Our Principles for Names in Our Curriculum

At Desmos, we want all students to love learning math.

All students.

We are working to create engaging, high-quality lessons to be widely used across the country, and we want all students to see themselves represented in our lessons. There are a number of ways to achieve this; incorporating names that reflect the students using our activities is one that we think is important.

In the early days of lesson development, the process for selecting the names used in activities was informal. A Desmos lesson developer would select a name–either randomly or of special significance to the lesson–and our team would try to make sure there was a balance of ethnicity and gender.

As we began to publish lessons more frequently and the need for selecting names increased, it was apparent that our informal approach led to a biased list of names that didn’t reflect all of the students we aimed to serve. We assessed our process and determined that we wanted the names in our lessons to be mirrors reflecting the culture of our students and windows with views into different cultures. So we decided we needed a more intentional approach.

Our first attempt was to randomly generate a name from a list of roughly 200 of the most popular baby names from 2005 (the year in which much of our target student audience was born). Randomly selecting a name eliminated the bias of someone choosing a name that was special to them, but still, this process was flawed.

Using a list of popular baby names meant that names were generally recognizable, but we were not sure if our list was inclusive enough to provide the windows and mirrors that we were after. We decided to think more in depth about what we wanted our list to include. A group of lesson developers met to outline what we felt was important for the list to include. Their work resulted in establishing guiding principles for curating a new list:

  • Our set of names should be culturally and gender inclusive.
  • Our set of names should not distract from learning.

With new principles in place, we began to recreate our list. We tried to maximize how many cultures were represented, paying special attention to marginalized and non-dominant groups. We analyzed our original list of 200 baby names from 2005 and identified the perceived ethnicity and gender (non-binary, typically female, typically male) of each name. We limited the length of the names included (mostly to fit on the screen), but we chose to include names that we expect some people may find difficult to pronounce. Then we removed and added names in accordance with our guidelines in order to correct the balance of cultures and genders represented.

Though our process and list are not perfect, we did learn that it serves us well to take the time to define our principles and to practice evaluating whether our processes are in line with our goals. Creating guiding principles for our list of names allowed us to discern what was important to us and strengthened our processes for enacting our principles. We acknowledge that a diverse and inclusive names list does not replace other difficult equity work, but we do think it’s an important step in the process.