What’s in a Name? (Learning names while teaching)


Now that you’ve survived your first week(s) of observations, it’s time to start teaching! Besides planning lessons to, hopefully, enrich your students’ minds on your respective country’s culture, it’s also important to have some classroom management (aka discipline) skills to ensure that things run smoothly and that the students don’t start acting up and not listen to you (’cause you know how some kids can be…).

So how do you effectively manage your students?

…by knowing their names, of course.

As the assistant(e), you’ve probably gotten sick of constantly having to introduce yourself to everyone at school, from the teachers to the students to the headmaster (or “principal,” in American English), with the generic, “bonjour, je m’appelle Rebecca” and so forth.

Everyone will know your name quickly, but on the flip side, it can take weeks, even months, to remember your students’ names, if at all. While you might think that there’s no point in knowing their names because you don’t see them that often (12 hours per week, to be exact), it’s actually important that you at least get to know a good handful of their names. Not only will it help establish more personalized relationships with them, but it also makes it less awkward to point at one of them and say, “hey you” when posing a question.

I have to admit, I was really bad during my first year of teaching; I worked at a collège and a lycée, and I didn’t really know all of the students’ names until March came around! Really pitiful, if you ask me, because I was that assistant(e) who didn’t really have an “introduce yourself to me” presentation (you know, the one that you do on the first day of class, i.e. name, hometown, fun fact, etc). I did try for a class or two, just asking the students to go around and say their names, but of course, they didn’t stick in my head for long. I also never really did ask for them again afterwards, which I should’ve done!

At the same time, I learned students’ names just from hearing the professors repeat them all of the time in class, especially those who were troublemakers…So basically for the first few months, I only knew the names of those who either caused a ruckus or really made the effort to participate in class. Everyone else in between were, well, harder to learn.

Interestingly, upon arriving in France, I had this really skewed notion that common French names for boys and girls would be those stereotypical ones you read in French textbooks at school; I’m talking about names like “Jean-François,” “Marie-Caroline,” and all of those hyphenated names. In reality, I rarely came across anyone named like that, with the exception of some colleagues, so I assume that hyphenated names are more of an old-fashioned, traditional thing. Sort of like how names like “Dick” and “Betty” are very 1950’s United States, and rarely seen in kid’s names today.

Any case, over the year of teaching, I eventually came around to learning at least a good number of students’ names (around 70 to 80 percent), to the point that I could put their face to their name. This was all due in part to the fact that, in March, I *finally* came across the trombinoscope (sort of a roster sheet with the students’ photos) for the school and just studied it. I never received it at the beginning of the school year (my colleagues never gave it to me), so that was when I could at last know who was who in each of my classes!

From the trombinoscope, I discovered that, just like in English with our Johns and Emilys, there are plenty of common French names that many of the students share with each other. Here are just a few:

Common French names (boys)

  • Théo
  • Maxime/Maxence
  • Quentin (seriously, I had three Quentins in one of my classes!).
  • Hugo
  • Dorian

Common French names (girls)

  • Océane (there was at least one of them in each class)
  • Manon (I recall having four “Manons” in one class. Oof!)
  • Anaïs
  • Léa
  • Laurine

Additionally, what surprised me was how some students’ names were actually…English?? To be more precise, these names can be also found in U.S. (and other Anglophone countries) classrooms, so it was interesting to see French children being named these names; I guess English-sounding names are popular in France, for some reason.

Any case, here are some “English-sounding” names that some of my students were named:


  • Brian
  • Kévin (yes, with the little accent!)
  • James
  • Dylan (pronounced “dee-lan”)
  • Nathan (pronounced “na-tan”)
  • Tom
  • Jordan


  • Melissa
  • Laura
  • Alice
  • Morgan (often spelled “Morgane”)
  • Madison
  • Emma
  • Megan (Spelled “Mégane”)

Any case, my hope for this year is to do a better job of learning my students’ names, so that I don’t have to face that uncomfortable situation of saying, “hey you” all over again. Once more, asking for the trombinoscope early in the year (instead of in March) will make a big difference, so inquiring about it doesn’t hurt!

Hoping for a good teaching year! À bientôt.


— Rebecca


7 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? (Learning names while teaching)

    1. Your schedule’s exactly like I had last year; I also never got a trombinoscope for my schools, so it took a long time for me to learn most people’s names, even the staff! Thankfully, I only work at one school this year (albeit a much larger one), but I hope to get people’s names down sooner than later!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s definitely a challenge – I find that if students participate, then I’m more likely to remember their names, but this time round it’s proving more of a challenge as working at a university I have some classes of thirty to forty students! I think French names are definitely changing – whilst there are still lots of traditional names like Pierre, Victor and Cécile, there are also lots which sound somewhat anglicised, like Cindy, Shirley and Jessica. Somehow I can’t see French names becoming this popular in the UK for a while…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really, it is! Does your university happen to have trombinoscopes of the students or not? At least in primary and secondary school, they have it and it can make a difference in learning names!

      As for “English-sounding” names in France, I think it’s due to the Anglicization of the country overall, as it’s saturated with Anglophone media (e.g. television, music, etc.). Unless French media starts to dominate the world, there won’t be a lot of French names out there (except in France)!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It probably does, but the chances of me getting my hands on one of those are somewhat low I think, especially as I still haven’t even been given registers for some classes! They were a life-saver when I worked in a lycée though! True, France is becoming rather Anglicised, particularly in the bigger cities – at this rate French names will likely remain confined to Francophone countries!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I’m going to ask my classes to make little name cards to put on their desks during English class. We can decorate them with flags of anglophone countries, and maybe even put key phrases like “I don’t understand” and “Can you repeat” on the back to help them during class… Of course I’m in primary where that sort of bricolage is fun and exciting. I’m not sure how lycéens would react haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea! I did something similar last year at the collège. It should definitely work for lower levels; by lycée I assume they got those phrases down by memory to ask if they need help, e.g. “What’s English for…?”


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