Modern First Library: What’s in a Name? by Sabrina Phillips

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing from different community voices about what a Modern First Library means to them! Below, Sabrina Phillips, Museum Educator at the Blanton, shares the story behind her name. Explore more from the series here.


Growing up, I was ashamed of my name. Sabrina Camille Mooroogen. It seemed a mouthful for people, and I was teased constantly. I was nervous to hear my name called by a new teacher or would sweat when I had to introduce myself. When I got married, I took the opportunity to change my name to the much more palatable Phillips. I instantly felt more accepted, able to navigate spaces confidently without the weight of any perceived ‘ethnic’ assumptions.

In time I learned who Sabrina Phillips is: an educator, wife, mother– but what happened to Sabrina Mooroogen? I think I missed her. I missed the connection to the core of myself. I started thinking about my name and learned that it is derivative from the Tamil god, Muruga. My name is divine, I am divine.

Our names are important. They carry history and identity. I wish I had demanded that others say my name accurately, that I would have asked them to practice it until they got it right, and to not take anything less.

9780763693558Having access to books like the beautifully illustrated 2018 book Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal is essential to helping young people internalize the strength of their names. In this book, Alma feels that her name, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, is too long and doesn’t ‘fit’. Her father helps her to learn the history of each of her namesakes, and the similarities and strength and she can draw from her ancestors.

As an arts educator, the stunning line drawings in the book of the trees that engulf Alma and her ancestors speak to me of roots and connectedness. I would love to engage students in creating their own visual trees that explore and honor heritage. This book invites us to be lovingly curious about our names.

Our name stories are complex and help to shape the way we view ourselves. For me, years later, in deciding what to name my third child, I confidently chose Laeth Mooroogen Phillips.  

Sabrina recommends:


HeadshotSabrina Phillips (MA Art History) is the museum educator and manager of school and teacher programs at the Blanton Museum of Art. Sabrina has developed and implemented the Doing Social Justice program that centers on using art to develop empathy as a skill, in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). This program engages middle and high school students across central Texas. Sabrina is also an advocate for dual language programming, and is currently developing a Bilingual Bicultural Education program that utilizes the expertise of the district’s multilingual teachers. As a qualified elementary school teacher, Sabrina has taught at schools in England, Egypt, Qatar, and Thailand, and has written school-wide curricula for multiple institutions.

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