Instruct each person to take turns and share the story of their full name with their partner(s.)
By way of demonstration, share the origin of your first, middle and last names with your group.
Allow ample time for sharing to occur.
Optional – once all small groups have shared, invite one or more volunteers to share anything interesting that they learned about their partners to the large group.
Video Transcript for Story of Your Name
presented by Mark Collard
… I’ve had the pleasure of, not only travelling around the world, but also conducting many presentations where people are in fixed seats. Like auditorium style seating and they often ask the question, “How does what we’re doing here work in that setting when really people are pretty fixed in place?
This has been one of my go to’s where it can exist in many places. It’s very simple, yet there’s extraordinary depth that can actually occur. The exercise is referred to as the story of your name.
I am fascinated by names because I get to do a lot of travel and there are many different types of names that you come across.
But I’m really interested in how people get named. I’m a fairly recent father and I have a four year old now, and so the process of developing a name or a list of names was really interesting.
So here’s how it works. In a moment I am going to invite to share with your partner the story of your name, and it includes your first, middle, or middles if you’ve got multiple, and last names.
So for example, here’s the story of my name that I would share with my partner.
My last name is Collard. C-O-double L-A-R-D. It is a mistake, because three generations ago my Great Grandfather had our last name, Callard C-A-double L-A-R-D, incorrectly transposed on an official document. And from that point on our family became known as Collards. So our last name is a mistake.
My middle name is Alan. Where’s my bro? Because it makes a difference that it’s A-L-A-N, because my Father will tell you that that one L makes a L of a difference. Because in my family the tradition is that the first born son assumes the father’s name as their middle name. So my son Devon assumed my name as his middle name. So he is Devon Mark Collard. So Alan is my middle name, but the most fascinating part about the story of my name is my first name.
You already know my father’s name is Alan, but Mark was the first name of my mother’s second favourite boyfriend. True story.
I guess the story was that yeah I will marry you Alan, but our first born son has to named after the other guy. So Mark Alan Collard. That is the story of my name.
You’re going to have a different story, and if you happen to sit in the world of enquiry going, “Actually I don’t know why I’m named what I’m named?” Then if you have the opportunity I really encourage you to try and find out why you are called what you’re called.
So take the next minute or two to share the story of your name with your group. Once we’ve completed that I’ll bring the group together I’ll tell you what’s about to happen before we take a break.
(Partners share their stories.)
How To Play Narrative
I love this exercise for its simplicity and the powerful punch it can pack in a small space of time to break the ice and strengthen relationships.
Ask your group to pair up with one other person, or form small groups of three or four others. Smaller groups work better than large groups because an intimate environment is more conducive to sharing.
Announce, that in a few moments, you would like each person to share the ‘story’ of their name with their partners.
By way of demonstration, describe the reason you are called the names you are called – in any order, but cover all of your names – first, middle (if you have one, or several) and family name.
There is always a reason for the names our parents chose to name us. Sometimes, these stories are funny, serious or touching. Encourage those who do not know the reason behind their names to find out, if possible, at a later date.
Allow several minutes to elapse, and when you think most people have shared, move on.
Or, if you think there is value, consider asking one or more people to share what they just learned with the wider group.
Practical Leadership Tips
Providing a quick demonstration by sharing the story of your name will help clarify the parameters of the task. Better still, if it’s interesting, it will inspire others to share as well.
Note the choice baked into this exercise – if someone happens to be embarrassed by any part of their name, they do not need to share it, indeed, they could feign ignorance. Often, those who are concerned about sharing will wait for others to share first and then may strike up the courage (based on the success of other people’s stories) to share their own.
Even with groups that know each other well, this is a wonderful exercise for diving a little deeper. It is rare, indeed, even for two close friends not to learn something new about the other.
Sometimes, I like to direct the attention of my group to their birth certificates, and not the names that they are typically known by. For example, many people are known by their middle names and not the first name as identified on their birth certificates.
For the record, my full name is Mark Alan Collard. My last name is a mistake – my great-grandfather had his surname incorrectly transposed onto an official document, and from then on, our family name became Collard and not Callard. In my family, there is a tradition that the first-born son assumes their father’s name as their middle name; thus, my middle name is named after my father Alan. But the best part of the story is my first name – I am named after my Mum’s second favourite boyfriend, Mark (obviously, Dad was her favourite boyfriend.) And, that, is the story of my name.
I was first introduced to Story Of Your Name during staff training one summer at Blue Star Camps, NC, USA. While I have forgotten my partner’s name, I do recall that they were named after a famous song that his parents loved.
You could integrate Story of Your Name as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to effectively and sensitively share one’s story may speak to the benefits of having developed the skills of mindfulness and emotional intelligence in advance of the activity.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Story of Your Name could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Middle Names: Focus on sharing the story of just one part of your name, thereby providing some element of choice. Middle names are often good value topics because parents often like to acknowledge significant names there.
Repeat Sharing: Upon sharing in one small group or pair, ask everyone to repeat the exercise with a new group or partner.
Pet Names: Share the story of why a certain ‘object’ (eg pet, favourite piece of clothing, your car, etc) is named.
Reverse Story Fun: Take a look at Kram Dralloc for another fun name-game.
Form pairs or small groups of 3 or 4 people and allocate them to a unique breakout room after you have briefed the activity. Allow up to 2 minutes for each person to share before returning everyone to the primary virtual room.
To raise the level of intimacy for the proposed conversations, instruct each person to hide their self-view on the screen so that almost all focus can be on the person sharing and/or listening.
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Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fascinating name-game:
How did it feel to share a little of the history of your name?
Were you fascinated by the origins of your partner’s names? Why?
Do you think everyone has something special to share about their name?
The inspiration for Story of Your Name, and many more great ice-breaking exercises, was sourced from the following publication: