Skip to contentContribute to ReadWriteThink / RSS / FAQs / Site Demonstrations / Contact Us / About Us



Contribute to ReadWriteThink

ReadWriteThink couldn't publish all of this great content without literacy experts to write and review for us. If you've got lessons plans, videos, activities, or other ideas you'd like to contribute, we'd love to hear from you.



Professional Development

Find the latest in professional publications, learn new techniques and strategies, and find out how you can connect with other literacy professionals.



Did You Know?

Your students can save their work with Student Interactives.

More more

HomeClassroom ResourcesLesson Plans

Lesson Plan

Investigating Names to Explore Personal History and Cultural Traditions

E-mail / Share / Print This Page / Print All Materials (Note: Handouts must be printed separately)


Investigating Names to Explore Personal History and Cultural Traditions

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



"What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet."
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
"A good name is better than riches."

There are lots of sayings about names, and most of them are at best only partially true. In this lesson, students investigate the meanings and origins of their names in order to establish their own personal histories and to explore cultural significance of naming traditions. Students begin by writing down everything they know about their own names, then the teacher shares details about his or her own name story. Next, students use an online tool to research their own or someone else's name and share their findings with the class. Finally, students write about their own names, using a passage from Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street as a model.

back to top



Interactive Venn Diagram: Use this online tool to compare and contrast information, or while reading to compare and contrast two works of literature.

back to top



In "Exploring Heritage: Finding Windows into Our Lives," Jessica Matthews-Burell explains, "By investigating the etymology and significance of our names, we realize that name-giving practices vary from one culture to another" (33). When Diana Mitchell asked students to explore naming, they were "fascinated to hear how different racial and ethnic groups had different naming traditions" (65). Mitchell observed:

Many of the Latino students had been named after someone special, usually a relative who had a close relationship with the family. Many of the African American students found that their parents had created a name especially for them. The Caucasian students were often named just because their parents liked the name. In some families a close friend had been allowed to choose their name as a sign of their importance to the family. (65)

Using the copy-change imitation process explained in Getting the Knack (90-94), students can explore all these many aspects of their own names, gaining insight on their own personal history and understanding how naming is part of larger cultural traditions by comparing their own examples to those of other writers.

Further Reading

Matthews-Burell, Jessica. "Exploring Heritage: Finding Windows into Our Lives." Voices from the Middle 10.4 (May 2003): 33-36.


Mitchell, Diana. "Tapping into Family Stories and Themes to Heighten End-of-Year Engagement." English Journal 87.4 (April 1998): 65-69.


Dunning, Stephen, and William Stafford. 1992. "Found and Headline Poems." Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Read more about this resource

back to top