One of my favorite childhood memories during the summer was going to different destination locations. My father and mother, immigrants to the United States, wanted to make sure that their young family understood historical aspects of this country. So, each summer, all seven of us — my parents + me + my four brothers and sisters — packed into a brown and tan conversion van and drove around the continental United States. By the time I was in high school, we had visited nearly every state in the country. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, we had the privilege of adding Alaska and Hawaii.
Remember, the 1980s and 1990s were pre-iPads and pre-DVD players in the cars. My siblings and I had to rely on car games like “Find all 50 state license plates” or, everyone’s favorite “I’m going on a picnic and I brought an A, apple.” (Note: I’m joking. That going-on-a-picnic game is not my favorite).
A real treat, though, was when we stopped at a national monument or tourist destination. We tumbled out of the van, our legs cramped from sitting still for hours on end. Frankly, we were happy to stretch our legs and be more than an arms-length away from a brother or sister who had already been annoyed with another sibling for the last 100 miles.
While my parents “ooh’ed and ahhhh’ed” at whatever exciting and historical site we had just come upon, my siblings and I inevitably started each destination with the same enthusiastically adolescent line: “Can we go to the gift shop? Please? Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease??”
Yeah, that naturally occurring rock formation is nice… But, it can’t possibly be more awesome than the gift shop!
We drove thousands of miles, and can we go to the gift shop, was our most pressing question.
(I admit, now that I am a parent of small children, I realize that the universe is imparting royal payback to me)
Frankly, friends, I’m not so sure why I was so eager to get to the gift shop. No matter if we were in Arizona or Georgia or Washington D.C. or South Carolina, I always had the same experience. Different state, same stuff.
Whenever we arrived at a gift shop, my older sisters, who are named Mary and Grace, went right for the clothing section to look for cute t-shirts or sweatshirts that had the state logo or “I went all the way to Florida and all I got was this t-shirt” type slogans. My little brothers, who are named Paul and Jonathan, went right for the toys, trains, plastic wrapped decks of cards, stuffed animals with tiny t-shirts bearing the tourist destination’s image, and games.
I always went to the personalized section which was conveniently located in a circular spinning rack near the cashier. Pencils. Keychains. Barrettes. Beaded bracelets.
My eyes scanned the shiny items organized alphabetically: Laura, Leslie, Lisa, Lynn….Margaret, Mary, Melissa…
I took a deep breath.
Of course, I spun through rows of “Mary, Grace, Paul and Jonathan….”
I’m not jealous. I’m so jealous.
Sometimes there was an “Eliza” and if I was feeling particularly sassy, I would grab the “Lisa” pencil and beg my mom to give me a few dollars to pay for the item. And, each time, she looked me in the eyes and said simply, “That’s not your name. Put it back.” I would walk slowly away, likely mumbling something under my 11-year old breath like, “Well, it’s not my fault. YOU named me …” or “Why couldn’t you name ME Mary or Grace?”
State to state, the gift shop was always a disappointment.
I shuffled back to the spinning racks of items, hoping the store manager had refilled the entire section of “Liza” items — which, I fantasized had been sold out that morning due to the overwhelming number of “Liza’s” that had come to the gift shop in the middle of North Dakota — since the last time I stood there (note: at most, I was gone for 3 minutes). I wandered the store looking for other personalized sections that, maybe, just maybe, I had missed.
At the ripe old age of 41, like a Pavlovian response, I go right to the personalized section of a gift shop to see if I can hand over my hard earned money in exchange for a “Liza” item handed to me by the cashier in a small, crisp, brown bag.
So far, no luck.
As an educator, teacher, and diversity director, if there is one thing you know about me, you know that I believe names matter.
I’m unafraid to say to you, “I’m so embarrassed, but could you tell me your name again?” or “Would you mind repeating that? I haven’t heard your name before, and it’s important for me to say it correctly.” I also believe strongly in calling people what they want to be called. There are some parents who, more informally, have told me “Oh, Liza, don’t call me Dr. So-and-So, call me John” or others who have made a point to sign their emails as “Mr. Smith” or “Dr. Jones.” You have told me your names, and I have honored what you’d like to be called.
My daughter, Joli, may never find her name on a pencil in a random gift shop. My children, Jada and Evan, have a better shot at it. My husband? Sometimes we can find a Jorge, but only if we are in certain areas that pay attention to names that have origins in Spanish. You can probably guess how not-often that is….
As we begin the school year, I have two important words for you: NAMES MATTER.
Last week, as new faculty and staff arrived, they have gotten to know us by first name. For a week, we were “Kimberly” and “Alice” and “Pamela” and “Kim.” We have all introduced ourselves with our first names; yet, come Tuesday, we expect new colleagues to use our formal names in front of children. For example, “Liza” becomes “Dr. Talusan” or “Cynthia” becomes “Ms. Harmon.” As a former new person, let me tell you, this isn’t easy.
While it’s not easy, friends, it’s important. Names matter. Titles matter. Salutations matter.
As students and families return back to school, some of our colleagues have changed their names (e.g., Ms. Hyslop is now referred to as Mrs. Leonardelli). Some of our students might ask us to move from calling them nicknames like “Johnny” or “Jenny” in Lower Division to “John” or “Jen” as they arrive in Upper Division. As parents and caring adults, we have likely filled out forms for our child’s teacher that says, “My child’s formal name is _______ but he prefers to be called ________.”
And, as adults, we honor that. We honor that people have an option and want to be called their proper titles and names.
This year, as you return to school, it is important to find out how people would like to be called.
Change is all around us; and as a Park School community, we must be sure to honor how people would like to be called.
One change I’d like to let you know about is the opportunity to use a more gender-inclusive salutation: Mx. This prefix — Mx. (pronounced mix) — allows individuals to use a gender-inclusive salutation that is neither male (Mr.) or female (Mrs., Ms., Miss). This year, we opened up our school year including this option as we affirm our commitment to identity and inclusivity. The salutation, Mx., may be new to The Park School, but it is not new to our English language. In fact, Mx. was entered into the Oxford English Dictionary two years ago. While the prefix was provided to create inclusive opportunities for individuals who do not identify with gender binaries, it is also gaining use from individuals who simply do not want to have their gender identified by a Mr. (male) or Ms./Miss/Mrs. (female) prefix.
Friends, our history has seen this before when it introduced the prefix, Ms., as a way for women to not have to disclose whether or not they were married. Today, the prefix “Ms.” is one of the most frequently used ones for women at The Park School, regardless of marital status.
As a family, if Mx. is a salutation you’d prefer, please let us know so that we may make those changes. If this is a salutation you’d like to use socially but not administratively (i.e., in our class lists or handbooks), please let us know.
And, if others in our community invite you to refer to them using Mx., please do so.
As a community committed to the dignity of all people, it is important that you are known by the name you prefer. I am grateful for our leadership team at Park who have affirmed that The Park School is a place that honors the lives, individuality and naming of people. We realize this may be a new word/title for some in the community, and we are grateful to be working in education, schools, and learning environments in which we can all lean into ongoing growth.
Peace and Park,
(Dr.) Liza Talusan
(Note: Yes, I’m going by Dr. Talusan as we start the new year! Hurray!)