What's in a name?

What can a child’s ability to write their own name tell us about their academic achievements later on? Dr Lee Copping from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring explains.

«There are few who would dispute that a child’s ability to write their own name acts as a gateway for future literacy abilities. It is often one of the tasks parents focus on at home prior to their child starting school.

Previous research in education however has suggested that the length of a child’s name may influence their future academic attainment. These studies indicated that having a longer name is an advantage for young children, giving them a wider array of letters to draw upon as a foundation for later alphabet knowledge.

This is why tasks which involve a child writing their own name have been removed from mainstream assessments due to the possibility that they may favour children with longer names and introduce test bias.

Using large, nationally representative data sets over multiple geographical locations, we set out to examine the length of a child’s name and the child’s ability to write their own name in relation to later academic skills.

In the study, we analysed nearly 15,000 pupils from England, Scotland and Australia who had completed the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) Baseline assessment of reading, phonological awareness and mathematics at the start and then again at the end of reception.

PIPS Baseline includes an item assessing the quality of name writing ability. Each child writes their name on a piece of paper which is then evaluated on a six point scale. This item has been shown in previous research to be a reliable predictor of future reading and mathematical abilities at age 7.

On the English sample, where greater demographic data was available, we were also able to look at any potential effect of age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status when examining the relationships between name writing ability, length of name, reading, mathematics and phonological awareness.

Our analysis showed that across the three national samples, children who could write their name well at the start of school generally performed better in reading, phonological awareness and mathematics later on.

However, the study also found that children with longer names did not gain an advantage as was previously believed.

Our analysis suggests that name writing ability at an early age is a robust predictor of later academic ability in reading and phonological awareness, as well as mathematics, and is a suitable measure for use in assessments. Teachers should continue to look at the quality of name-writing in young children as a means of identifying potential underlying difficulties and putting necessary support in place.

Whilst we cannot draw conclusions regarding the underlying mechanisms of why this should be the case, nor can we rule out explicitly that children may or may not use letters in their own name as a framework for future learning, we can show that the actual number of letters present in a name is not predictive of future attainment.

It is also interesting to note that a child’s ability to write their own name is as predictive of mathematics as it is for future reading ability.

Whilst more data would be needed to explain this finding in detail, we may tentatively conclude that, at this young age, a child’s ability to write their own name is perhaps an indication of more general underlying cognitive ability rather than just proficiency in literacy alone.»

Source: https://www.dur.ac.uk/research/news/thoughtleadership/?itemno=28130