The Power of a Name

One of our beginning-of-the-year rituals at Forest Friday is the endowment of Nature Names. Each child picks a Nature Name (an animal that is native to our immediate environment) from a bag, and we talk about how that animal chose them, and not the other way around. There is a very special reason that the animal chose them, and it is the child’s job to determine why they were chosen by that particular animal. Perhaps they share a physical characteristic or a behavior trait. Perhaps they have something to teach other. 

In most cases, the children are thrilled with whatever animal they draw from the bag, but on rare occasions the responses are more negative. This was the case with one of my students this year, who I will call Sasha. Sasha’s Nature Name is Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar, and when she first read the name, her first reaction was a loud, “EW!” followed by a 20-minute pouting session. She was convinced that this animal was gross and had absolutely nothing of value to share with her. She was jealous of her friends, who had received cute, cuddly Nature Names like Pocket Gopher and Deer Mouse.

For the next couple weeks, Sasha did everything she could to distance herself from her Nature Name, even going so far as to claim she had forgotten it and rebranding herself as Slug. Yesterday, however, everything changed. I was wandering around our outdoor classroom, watching children attempt to make a dam in the creek with large rocks, when suddenly I heard shrieking coming from the old stone well across the way. I quickly moved towards the sound, and when I arrived I found Sasha jumping around and squealing with delight, accompanied by a small crowd of her peers.

“I found my Nature Name! I found it! Look, look!” she cried.

Sure enough, crawling around on the well was a teeny tiny, very cute, very fuzzy Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar. I came to find out that Sasha had spotted the caterpillar crawling on another child’s head a few moments earlier. Her earlier distaste for this hard-to-pronounce little creature had instantly transformed into glee, pride, and extreme loyalty. She spent the rest of Forest Friday utterly entranced by the caterpillar, regularly exclaiming how adorable and cute it was, and standing guard so no harm would befall it.

It’s too soon to say whether Sasha’s devotion to the Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar will last, but for now it’s safe to say, a Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillar by any other name would not be so beloved.