Language Change: The Origins of Names


This exercise is designed to acquaint students with etymology, and more specifically, with the origins of their own names, and what those origins tell us about the development of English. It also paves the way for a discussion of cognates (all the versions of John, for example - Ian, Sean, Evan, etc.)

Lesson Plan

Teacher looks up the etymologies of students names on one of the many websites (Behind the Name for example). Students get a list of the (first) names of everyone in the class, with the language of origin and meaning. Students are encouraged to explore patterns: what language(s) do most English names come from? Why those languages? What are some other things we learn about names from the list? (Feminine v. masculine forms, diminutives, etc.) Students come away with clear evidence for the influence of Latin on English, of French, Celtic, and Germanic languages on the development of English. Students can then go on to explore the history of English in a variety of ways (see other language change exercises here).

The second attachment contains four lesson plans: Origins of Names, Cognates of John, More Cognates, and an Exercise on the Lord's Prayer. Two of these are listed as separate lessons in TeachLing as well.

Class Time Needed

1 hour


General linguistics
Language arts

Grade Level

Any Grade