are also starting to develop their independence and sense of identity so empowering them to know which peg is theirs, for example, gives them a real sense of pride.
Once they start to recognise a few words like their name (initially just as a picture) they can slowly start to recognise individual letters and phonics within that word and take their first steps from ‘Pre-reader’ to ‘Emergent reader’.
Equally, if you’re trying to support your child in learning to write, it’s no coincidence that many children’s first written word is their name. A child’s earliest attempts at writing is making ‘marks’:
The motivation is always the same: the marks are meaningful and relevant to them as individuals… For this reason, children’s earliest mark-making often involves their name or their age, as these are of particular significance to them”
Writing their name on a birthday card or on their artwork is a natural and purposeful reason to write – it harnesses their instinct to mimic adults as well as to impress adults, enables them to own what’s theirs, and develops that sense of self. Can you think of any other single words that would be anywhere near as worthwhile for a child to write?
“Encouraging children to write their name not only helps develop literacy, it is also great for boosting their confidence. Their name and recognising that they are a unique individual is a first step on the road to developing their whole identity” – Dr Amanda Gummer
This is echoed by Janet W. Bloodgood’s research in her paper “What’s in a name? Children’s name writing and literacy acquisition” which concluded: “name” has the instructional potential to help children connect literacy strands in a meaningful way”.
It’s therefore not surprising that a child’s name is given such prominence in nurseries and pre-schools or that the UK’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum specifically mentions ‘their name’ as part of a number of progress areas tracked by early years professionals.
In particular, in Physical Development: moving and handling, early years professionals are prompted to track when a child ‘Can copy some letters e.g. letters from their name’ (30 – 50 months) and in Literacy, Reading ‘Recognises familiar words and signs such as own name and advertising logos’ (30-50 months) and Writing ‘Writes own name and other things such as labels, captions’ (40 – 60+ months).
From the very beginning of a child’s life, their name holds immense importance. Beyond being a label, a child’s name becomes a gateway to literacy and self-discovery. Recognising and writing their name marks the initial strides toward language proficiency and independence. Early exposure to their name in written form fosters a connection between oral and written language, setting the foundation for a smoother literacy journey. As they trace the letters and phonics within their name, they embark on the path from emerging readers to confident ones.
A child’s name is more than just a collection of letters; it symbolises their uniqueness and identity. Learning to write is a source of pride, allowing them to create meaningful marks on cards and artwork. As they master this skill, their confidence soars, and they embrace the journey of shaping their own identity and a testament to their growing sense of self.