Is A Name Important?


John or Johnny?  Princess, Johnny’s 3 year old little sister has been bringing this up a lot to me recently.  At her preschool some of the children class are calling her ***** and she has been telling her teachers and peers , “My name is Princess not *****.”  She has mentioned to me before when we have been to her brother’s school that she hears Johnny being called John.
“Mommy….his name is Johnny.  Why is he called John at school?”
On Halloween, Grandma and Grandpa visited Johnny’s school and later Grandma told me that everyone at school calls him “John” and she was concerned because he doesn’t go by that name anywhere else.  Sometimes friends and loved ones shorten his name but most of the time he is known as “Johnny.”  I couldn’t help but wonder if he accepted  being called John because he is happy at school and does not understand that this is something he is allowed to say something about just like he would if he didn’t like an activity at school etc.
So last night while I was plating up the kids dinner I listened in on a conversation between Princess and Johnny.
Princess: “What name do you like to be called?”  
Johnny: “Johnny.”
Princess: “But….I hear people calling you John.  Why don’t you say something?  Why don’t you say you want to be called Johnny? I tell my teachers and friends at school if they say my name wrong.”
Johnny smiled at her and said “Princess….” in a slow way when he is acknowledging what she is saying but doesn’t want to continue.  Princess is feisty and won’t be deterred though.
Princess: “I can show you.  Just say….My name is Johnny and say it slowly so they understand.  When I go to kindergarten at your school I am going to tell everyone for you.”  
Princess is a very mature  and determined  3-1/2 year old who seems very shy at first but is alway by Johnny’s side helping him.
How do I feel about this?  It bothers me that Johnny never had a say in what he should be called at school.  I was told in Johnny’s Junior Kindergarten year that John was easier for him to learn to say, to spell, and for his peers to say but it won’t stick.  I was very uncomfortable with this but I had a long list of things I was advocating on his behalf for him that he needed in order to flourish in kindergarten so this was not at the top of my list.  I now regret that I didn’t make it more important.  I am concerned about how HE feels about who he is as we work hard building up his self confidence, his independence and self advocacy.  Whenever we are around new people Johnny never tells people his name is John and always says Johnny even when it sounded more like “Yon.”  If new people ask him if they can say “John” he always says “No, …my name is Johnny.”  He was sick last Thursday but I had to bring him along when I took Princess to her preschool and as sick as he was he told all her teachers his name including 3 Moms.
I wrote a letter to his teacher and explained my concerns.  You can try and talk to him about “John vs Johnny” but you have to frame the question correctly because he knows now that everyone calls him “John” at school.   How we ask him is “What name do you want to be called….Johnny or John?”  He always says “Johnny.”
I understand that names, school, and peer relationships and can be complicated but I think its important to note that he was essentially non-verbal when “John” was chosen for him and he HAD to respond to it at school.  Now Johnny has formed relationships at school with teachers and peers so he won’t want to offend anyone because that’s not in his nature.  As he is being taught social skills at school I think that this is a very important topic to figure out.  He has only really been expressing his own opinion at school in the last year and before that was very frustrated because of his communication challenges.
I still remember him crying in March of his Junior Kindergarten year saying that “talking is hard.”  I wrote about it here in this post:
I got an email back and the teacher does think its very important and promised to talk to other staff and get everyone to try and start using his full name Johnny.  It will be a long progress as everyone switches gears from John to Johnny but I can’t help but wonder how he feels inside as he hears one by one all of his favourite people call him by the name he prefers.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I know that I use to get upset when people called me by Cindy, so I would correct them. I imagine it is frustrating to be called something you don’t want to be but have difficulty telling others to stop. Kudos to Princess for noticing that Johnny was not being called by his preferred name.


    1. Cyn says:

      Thank goodness I am raising a feisty and helpful little girl 😉 i think one of the hardest things to get across is for folks to put themselves in the non-verbal child’s shoes. It’s a simplistic idea but I can’t tell you how many times this strategy would have helped my son so he wouldn’t get frustrated. Thank you for your support 🙂


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