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Leah Thomas

Yesterday, a fellow teaching artist and I met with a classroom teacher to plan our last few sessions before summer break. Unexpectedly, the subject of names had a moment in the spotlight. The teacher suggested we remember to ask students to put their names on their work, for practical reasons. I agreed, and told him I liked it from an art standpoint, too: putting a name on a blank piece of paper helps students take the work at hand more seriously, helps them take ownership of the art to come.

In history, in culture, in mythologies – names have always been considered totems of power. To give your name is to give a piece of yourself away. To give an enemy your name puts you in their power. In the classroom, of course, names are nothing so dramatic; they are noticeable mostly when students forget to put them on their papers or when four kids in one class happen to be called “Brooke”.

But my fellow teaching artist countered this argument, and gave us an alternative to consider: There is power in not naming things, too. “Students should be able to look at their work and say, ‘That’s mine! Because I did that brush stroke, I remember.’ They shouldn’t have to see their names to know.”

He’s got a great point. A student who doesn’t put her name on her paper must think of other ways to identify her work. With art specifically, this line of thinking would require them to think visually. If they can’t identify an image they created without seeing their name on it, why, they haven’t taken ownership of their work at all! They’ve done exactly the opposite. Now, if they can identify a piece of art because they remember the choices they made that make their art unique, they are thinking metacognitively, becoming more aware of their learning.
It may feel as though titles are too often treated as an afterthought – but then, I can say from my experiences in the publishing world that a title, a name for a thing, is never so important as the thing itself. My last book went through almost a dozen titles throughout the writing process, but these names didn’t impact the story.
To name a thing before you’ve created it, to claim ownership on a blank piece of paper can be detrimental to the creation of the thing.

While names on papers are vital for practicality’s sake, this is food for thought. And as ever: process over product.