Episode 20: What’s in a Name?

In this episode we discuss helping children appreciate and enjoy their names, others’ names, and the names of God. 

Books Discussed in this Episode:

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Welcome to “Books that Spark” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.

Today I’m so excited to share with you some really sweet books about names and how God knows our name and the meaning of names and the importance of our name. The first book is a fun book that I have loved for years. And it’s called Mommy Doesn’t Know My Name by Suzanne Williams illustrated by Andrew Shachat. So it’s a cute book about how we use pet names with our kids. It starts out, “My mommy doesn’t know my name. When I wake up in the morning, she comes in to get me. ‘Is That my little chickadee?’ She says. I’m not a chickadee. I’m Hannah. After I’m dressed, we have breakfast. My cup slips, and I spill orange juice. ‘Oh No!’ I cry. ‘It’s Okay, Pumpkin,’ says Mommy. ‘Accidents Happen to everyone.’ Do accidents happen to pumpkins?” And she says, “I’m not a pumpkin. I’m Hannah.” And so it goes through the whole book with all these different names that her mom calls her throughout the day. And as she’s going to bed that night she has one more time that her mom calls her a little mouse and she says, “I’m not a mouse. I’m Hannah.” And she says, “‘Yes, I know,’ says, mommy. She gives me a hug. ‘Your Hannah, my very own happy little, funny little girl.'” And I just love this book. I think it is so cute and such a sweet book to share with our kids. And I think it would cause a lot of giggles and laughter as you share it together.

Another very sweet book is called Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow. This book deals with the different names that people have, especially from different ethnicities and how sometimes those are hard for us to say and encourages a positive outlook on it–that the name is a song. It’s beautiful, and it has its own rhythm and its own meaning. So this little girl takes time to learn people’s names. And her mom teaches her instead of being upset about her name and the teacher having trouble pronouncing it, to help the teacher pronounce it correctly. And then also to learn her friend’s names and to kind of sing their names because the name is a song. And so it’s just a really wonderful book. I really appreciate the message in it to be patient with each other. First of all, when we mispronounce names or don’t know quite how to pronounce them and to also encourage children to not be embarrassed by their names if people mispronounce them or tease them about them, but to embrace our names that we’ve been given and to understand the importance of those names and that they are beautiful. My Chinese name, my mom has always said was it doesn’t sound pretty in English, you know, to an English ear. But to any Chinese speaking person, they always say, “Oh, what a beautiful name?” I think that’s so interesting because our ears are used to hearing names a certain way, sounds a certain way. And we have to learn to understand in other cultures and in other languages, the names are beautiful to the ears of the people, and we need to help each other learn that everyone’s name is beautiful.

And then Debbie Anderson has a very cute book: God Knows My Name. And this little book talks about how God knew us before we were born, that he created us and that he’s the God of the universe. And yet he knows our name. The illustrations are colorful and cute. And it’s just a lovely little book. And there’s also a pamphlet that you can get–a pamphlet version of the book, which is nice because you could get a pack of 25, and it shares the gospel in this same way–God knows my name. So in this book it says, “God made everything and God knows everything. God knows me. He even knows my favorite color. What’s your favorite color? Surprise. God already knew it. God knows my name. He even knows how many hairs are on my head. Can you count how many hairs are on your head? What is your name?” And it gives scripture to go with each one of these. “Before God made the world, he knew about me. Before I was born, God knew what would happen every day of my life.” It’s just a cute little book and shares the gospel and how God has known us before we were born.

Another book that’s really cute about names is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. And this is a cute story of a little girl who loves her name thinks that it’s just perfect until she goes to school, and the children tease her about her name. She goes through a terrible time, and she doesn’t think her name is perfect. She thinks it’s dreadful. And then her parents talk to her when she gets home, and she likes her name again a little bit, and it goes back and forth. And then finally the music teacher helps the students to understand that her name is great, and all names are great. And the kids decide to take on flower names themselves. And so they change their names to flowers, but it’s a cute little story and a good one, especially if your child is having a hard time with what kids are saying at school, if they’re teasing them about their name.

So these two books are really good for those purposes and to help a child embrace the name that they’ve been given. And another one along these lines, and I think I’ve mentioned this in another episode, is The Name Jar by Yongsook Choi. And this one is about a Korean girl who comes to school, and everyone always mispronounces her name. So she’s going to let them choose a name for her. And so there’s a name jar, and they can put names in the jar, and she’s going to choose one. And of course she winds up keeping her Korean name because when the children realize what her name means, they think it’s just a lovely name. So I love that book too. It’s really cute.

I love this next book. It’s called The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton. And it’s not exactly about a person’s name, but it is about a child who’s invisible to everyone else in the class because you have the child that’s always complaining and gets all the attention and you have the child, whose the star of everything. And he gets all the attention. This little boy is invisible. His name is Brian. He’s always the last one to be picked for a game, if he’s picked at all. He’s not included in anything. And so it’s like no one sees him. He feels invisible. And Brian loves to draw. He draws all kinds of pictures, and it’s just really cute. A new boy comes to class named Justin, and he’s Korean. Everyone’s making fun of his food. He has bulgogi for lunch. And everyone’s like, Ooh, that sounds terrible. And Brian writes him a note and says, I thought the bulgogi sounded good. And so that made Justin aware of Brian. Then when they go to have an activity in class or play on the playground, Justin starts including Brian. That makes all the difference because now Brian isn’t invisible anymore. And even in the pictures in the book, all of a sudden we start seeing through the whole first part of the book, Brian is black and white. He’s kind of a shadow where all the other kids are in color. And then on the page where Justin starts including him, he starts to gain some color. And then for the rest of the book, he’s the same color as everybody else. He has full color clothing and everything. And then they do a project and Justin’s like, “Oh, I bet Brian could draw the pictures.” And they do one of the best little presentations together using their gifts and their abilities. And it’s just a really cute book about how on both sides of it. And I think that’s why I like this so much. He feels invisible, but he takes the time to encourage someone, and that makes him visible to that person. So sometimes a shy child feels helpless and feels like they can’t change their situation. I think if we can help them understand that they can be proactive to help change their situation by encouraging people and being a positive, optimistic person just in their attitude and what they say to others–if they encourage others, if they are friendly to someone else, then chances are that person’s going to be friendly back to them. And it’s not a hundred percent, but it is a better chance of them being friendly rather than ignoring you, you know, if you’re also being an encourager. And so I liked that about it. He helps out with a kid who is feeling teased as well. And so he encourages that child and becomes his friend first when everybody else has given him a hard time. And I like it that then it shows that even if a kid is left out, someone can reach out to them and make a difference. So it shows all sides of the situation and how kids can help each other to feel accepted and part of the group.

Another cute book it’s called The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe and illustrated by Tina Kugler. In this story, it’s the story of Wilma Lee Wu, who does not like her name at all. She likes everything else in her life, but not her name. And so she finds the Change Your Name Store and goes to town and hunts around and finally finds store and meets the owner Zeena Fouz, the store owner tells her she can choose a name and to choose wisely. And so she chooses her first name and she gets a little card and this is a magic store. So when she chooses that card, it transports her to the land. That name comes from. And so the first name is French that she chooses. And so she winds up at the lube in France and wearing French clothing and she hangs around for a minute, but she really doesn’t feel like this is for her. She feels like she’s on display, like a painting at the museum. So then she chooses another name and winds up transported to the middle East. And then she winds up choosing a Hispanic name. And so she winds up in all these different countries. And then at long last she finds the perfect name for herself and she is so excited and she takes that card and goes home and tells her family she’s found her perfect name. And of course it is Wilma Lee Wu. Because her culture and her name fits her the best because that’s who she is.

This one is one I really like. It’s called My Name Is Sangoel. And it is written by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed and illustrated by Catherine Stock. And it’s geared toward first through third graders. It is written about a boy from Sudan and his teacher can never get his name right. He tries to be patient. He tries to be understanding, and his grandfather told him to be patient. And so he’s really working hard to be patient, but then he comes up with an idea of how he can help his classmates and his teacher pronounce his name correctly because it’s spelled Sangoel. And so his teacher keeps calling him sin go well. And so he draws a sun and a soccer goal on his t-shirt and says, my name is sun goal. And the kids are like, Oh, of course now I get it. I know how to pronounce it. And the children all think it’s a wonderful idea to do a Rebus of their names too. And so they get paper in, they each draw a picture of what their name is and how it’s pronounced. And I just love that because I think anytime we read a book where a child is solving a problem or making a difference, I think those are powerful, powerful books. That’s why I love this because he solves a frustration with intelligence and creativity and ingenuity rather than being angry and just getting upset.

And then one of my favorite stories I’ve had for years is called Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent. It is a retelling of an ancient Chinese folktale, and it is so funny. It is such a cute story. It has such a lyrical component to it, with the name of the child in the story. Because, according to this folktale, originally to have an honorable name meant that you had a very long name in Chinese culture. And so the main little boy who’s the oldest in the story is Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo. In the story he falls into the well, and so his little brother runs as fast as he can to get his mom. He has such a hard time alerting people to the emergency because he takes so long to say his brother’s name that he can’t tell them, “Please come quick! He’s drowning!” But they do save him finally. And the mother decides it would be wiser to have a shorter name–that short names save lives.

If we’re going to talk about names, we have to talk about God’s name and understanding what his name means. And there are several books written for children about the names of God. I chose two that I think are really good. One is God, What’s Your Name? It’s Discover for Yourself Inductive Bible Studies for Kids. And this is for children, 8 to 12 years old, and it’s written by Kay Arthur and Janna Arndt. Both of those writers I just think are great. And I love the way the book is set up. It has puzzles and games throughout the book, but it lets the child dig into the word of God and find and understand God’s name. And so it’s an excellent book for your older children.

And then for your younger children, this one’s written for grades one through five and so six to 10 years old, it is called, I Am Devotional: 100 Devotions about the Names of God by Diane M. Stortz. And she has several books about the names of God, and all of them are illustrated by the same illustrator, a French illustrator, Diane Le Feyer. Beautiful illustrations, beautiful books, but this was my favorite of hers, but she has a board book as well that’s a good companion book to this one. And she has some other books that deal with other names of God but this one is written really nicely for the younger elementary child. And let me just read a little bit to you. Okay? So this one, it starts out and it has “Hello. My name is,” and it says, “God said to Moses, I am who I am. When you go to the people of Israel, tell them I am sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14. “At Day camp, or on a field trip you have probably worn a name tag. That way teachers can call you by name. They don’t have to yell. ‘Hey, You!’ When God spoke to Moses at the burning Bush, he wanted Moses to tell the Israelites that God would save them, ‘But the people will want to know who sent me,’ Moses replied. ‘When They ask, what is his name, what should I say to them?’ ‘I am who I am,’ God told Moses. ‘That Is my name forever. Tell the people that I am sends you to rescue them and bring them out of Egypt.'” So that’s how it starts. It tells more of the story and then it has a place for going deeper and to dig into some other scriptures. What I love, too, is the lessons she teaches throughout this book. Like the second lesson’s, “What’s in a Name.” And it talks about when you know someone’s name, well, Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name, put their trust in you.” So when we know God’s name, we know we can trust him. Then she talks about not using God’s name in vain. And then she talks about some of the other names like creator and Elohim, God of truth, El Emeth, but there’s a lot of good discipleship in this. It’s not just talking about the name of God. It’s what that means to us as followers, as believers in Christ. And I think this would be just a great family Bible study to do together with your kids, or if they want to do it on their own, it would still be great. But I love what she does with the lessons. And they are short lessons. You could go through them fairly quickly as a family, but they’re just nicely done. And the other one is much more of a study. So you could use it as a Bible study with older children. You could do it as a small group or Sunday school even. It’s really done well to be used where you answer questions and do activities and search into the Bible. Like I said, it’s an inductive Bible study. And so both of these are really good. There’s some others too, but these were my two favorites of all the ones I looked at. And I think they would be great for helping your children to learn and understand and appreciate the names of God and how through his names, he reveals who he is.

And just a little side note, one of the things I respected so much. This one minister, I knew whenever his kids went out, when they were teenagers and older elementary, when, they would go out to a party or hanging out with friends or whatever, he always said, “Remember your name?” And I thought that was so interesting. They had a family identity. He expected his children to remember their name and that they were part of that family and to live up to what that name stood for. And I thought, how amazing is that to teach our children, that our names matter, and our family identity matters. And who we are as a family is important, and how we represent our family and as well God’s family, when we’re out. We need to keep in mind that we who we are and not lose sight of who we are when we get around other people. I thought that was such a profound lesson to teach kids. And I’ve tried to emulate that with my children because I thought it was so good. Not to harass our children and put shame on them. And like, “You better not embarrass me when you’re out there.” It wasn’t that attitude at all. It was more of respect for who you are and to not go against who you are because of what others are doing or saying–to have the strength of character to stand and say, “This is who I am. And I don’t want to take part in that.” You know, whatever it is that might compromise who you are. Or while you’re out to just remember that you are an ambassador of Christ–that you represent him and that you want to let his light shine through you and not our selfish motives and our bad attitudes that we can get at times. And so I think to challenge our kids to think that way, and to challenge ourselves to think that way, I mean, we’re supposed to be salt and light. We’re supposed to be, you know, glorifying God, making his name known among the people. And we can’t do that if we’re going against who we are. And we bear the name of Christ. So helping our children understand the importance of their given name, the importance of the name they wear as Christian, is a profound and important lesson we can all learn and we can all teach our kids.

In the past. I’ve talked about the book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd Jones, illustrated by Jago. But I wanted to read an excerpt from this book to you. And this is found on page 145 in the book. It’s called “Mighty Man of Valor.” “The angel said, ‘The Lord is with you, Oh, mighty man of valor.’ Judges 6:12. Who is this fearsome warrior? The angel is talking to? See that puny weakling hiding over there in the wine press? ‘He’s The man for the job,’ God said. Gideon, the smallest son, of the smallest family, of the smallest tribe of Israel. Why on earth would God choose him and call him ‘mighty’ when he was nothing of the sort? But God called Gideon by his true name, and Gideon became what God knew he was all along–mighty! Because God sees not just who you are, but who he is going to make you.” And I love this so much, especially as we’re talking about names, to talk about how God has names he calls us. And we know in the Bible, there are times when he has called people and actually changed their name, like Jacob to Israel and Saul to Paul. But he also has called us many names throughout the Bible, as the church and as followers of Christ, we are the bride of Christ. We are the branches on the vine. We are light and salt. And what do all these names mean when God shares his name with us, it reveals his character. It reveals who he is. And so these names that he has called us reveal who we are and who we’re supposed to be in him. And so we can bless our children as we pray for them. And we see what God is doing in their life and what he is building in their life. We can see what God is doing in their character and who he’s creating them to be–someone who is loving and patient, someone who is an encourager at heart and a peacemaker. And we can also see that in our own lives–what is God building in our lives? What name is he calling us? How can we walk in that?

Thank you for joining us today for “Books that Spark,” a podcast celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope our discussion will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life. Remember to check out my website, TerrieHellardBrown.com. And when you sign up for my mailing list, you get several free items. And right now we also have an Advent calendar you can download that has a book a day, actually through November and December, but an Advent calendar that has Christmas books you can read all through the holiday season, and, for November, books on Thanksgiving and on thankfulness that you can share with your family. You can download that for free. It’ll be in the show notes, and it is on my website.

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Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!

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