The War on Nicknames: How Florida’s New Legislation Further Limits Youth’s Expression amidst Rising Gun Violence Rates - National Council of Teachers of English
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The War on Nicknames: How Florida’s New Legislation Further Limits Youth’s Expression amidst Rising Gun Violence Rates

The National Coalition Against Censorship’s Student Advocates for Speech program was created in 2022 to provide participants with virtual advocacy training, opportunities to engage in national dialogues, and find outlets to amplify their voices. For the past two years, NCTE has worked in close partnership with NCAC on a project for student advocates to write op-eds about censorship issues that have particular meaning to them. For the next six weeks, these op-eds, written by students in the fall of 2023, will be featured here on the Literacy & NCTE blog. Student voices are often left out of conversations about policy, legislation, censorship, and access to a diverse and expansive education. NCTE and NCAC are proud to feature them here.


This blog post was written by Aliyah Sarmiento, a twelfth-grade student in Davie, Florida.

“Hi, my name is Aliyah. You can call me Ali for short.”

A phrase I used to so commonly greet my teachers with in the beginning of every school year is now deemed “too controversial” for my home state of Florida.

Earlier this year in May, Florida’s Governor Ronald Desantis (popularly known as “Ron”) signed off on House Bill 1069, designed to “protect children in public schools.” The bill mandates Florida students have parental approval for a school to use their nickname through what is known as the Name Deviation Consent Form. It also prevents school members from calling students by any pronoun that is not biologically correlated to their sex.

Many people, including myself, have found themselves appalled at the new legislation. Critics, including parents, state that this policy is “a stretch,” with some even saying that it makes them feel like their kids are being “objectified.

As a Florida public high school student, I witnessed this policy enacted firsthand on my first day of senior year, when every teacher in my class took time out of their introductory lesson to explain to my peers and I what this all meant. Many of us were hit with confusion, worry, and frustration as we listened to teacher after teacher. And although I was shocked by the news, with the surge in book bans happening across my state and the removal of essential classes such as AP African American studies, this further step in limiting my generation’s freedom of expression was not at all surprising.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who felt this way.

As I surveyed my schoolmates and peers to gain their general thoughts of this pressing issue, a question kept reappearing in our conversations as we discussed how Florida’s state government has continuously pushed out legislation that restricts access to gender/sex oriented education, university inclusivity initiatives, books, and more. And that is…

Why do our names seem to matter more than the prevalent issues of teachers’ salaries, staff shortages, lower-income students’ lack of opportunities, and most importantly, gun violence?

With so many more daunting problems at hand, is the government’s number one topic of concern really students’ nicknames? Is their political agenda really that much more important to them compared to their children’s lives?

Restrictions and policies pertaining to diversity, queer, and gender identity have become the central focus with bill after bill putting more limitations on students such as myself, while I and the rest of a generation continue to worry daily about whether or not we make it off the school bus.

No matter how you want to view race, gender, sexual orientation, or pronoun preferences, it is inarguable that the number one topic of concern for American schools today is and should be safety. In 2022, firearms were the leading cause of death among minors in the US for the third year in a row.

By September of 2023, America had reportedly already borne witness to 230 school-related shootings, 488 mass shootings, and the deaths of 1,221 children and teens between 0 and 17 years old. Florida, itself, is no stranger to the overwhelming statistics. The state was ranked in the top three for  the number of school shootings since 1970.

Yet, despite the numerous incidents resulting in the loss of so many lives, in July, DeSantis made it even easier for people aged 21 and over in Florida to carry guns, no longer requiring them to obtain a permit beforehand.

It is time to finally get the priorities straight.

Bill 1069 does not “protect children in public schools.” Protection is not and has never been about what name a teacher calls a student by when they raise their hand to answer a question. Protection is ensuring that the student can raise their hand to answer a question without fearing it might be the last thing they will ever do.

The only thing the Name Deviation Consent Form does is build a higher wall between the youth and the government.

Kids should never have to feel objectified, afraid to go to school, or like they cannot control their lives. From our names to the books we choose to educate ourselves with, we should feel comfortable expressing ourselves, without being subject to restrictive legislation that makes us feel unsafe, unloved, and unprotected. 


Hi! My name’s Aliyah! I’m a 17-year-old aspiring creative writer. As an immigrant from Singapore, I’ve learned to value communication in my daily life and work towards creating a more inclusive society. I’m currently a captain of my school’s debate team and have published articles online. I love music, acting, reading, and speech! I’m looking into pursuing law and dramaturgy/music in college, and I’m eager to spark more important conversations through this program!



It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.