I'll admit it: When I read my students' "Tell Me About Yourself" worksheets, I thought it was a joke.
Under "What name would you like me to call you?" one child written Prawn. Pronouns? "He/him."
Alone in my classroom, I smirked. Was he messing with me? He was a child with a penchant for making others laugh (usually to the detriment of his classmates' focus). At first, I just wrote it off as typical behavior. He was testing me, I thought.
The truth came when I called on him in class the next day, using his birth name. He glared at me. "It's PRAWN!" he shot back. Under his breath, I heard him mutter, "I told you that already." I apologized and called him Prawn for the rest of the day, each time with a tinge of humor in my tone. I figured I would play along until he got bored of the charade.
Soon after, I took him aside privately to discuss appropriate class behavior. Toward the end of the discussion, I mentioned the name 'Prawn.' His eyes lit up.
"Would you like me to keep calling you that in class?" I asked.
"Yes!" he said, his eyes still twinkling. "I hate my name. It's boring and weird."
I agreed to the name change. I gently warned him that some adults he encounters might think he's joking or intentionally trying to be mischievous, but he shrugged it off. I asked him if he wanted me to change his name in the classroom ("Yes, but just at my desk"), and if he wanted me to inform other adults of the name change ("Yes please").
Later, I called his parents to check in. His Dad said they were aware of the name change, and that his child was wildly creative, and was creating his own story where he could be in charge.
Whether my student is grappling with his identity, attempting to gain agency and safety within a new classroom, or living his own fantastical narrative starring himself as the crustacean protagonist, I'm in. I'm along for the ride.