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What's in a name?

To think about names and what makes each one of us special

by Penny Hollander

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To think about names and what makes each one of us special.

Preparation and materials

  • Have on display a baby name book, and a selection of photographs of different individuals, which could be related to either home or school.
  • If possible, bring in an official birth certificate.


  1. Show the children the official birth certificate if you have one. Explain that within six weeks of a baby being born in this country, parents have to register the child’s birth and the certificate is filled out with the baby’s name written in. This document is with us for the rest of our lives, and should be stored so that it can be looked up if required. It marks our uniqueness. No one is quite the same as us, even if we share the same name – no one would be born at exactly the same time in exactly the same place and share exactly the same name!
  2. Include a personal anecdote here about knowing people who share same name but are completely different people in looks, personality, etc. The writer once shared a school class with five Susans and three Pennys. We were all very different people, and it only became complicated when the teacher called out the name ‘Susan’ or ‘Penny’ and several of us responded at the same time! In school photographs we were all easily distinguishable.
  3. Parents take care in choosing names for their children. Sometimes they choose a name with family connections, or a name with particular meanings for them, a name that’s in fashion, or just because they like it. Others use books to help them – as the one on display.
  4. An individual’s name was important to Jesus, too. The Bible tells us that he called his disciples to follow him, and each of them is named (see Matthew 4.18–22). He also called Mary by name after he had risen from the dead. She was weeping by his tomb because she thought his body had been taken away (see John 20.10–16).
  5. Some people don’t like their names and avoid them by using a nickname – any examples from the children? Adults can change their name officially by deed poll, which is a special legal process. Pop stars and actors often give themselves a new name, sometimes called a stage name, to make themselves sound more appealing – do the children know of any examples?
  6. Jesus changed someone’s name too – not because he didn’t like it but because he wanted to show that this individual had a particular role to play: he gave his disciple Simon Peter the name Peter because it means ‘rock’. Jesus said: ‘On this rock I will build my church.’ Peter was to become the leader of the early Christian Church.
  7. Our names are important to us, even if we do share them with others, but each Peter, Penny, Mahinda, Malini, etc. is different and can be recognized in a crowd. We may not want to hear our names sometimes, perhaps when we’re in trouble and don’t want to be found, but we are happy when someone calls out to us in the playground or rings us to say come and play, come swimming or to play football. Or your mum/dad/carer whispers your name when you’re tucked up in bed at night and it makes you feel special.

Time for reflection


Let’s take a moment or two to think about our name.
We think about our own name
and the fact that there is no one quite the same as us,
even if they share that name.
Each of us is unique and special.
Our name marks us out.
We think about the times when we have been pleased
to hear our name being mentioned,
at home at school, with our friends,
on the phone or on a birthday card.


Thank you, God, that you know us by name
and never mix us up with anyone else
or forget us as individuals.


‘God knows me’ (Come and Praise, 15)

Publication date: September 2005   (Vol.7 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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