Posted by: waikatogifted | May 29, 2011

What’s in a Name?

With Gifted Awareness Week fast approaching, the term “gifted” is once again under discussion. Deborah Mersino has proclaimed the “g” word to be something of a marketing nightmare for organisations concerned with advocating for these bright and interesting people, and much hilarious discussion of possible alternative names has ensued around the interwebs. Is there too much “wired” in “differently wired”? Would “ability endowed” be a popular term for all the wrong reasons? These were just a couple of the possibilities discussed in a recent online chat session.

Closer to home, we called these children “Children With Special Abilities” for a number of years, but to me, it never rolled easily off the tongue. I’ve always liked “able”, used in some of the British literature, but most people seem to think “able” only means “without disabilities”; in the case of our 2E kids, that’s not even true. “High Potential” is a term that pops up now and again and rests easily with me. High potential doesn’t guarantee success. A product with high potential may or may not sell, and part of that depends on the way you present it. A team with high potential may or may not win, and part of that depends on how hard they train. Potential is inherently incomplete, and may be enhanced or overlooked in countless ways. Does that sound familar at all?

My other favourite term is “thinky”. Sporty kids like sports and are good at sports, but they aren’t necessarily best. The label sporty doesn’t generate immediate expectations of supernaturally flawless perfection. Nobody asks sporty kids to play at a more basic level for a while in case they get too good for the resources the school has to offer and nobody knows what to do with them next. We don’t ask them to stop training in case the other kids feel chubby and unfit by comparison, either. It is accepted that sporty kids will be keen to compete and win, and that when they make the rep team their whole community should be proud of them. Name envy? Too right! So “thinky” kids who like thinking, and are good at thinking, but aren’t necessarily best might be a goer. Just maybe. Let me know what you think!

A thinky guy, thinking.

He looks like a "thinky" kind of guy to me!

Image by Flickr member “marttj“.



  1. I love ‘thinky’ that’s a perfect description for my oldest. Artsy is a term used for creative kids that works too.

    I like high potential, but somehow I think that all the alternatives would end up with the same problems as gifted. “All kids have lots of potential, they’re all precious snowflakes, etc etc” 😛 It does have the benefit of being descriptive in a way that Gifted lacks and acknowledging the need for work to achieve that potential.

    • Hi Susanne,

      I do think you are right that some will say “all kids have high potential”. While I suspect that some labels will lend themselves to it more than others, that philosophy will always be out there. I have come to believe the tension between provision of the best opportunities for all and the provision of opportunities for the best is a creative force that keeps both sides honest. At its best this creative tension keeps advocates of gifted education focused on how to be targeted without being elitist, while keeping advocates of the same opportunities for all focused on how worthwhile, authentic and challenging those opportunities can be. At worst it’s something I’d rather not think about, much less blog about!

  2. I actually do believe that all children have gifted waiting to be developed, but not all children are academically gifted and never will be. It is absurd to believe that all children can attain a certain level in academic endeavors. We need to focus on bringing out the best in all children including high ability students.

  3. Giftedness isn’t just about being “smart”. It’s also about being intense, and if that (famous?) article “Can you hear the flowers sing?” is correct being Gifted is also about: Divergency, Excitability, Sensitivity, Perceptivity, and Entelechy.

    So we need a word that encapsulates all of these things. I really don’t have a good clear one, but perhaps borrowing from the Greek myths the name “Promethean” could be chosen. In fact, one high IQ society did just that.

  4. I have always disliked the term ‘gifted’ and think that it invites mis-understanding. ‘Thinky’ is a novel idea that has merit for casual conversations, and ‘high potential’ is the best that I’ve come up with, too, for more formal labelling.
    I think it’s ironic that supporters of thinky kids are still struggling to find a meaningful name. It’s probably time we asked the kids!

  5. One of our teachers at footsteps early learning has just written an article about this on Kiwi Families – check it out at

    • Thank, Naomi! It’s great to hear that Footsteps are taking a keen interest in giftedness. There will be a blog tour for Gifted Awareness Week in mid-June, which would be a great time to write a follow-up post if any of your staff should be so inclined. Keep in touch!

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