Our names are often our first identifiers. They are what teachers see when handed their class list for the first time. When we see a child, one of the first questions we ask is, “What’s their name?” Names are also what adults typically introduce ourselves with. As names hold such an importance in our lives, it is important that we hold space in our classrooms, homes, and libraries to talk to children about them.

Growing up, the name I went by was always a good indicator of how I felt about my identity. When I was little, it was “Kaitlin” or “Kamalei”. As soon as we moved to Washington, it was just “Kaitlin” since I quickly (and unjustly) learned that my American name meant I would get only half the teasing I endured for my racial identity. Now, after much racial healing, I go by “Kaitlin Kamalei” (well, unfortunately, most people still say “Kaitlin” because it’s “easier” to pronounce). 

This is a journey that many of our students know. As teachers, librarians, or parents, we need to make space to empower students to claim their name. I have seen most people go about this using the book “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes. While I think this book is lovely, I also know that diverse books about name stories empower students, especially our BIPOC students, more. Therefore, below are 6 diverse picture books about names. Each of these books will act as a mirror or window for our students, which increases their cultivation of cultural empowerment and cross-cultural empathy. Start the school year strong by using these books to build a welcoming environment for every name! 

Your Name is a Song, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 5-10 years old

I am in love with this new picture book! Your Name is a Song brings up an unfortunately common story. A young girl is frustrated and disheartened because no one was able to say her name at school. Her mama shows her the beauty in names and ties it back to the noises and joy all around them. Together, they disprove all the prejudice, racism, and hurt the young girl encountered at school. And together, they uncover the song and warmth to every name.  

Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years old

Juana Martinez-Neal writes and illustrates this heartwarming picture book. In Alma and How She Got Her Name, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has six names that she is determined to find out more about. While complaining that her long name never fits, her father sits Alma down and tells her the stories behind each of her names. Alma realizes her name is actually the perfect fit!

Hope, by Isabell Monk

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 5+ years old

This is a beautiful picture book that features a biracial character. In Hope, the title character is spending the summer with her Aunty Poogee in the country. While Hope is there, an adult asks Aunty Poogee if Hope “is mixed”. The comment upsets Hope. Thankfully, Aunty Poogee helps empower Hope by talking to her about her biracial heritage and the meaning behind her name. 

How Nivi Got Her Names, by Laura Deal

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration

Age Range: 4-8 years old

In this picture book, Nivi, a young girl, is interested to find out how she got her names. When she asks her mother, her mother explains traditional Inuit naming practices. Nivi is excited when she hears all the stories of the people she is named after. 

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 4-8 years old

The Name Jar is a picture book about a little girl named Unhei (Yoon-hey) and her first experience at a school in America. Unhei and her family have just moved to the United States of America from Korea. On her way to her first day of school, a few classmates tease Unhei about her name, so she decides to not tell her class her name and tells them that she will pick a name later. By the end of the book, she is empowered to use her real name and help her classmates pronounce it. 

My Name is Bilal, by Asama Mobin-Uddin MD

The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Conversation

Age Range: 9-12 years

My Name is Bilal is about a young boy named Bilal, who is starting a new school and is struggling with his Muslim identity. Bilal sees his sister Ayesha getting bullied for being Muslim on their first day at the new school. He wonders if he should go by Bill instead of Bilal. While he is wrestling with these decisions, one of his teachers, Mr. Ali sees his struggles and tries to help empower Bilal in his identity. 

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