Hey you! The importance of teachers getting the pupils’ name right

I was once a pupil in a British school. This was in the days when the teaching profession was just getting started to comprehend the multicultural dimension of their work. Alongside incidences of racial abuse from White children. I and many of my minority peers experienced abuse of a different kind; from our teachers. This centred on how our names were pronounced. I particularly recall one teacher who used to call Asian children ‘Mush’. This has stayed with me because on one occasion when he called me that name, I refused to respond. I then told him that my name was not Mush which he did not appreciate.

But that was then. Surely, we have made progress since then. Or so I thought. Six years ago when I began my doctoral research I encountered a newsletter from an education consultancy (Antidote, 2010), which spoke of Muslim students complaining that teachers did not know them as individuals. The students reported that they were not spoken to by name. They weren’t recognised by staff outside classrooms in the corridors and canteen. They found that staff mixed up their names and regularly exchanged the names of girls that were friends and tended to be found together or, worse in their opinion, addressed them as ‘Hey you!’

Given that children’s names are central to their identities and play a critical role in teacher-pupil relations, it is important that teachers get to know the names and find out how they are pronounced. According to Kohli and Solorzano (2012) this is a particular issue in relation to minority children who are often subjected to their names being mispronounced by their teachers. Sue et al. (2007) defined such mispronunciations as an example of racial microaggression and explained that these “are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color” (p271).


Antidote: Newsletter March 2010 http://www.antidotenews.org.uk/?p=307 Accessed 31 10 2012.
Kohli, R. & Solorzano, D. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names!: racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education 15(4) 441-462.

Sue, D., Capodilupo, C., Torino, G., Bucceri, J., Holder, A., Nadal, K. & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life – implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist 62(4) 271-286.

The article has drawn on my PhD thesis, where there is broader discussion on the importance of teachers understanding the children they teach:
British Pakistani boys in Birmingham schools: education and the role of religion by Karamat Iqbal (2017

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