G Is for Gabi

A child lies on a bed reading a Fodor's guidebook to Washington, DC.

When his family moved from one country to another, a boy’s whole relationship to his name changed. We bet that wasn’t the consequence you expected to read after the dramatic first part of that sentence, but think about it: we carry a lot of drama in our names. Johns Hopkins University student Gabriel Lesser was that boy; read his account in this April 2021 narrative in the university’s News-Letter

Read it here.


1. Why does Lesser say that his Portuguese is “one of a kind”? Did he always perceive its uniqueness as desirable? Why or why not? Explain his position.

2. Lesser reasonably chooses the present tense to talk about his current reflections, thoughts, and feelings. At the same time, when he is relating earlier events and experiences, he uses the past tense. Is the essay easy to follow despite the changes in verb tense? Why or why not? Choose a sentence or short segment of the essay where there is a verb tense shift and explain the reasons for the shift. 

3. LET’S TALK. Lesser’s ways of speaking in both his languages are prominent parts of his identity; as he notes, as soon as he speaks a few words, people know a lot about him. What would people know about you if they only heard you speak (or saw you sign) briefly? For example, if you answered a phone/video call from an unfamiliar number (something you wouldn’t likely do, but just imagine it) and talked for a minute, what would the caller know about you just from your voice/signing? What kinds of things might you perceive about them? First, reflect on these questions. Next, go a step further: discuss these two final questions with a few classmates: How accurate would those first impressions be? How fair? Listen carefully to your classmates’ responses. Might you be inclined to be more open-minded about first impressions after this discussion? Why or why not?  

4. AND NOW WRITE. Lesser’s names, Gabriel and Gabi, as well as how familiar and easily pronounceable they are (and aren’t) in his two languages, have played a large role in his identity and sense of self. How do you feel about your given name(s)? How do your names relate to your sense of self? Perhaps you relate to their sounds as you hear and say them, or to their letters as you read or write them. Your name may have a significant meaning in another language. You may associate your name with family history or with other people who bear the same name. Perhaps your name led to unpleasant experiences like teasing on the playground or  lofty expectations by teachers and other grownups. Possibly—but not very likely—you have no feelings or opinions whatsoever about your name(s). However you respond to these possibilities, you surely have something to say. Write an essay reflecting on your given name(s) and how it/they contribute to your identity and sense of self. (An illustrative anecdote or two will give your essay flavor and will help readers to know you better.)

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