Kids often get teased for having a “funny” last name. Dr. Linda has suggestions for what to do when this happens to your child whose name is unusual.
Dear Dr. Linda,
Our family name is so unusual that it’s often the butt of jokes. We’ve gotten used to it and laugh about it. Our son Jason, however, is about to enter middle school where bullying, teasing, and taunting is common. He’s already anxious about his name.
Do you have any suggestions to help Jason deal with possible bullying or taunting because of his name? Uncommon Name
Dear Uncommon Name,
A child with an unusual name or a name that can easily be turned into a joke is often teased. This can certainly make children unhappy and angry.
Often such teasing isn’t considered serious by teachers or parents, certainly not in the way bullying is. Adults may tell the child just to forget it. Or they might repeat the old saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Unfortunately, that’s not true. Research has shown that words do indeed hurt children and adults.
Teasing with words can lower a child’s self esteem. Children may feel they don’t fit it in or that something is wrong with them. Some kids become embarrassed by their name and wish they had a different name.
I’ve known children who get so upset by teasing that they hit back. Then they get in trouble. You’re right that Jason needs some good strategies to fend off being teased about his name
Strategies to Stop Teasing
The best way to defuse the situation is to become proactive. I recommend you teach your son some tactics that pull the rug out from under the kids who are teasing him. He can even use some of them before the taunting starts.
For example, Alvin isn’t a common name and is often associated with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Although the song has been around since the 1950s, it’s still heard today at Christmas time so kids will probably know it. So if a boy’s name is Alvin, he could make fun of himself by explaining that his parents are chipmunks so they named him Alvin.
Or he could even use the high pitch silly voice heard on the recording. Now there’s nothing left for kids to taunt him about. He’s taken the lead.
A child with the last name of Byrd can try flapping arms like a bird. A child with the name Quisenberry might announce that he wasn’t really born. Instead he’s the fruit from a Quisen tree. Sparrowhawk might say, “I’ve tried to learn how to fly, but I’ve never been able to get off the ground.”
Brainstorm with your son until he has ideas that he’s comfortable with. Just because all of you can come up with something funny that would squelch the kids who want to tease him, doesn’t mean he’ll be ok using it.
Role Play at Home First
Be sure to role play these scenes with your son before he gets to school. By practicing ahead of time, your son will likely be more comfortable with what he’s going to say or do.
Names aren’t the only challenge. Kids who have unusual physical features are often the victim of teasing too. The same strategies that work for names will work for how a child looks.
For example, Jimmy Durante, a popular Vaudeville and early television entertainer had a large nose. If he’d ignored it, Durante surely would have been taunted. Instead, he drew attention to his nose, called it a schnozzola. Durante even nicknamed himself “Schnozzola.”
Often kids (and adults too) who defuse taunting by first drawing attention to themselves become known as a good sport and much less likely to become the victim of further abuse. When your son learns some of these strategies to stop the teasing, his self esteem will go up. He’ll no longer worry about his name or be embarrassed by it. He is in control.
Teasing isn’t bullying
Keep in mind teasing and bullying are not the same. Bullying cannot be stopped by your child becoming proactive. It is mean and dangerous. If you think your child is being bullied, you need to take it seriously and go directly to the teacher and the school administration.
Wishing you a happy and successful school year,
Dr. Linda Silbert
P.S. To help middle school and high school students get better grades and improve test scores, check out the our Study Skill Handbooks