A name is so powerful. In Nigeria, where I’m from, parents name children based on their hopes and dreams for the child or even about the circumstances surrounding their birth. However, for (mostly) immigrant kids or kids of immigrant parents, it can be tough to have an unpopular name. People never seem to pronounce it right and they don’t grasp the value of the name. These picture books about unique names focus on appreciating our names and the challenges of naming things in general. If you’re a great believer in names, you’ll love the books on this list.
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The Best Picture Books About Names
Here are 26 great books about names and naming:
It’s a Sign
Published: May 10, 2022
One, Two, Kat, and Four are starting a club, and every member is good at something! Except naming clubs.
If only there were some kind of sign about what their club should be called!
Your Name Is a Song
Published: July 7, 2020
Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl’s mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class. Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind all of us about the beauty, history, and magic behind names.
That’s Not My Name
Published: July 12, 2022
Mirha is so excited for her first day of school! She can’t wait to learn, play, and make new friends. But when her classmates mispronounce her name, she goes home wondering if she should find a new one. Maybe then she’d be able to find a monogrammed keychain at the gas station or order a hot chocolate at the cafe more easily.
Mama helps Mirha to see how special her name is, and she returns to school the next day determined to help her classmates say it correctly–even if it takes a hundred tries.
Millions of Maxes
Published: January 11, 2022
Max’s room has his name all over it–on his blanket and night light and wall. His parents call him The One and Only Max. And so, he is in for a big surprise at the playground one day, when he hears “Max, time to go home!” and two other kids come running. He’s not the one and only after all! How many Maxes are in the world?! Millions of Maxes?
But when he decides to help one of the other Maxes find her missing toy, he discovers that there are other ways to be special, and that he can appreciate the specialness of his new Max friends just as much as his own. That night he dreams of the future adventures he’ll have with all of the Maxes he has yet to meet.
Alma and How She Got Her Name
Published: April 10, 2018
If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.
The Name Jar
Published: July 19, 2022
The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.
The Arabic Quilt
Published: February 18, 2020
Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and on her first day in a new school, what she wants more than anything is to fit in. Maybe that’s why she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.
That night, Kanzi wraps herself in the beautiful Arabic quilt her teita (grandma) in Cairo gave her and writes a poem in Arabic about the quilt. Next day her teacher sees the poem and gets the entire class excited about creating a “quilt” (a paper collage) of student names in Arabic. In the end, Kanzi’s most treasured reminder of her old home provides a pathway for acceptance in her new one.
Published: April 15, 2021
Even though it’s only four simple, familiar letters long, nobody can ever pronounce Thao’s name. She’s been called Theo, Tail, even Towel! But the teasing names―Tofu, Tiny, China Girl―are worse. Maybe it’s time to be someone else? Thao decides to try on a different name, something easy, like Jennifer.
It works, but only until she opens her lunchbox to find her mother’s Vietnamese spring rolls, gỏi cuốn―Thao’s favorite! Now, it feels a lot more comfortable to be herself.
Simple on the surface, this story inspired by Thao’s own childhood is full of humor, heart, and important ideas of diversity, inclusion, and cultural pride. The story will be instantly relatable to readers who have ever felt different.
Thunder Boy Jr.
Published: May 10, 2016
Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal name…one that’s all his own. Dad is known as big Thunder, but little thunder doesn’t want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.
But just when Little Thunder thinks all hope is lost, dad picks the best name…Lightning! Their love will be loud and bright, and together they will light up the sky.
You’re Called What?
Published: July 12, 2018
Ice Cream Cone Worm. Monkeyface Prickleback. Pink Fairy Armadillo. You’re called WHAT?!
Welcome to the Ministry of Silly Animal Names where all the creatures have one thing in common: they want to change their names.
The Change Your Name Store
Published: May 20, 2014
Wilma Lee Wu does not like her name. So she marches to the Change Your Name Store where she meets Zeena McFouz, the outrageous owner. Soon Zeena convinces Wilma to try on new names in the magical store. Each time Wilma selects a new name, she is transported to the country from which the name originates. Will Wilma find a new name that she likes? Will she discover her real identity and where she truly belongs?
Home in the Rain
Published: June 13, 2017
The rain is pouring down in buckets, and Francie and her mom are on their way home from Grandma’s. As the little red car pulls into a picnic area to wait out the storm, the windows fog up, and Francie spells out Dad, Mom, and Francie with her finger. But the back window is waiting for another name, that of Francie’s soon-to-arrive baby sister. What should they call her? Francie and her mother ponder this as they return to the road. Later, when they stop to fill up with gas, who will notice one mother lost in thought and a small girl dancing? Once again, as only he can, Bob Graham elevates a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment into a sublime tale full of nuance and heart.
I’m Not a Mouse!
Published: June 15, 2020
Olivia really doesn’t like her nickname – mostly because it gets her into some sticky situations! How can she persuade her mom to stop using it? A hilarious look at the affectionate names we give the ones we love, with an interesting angle on identity and self-assurance.
My Name is Sangoel
Published: June 1, 2009
Sangoel is a refugee. Leaving behind his homeland of Sudan, where his father died in the war, he has little to call his own other than his name, a Dinka name handed down proudly from his father and grandfather before him / When Sangoel and his mother and sister arrive in the United States, everything seems very strange and unlike home. In this busy, noisy place, with its escalators and television sets and traffic and snow, Sangoel quietly endures the fact that no one can pronounce his name. Lonely and homesick, he finally comes up with an ingenious solution to this problem, and in the process he at last begins to feel at home.
Published: June 15, 2018
Anjali and her friends are excited to get matching personalized license plates for their bikes. But Anjali can’t find her name. To make matters worse, she gets bullied for her “different” name, and is so upset she demands to change it. When her parents refuse and she is forced to take matters into her own hands, she winds up learning to celebrate who she is and carry her name with pride and power. A timeless story about appreciating what makes us special and honoring our differences.
I Love You, Fred
Published: 10, 2019
Fetch! and Sit! and Stay!
and Ball! and Walk! and Bed!
I know those words…
…but what is Fred?
G My Name Is Girl
Published: February 23, 2021
A, my name is ALBA and my sister’s name is AYELÉN. We come from ARGENTINA and we are ADVENTUROUS.
Girls from 26 different countries—Argentina to Zambia—are beautifully and thoughtfully represented in this A to Z tribute to global girlhood. Children will enjoy reading about each girl’s name, empowering character trait, and country, while learning how we are all connected.
My Name is Elizabeth!
Published: September 1, 2011
Meet Elizabeth. She’s got an excellent pet duck, a loving granddad and a first name that’s just awesome. After all, she’s got a queen named after her! So she’s really not amused when people insist on using nicknames like “Lizzy” and “Beth.” She bears her frustration in silence until an otherwise ordinary autumn day, when she discovers her power to change things once and for all. In the process, Elizabeth learns about communication and respect — and their roles in building better relationships with family and friends. The two-toned illustrations reflect the story’s energy and sass, and the comic-book-like format makes it easy to follow. The cheeky, retro drawings also keep it real — depicting the sometimes-feisty Elizabeth as a resolutely normal kid — whether she’s flossing her teeth or feeding her pet duck.
The Little Boy Who Lost His Name
Published: January 1, 2016
A book which is printed using a specific child’s name. Beautifully illustrated.
Published: June 15, 2021
On Vanessa’s first day of school, her parents tell her it will be easy to make friends. Vanessa isn’t so sure. She wears her fanciest outfit so her new classmates will notice her right away. They notice, but the attention isn’t what she’d hoped for. As the day goes on, she feels more self-conscious. Her clothes are too bright, her feather boa has way too many feathers, and even her name is too hard to write.
The next day, she picks out a plain outfit, and tells her mom that her name is too long. She just wants to blend in, with a simple name like the other girls–why couldn’t her parents have named her Megan or Bella? But when her mother tells her the meaning behind her name, it gives her the confidence she needs to introduce her classmates to the real Vanessa. Perfect for readers of Alma and How She Got Her Name and The King of Kindergarten.
My Name Is Not Isabella
Published: September 1, 2010
Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream? Ask Isabella…
She takes a wild ride―and discovers the sky’s the limit!
Who Is Your Hero?
Isabella’s include U.S. Astronaut Sally Ride, activist Rosa Parks, and sharpshooter Annie Oakley―but there’s no bigger hero than Isabella’s own mommy! Join Isabella on an adventure of discovery―and find out how imagining to be these extraordinary women teaches her the importance of being her extraordinary self.
Published: September 4, 2018
When puffin Steve meets puffin Steve, neither can believe it. Surely one of them must be the first Steve, the best Steve, the Stevest of Steves…But is a name really worth fighting over?
Yoko Writes Her Name
Published: July 29, 2008
Yoko is so excited for the first day of school. She’s just learned to write her name. But when Mrs. Jenkins asks Yoko to show everyone, Olive and Sylvia make fun of her Japanese writing. “Yoko can’t write. She’s only scribbling!” The teasing continues as Yoko shares her favorite book at show and tell, and reads it back to front.
That evening, Yoko declares that she can’t go back to school. “How can I when my reading and writing are a failure?” she asks. Luckily a little wisdom from her Mama, a little cooperation from Mrs. Jenkins, and a lot of enthusiasm from her classmates teach Yoko the most important lesson of the year: that friendship can bridge cultural differences.
Not only does Yoko learn to read and write in English and graduate Kindergarten with her classmates, but everyone’s name appears in two languages on their diploma—even Olive’s and Sylvia’s!
My Name Is Yoon
Published: April 3, 2003
Getting to feel at home in a new country
Yoon’s name means Shining Wisdom, and when she writes it in Korean, it looks happy, like dancing figures. But her father tells her that she must learn to write it in English. In English, all the lines and circles stand alone, which is just how Yoon feels in the United States. Yoon isn’t sure that she wants to be YOON. At her new school, she tries out different names – maybe CAT or BIRD. Maybe CUPCAKE!
When My Cousins Come to Town
Published: May 4, 2021
Fitting in can be hard, but standing out isn’t easy either!
Every summer a young girl eagerly waits for her cousins to come visit and celebrate her birthday. All her cousins are unique in their own ways and have earned cool nicknames for themselves… except for the girl. But this year things are going to be different. This year before summer ends, she’s determined to earn her own nickname!
My Name Is Bilal
Published: August 1, 2005
After a family move, Bilal and his sister Ayesha attend a new school where they find out that they may be the only Muslim students there. Bilal sees his sister bullied on their first day, so he worries about being teased himself, thinking it might be best if his classmates didn’t know that he is Muslim. Maybe if he tells kids his name is Bill, rather than Bilal, then they will eave him alone. But when Bilal’s teacher Mr. Ali, who is also Muslim, sees how Bilal is struggling. He gives Bilal a book about the first person to give the call to prayer during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. That person was another Bilal: Bilal Ibn Rabah. What Bilal learns from the book forms the compelling story of a young boy grappling with his identity.
There they are: 26 of the best picture books about unique names! Which of these books have you read? Which ones did I miss?
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