Ask everyone to tally the number of letters in their first name.
Instruct your group to form one straight line from lowest to the highest number of letters.
Individuals may choose to adopt an abbreviated version of their name, provided they are ordinarily known by that name.
Award nominal gold medals to those whose names comprise the lowest and highest number of letters.
Next, add the number of letters comprising their first and middle names, and re-arrange themselves from highest to lowest number of letters accordingly.
Finally, calculate the total number of letters in their full names – first, middle and last names – and re-arrange themselves from highest to lowest number of letters.
Offer celebratory applause for each round of gold medal performance.
Video Transcript for What’s In A Name presented by Steve Butler
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to play with your name for a few minutes, and you might discover some things about your name that you never knew before, and then we’re going to give you the Olympic challenge.
In all the times I’ve been doing this, five groups have succeeded in the Olympic challenge, so it’s a chance for you to truly, truly become one of the elite groups in the world. Alright?
So first thing I want you to think about is in your first name, and you can use your full name, you can use your contracted name, because this is kind of like hi-lo poker, you can get points for being the shortest or the longest.
And if you’re in the middle, don’t worry about it, because there’s multiple categories and you’ll be able to earn points later on as we go through this exercise.
But pick up a name, full, last, whatever it is, however you want to spell it, count out the number of letters in that name, and then line up based on the shortest to the longest name based on how many letters you have.
So if there’s the same number of letters in your name as someone else, just stand next to them, and then we’re going to say the names.
So Steve is five, but I’m going with Stephen because I’m going to go for the longest name, so I’m going for seven. So I’m seven right here. Let’s do it.
(people counting, lining up)
So let’s just say the names, say the number of letters and the name.
Didn’t get double figures, but that’s pretty good. So here’s your chance to change the world. Go to your last name, same process. Count out the number of letters. Line up shortest to last. See if you go from one place to the other in the line. Six.
Nice. Still no double figures but we’re getting there. So here’s the chance to break through that double figure barrier and it’s probably going to be accessible to every one of you.
You get to take all the names that you have, no nicknames though. It’s going to formal. If you’re filling out an application at work, you know, licence, whatever it is, you can put in any number of names you want.
If you’ve got multiple names, maiden names, whatever, all those. Go for it.
Try and come up with the longest, or the shortest name possible and I’ll give you the world’s records on both ends. Nobody has ever beaten the world’s record. Both came from the same group, years ago, and nobody has ever touched them, come even close to them.
So this is your chance if you really want to break it. This is your chance for the individual gold, and then next we’re going to do the team gold. So all your names, all your letters, count them up. Get your calculators out if you need them and see where you are. Nineteen is over here.
(people counting, lining up)
Alright, what do we got?
(people reciting their full names and numbers)
Nice. So guesses for the shortest name that has the world record as of this point.
(Like full name?)
Close. Between them. Four. Bo Li. Amazing. And guesses for the biggest?
(You can get some pretty long names.)
You’re close. Sixty six.
There were actually eight names. Now I have no clue what they were.
Alright, this is it. Five groups only have ever accomplished this task. And so what I’m going to do is I’m going to count out each letter of the alphabet. If it appears anywhere in any of your names, just raise your hand and we eliminate that letter.
If we can get all the letters eliminated, we qualify and are in one of those great groups. If we get down to two or three letters left that we didn’t have in our names, we’re still doing really good. That’s like the bronze, silver medal kind of category.
So we’ll see where we get to. But only five groups have ever been able to eliminate the entire alphabet.
(We need some diversity.)
That’s one of the neat things about this exercise. If you have international people, you get a whole different result. But anyway, let’s try it. Here we go. ‘A’.
(eliminating letters of the alphabet B through O)
Here’s the big first step. ‘Q’.
(eliminating letters of the alphabet)
‘W’. No ‘W’? ‘Y’, and ‘Z’.
(We got a ‘Z’?)
Three. That gives us a bronze. Very nice.
So it’s a really fun thing to do because you get to learn lots of things about people in terms of all the names that they have, and sometimes if you have time, you can start to get into what do the names mean and you’ll hear some really fascinating stories. But it’s also neat because it’s something that people never have thought about.
You’re actually playing with something that you’ve had for your entire life but no one has ever thought wow, what are all those letters in there and how does that play out. And you can go for all those records, and you can probably create other ones that we’ve never even thought about.
How To Play Narrative
The beauty of this little name-game is found in its simplicity, but also in its delivery.
For fun, ask your group to imagine that they are competing in the Name Olympics, and every individual has the opportunity to stand on the dais and collect a gold, silver or bronze medal.
There are several rounds before the culmination of the main event, but happily each round will award two gold medals.
To start, ask everyone to think of their first name and to tally the number of letters in it.
Then, instruct your group to form a straight line according to the number of letters in their names, from lowest to highest. So, at one end you may have Mia (3 letters) and Alexander (9 letters) at the other.
However, suggest that in their interests of perhaps securing a medal, each person is entitled to adopt any version of their name which may place them closer to, or at the very ends of the line.
For example, Joanne, which contains six letters, may choose to abbreviate her name to Jo to give her two letters in the competition. Nathaniel could also become Nate. Remember, the whole point of the exercise is to secure a medal.
Once the line is formed, zip down the line asking each person to say their name and the number of letters it contains. Award imaginary medals accordingly for the shortest and longest names.
Next, move onto round two, which incorporates the first and middle names of each person. Add up the total number of letters, and form a new line. Observe that those with medals around their necks from the first round may soon be relegated to the middle of the line in the next. And vice versa. Those with multiple middle names are at a distinct advantage here.
Finally, introduce the main event. Ask everyone to add up the total number of letters for all of their names – first, middle and last – and form a line from lowest number of letters to the highest.
Award medals accordingly. Gold for the least and most number of letters, silver medals for those second from the end, and bronze for those third in from the ends. Celebratory applause is not uncommon for the medal winners.
Practical Leadership Tips
On its own, simply adding up the number of letters in one’s name is not particularly interesting. So, your presentation is key to the excitement of this exercise. Ask your group to imagine this task is a demonstration sport for the next Olympic Games, that’s how exciting it should be.
Yes, in the interests of securing a medal, prefixes and suffixes – such as Doctor and Junior – are permitted to inflate the number of letters in a person’s name. Up to you.
In the interests of being fair, permit only those abbreviated names by which a person is commonly known. For example, Cassandra may be known as Cassie. Robert may be called Bob. But, Robert is unlikely to be known as R.
For the record, the longest recorded full name I have heard is 60 letters. Yep, sixty. Wow, that must be tough when it comes to filling in application forms.
You could integrate What’s In A 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 ample 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 engaging in and solving a simple group initiative.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which What’s In A Name could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Letter Tally: As above, but count only single instances of each letter of the alphabet. That is, if a letter appears more than once in a person’s name(s,) it can only be counted once. For example, Alexander comprises only seven letters, because he can only count the letters A and E once.
Group Initiative: This gold medal is only awarded (to the group) if every single letter of the alphabet is represented (at least once) in the full names of your entire group. Score it like this – if one or more people have a particular letter in any one of their names, no points are awarded. However, if a particular letter is not represented in at least one person’s name, such as Q, then a point is scored. The aim is to work your way through the entire alphabet and end up with a score of zero which will earn your group a gold medal. One point earns a silver medal, and two points the bronze. This exercise particularly embraces the value of diversity, because there is a greater chance that letters such as Q, X and Z will appear in the names of your group.
Name Reverse: Take a look at Kram Dralloc to experience a name-game with a difference.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to announce that the demonstration sport for the next Olympic Games is going to embrace the diversity of our names. Everyone has the opportunity to earn a medal and stand up on the dais…
Our names are precious, not only because they identify us from one another, but they also say something about our ancestry. Yet, we all know of people, especially those in the performing arts, who choose to change their name, often because it is difficult to spell or pronounce. This next exercise aims to embrace the full value of our names, but you still get the choice to determine which part or version of your names you wish to use…
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 innovative name-game:
What is it like to have a long or difficult to pronounce name?
How did it feel to have your name valued in this exercise?
What could this game teach us about valuing diversity in our groups?
Fun & Interactive ‘Get-To-Know-You’ Session
What You Need:
10+ people, 30 mins, ‘Ice-Breaker Question Exchange’ Cards (Print+Play)