Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What's in a name?

Many foreigners find our names amusing. They say its one of the cultural differences that strikes them. Even our relatives who had gone abroad and visited us once in a while had made this a continuing source of amazement and amusement ever since.

The first unusual thing, from an American perspective, is that everyone here has a nickname. It's so unlike when you come from a staid and boring country , where people may have nicknames in kindergarten, but when they move into adulthood they tend, to lose them.

Philippine names for both girls and boys tend to be what you from other country would regard as overbearingly cutesy for anyone over five years old. Where you come from, a boy with a nickname like Boy Blue or Honey Boy would be beaten to death at school by pre-adolescent bullies, and never make it to adulthood. So, probably, would girls with names like Babes, Lovely, Precious, Peachy or Apples. Yuk, ek ek.

Here, however, no one bats an eyelid. Damn, you may even noticed how many people have what you may come to call “door-bell names”. These are nicknames that sound like well, doorbells! There are millions of them. Bing, Bong, Ding, and Dong are some of the more common. They can be, and frequently are, used in even more door-bell-like combination such as Bing-Bong, Ding-Dong, Ting-Ting, and so on. Even one of our senators is named Ping.

Repeating names was another novelty to Filipino. Have you ever encountered people with names like Len-Len, Let-Let, Mai-Mai, or Ting-Ting. I won't go far, in my family alone we have Jom-jom, Ay-ay, Kar-kar, Dit-dit. One of my dear friend is named Ging-ging and her siblings Gong-gong and Gang-gang. A sister in Cebu even called her daughters Wak-wak and Wek-wek, saying they are family of "ungo" (night creatures). Yeah, yeah I know, this sound extreme even to me. Such names are then frequently further refined by using the “squared” symbol, as in Len2 or Mai2. This may make you very confused for a while.

Then there is the trend for Filipino parents to stick to a theme when naming their children. This can be as simple as making them all begin with the same letter, as in Jun, Jimmy, Janice, and Joy. More imaginative parents shoot for more sophisticated forms of assonance or rhyme, as in Boy, Biboy, Boboy, Buboy, Baboy (notice the names get worse the more kids there are so, it's best to be born early or you could end up being a Baboy (pig).

Even better, parents can create whole families of, say, desserts (Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Honey Pie) or flowers (Rose, Daffodil, Tulip). The main advantage of such combination is that they look great painted across your trunk if you’re a cab driver. That’s another thing about Filipino, we love putting the names of our children in our car's dashboard or trunk.

Another whole eye-opening field for the foreign visitor is the phenomenon of the composite name. This includes names like Jejomar (for Jesus, Joseph and Mary), and the remarkable Luzviminda (for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, our three main islands). That’s a bit like any foreigner being called something Like “Engscowani” (for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Between you and me, I’m glad your not.

And how could I forget to mention the fabulous concept of the randomly inserted letter ‘h’. Quite what this device is supposed to achieve, I have not yet figured out, but I think it is designed to give a touch of class to an otherwise only averagely weird name. It results in creations like Jhun, Lhenn, Ghemma, Bhong, and Jhimmy. Or how about Jhun-Jhun (Jhun2)?

How wonderful to come from a country where imagination and exoticism rule the world of names. Where else in the world could that really be true? Where else in the world could the head of the Church really be called Cardinal Sin? (now deceased) Where else but the Philippines!

Note: We have another senator named Joker, and it is his legal name.


Tracey said...

You do cheer me up! So witty and educational, I don't know what you do for a living but you should be top journalist or a writer of great importance.
Love Tracey xxx

Anonymous said...

I, a long time ago, realized thast different cultures practice different things. I, being american, have no place to say anything other than its something that is not done very much in ours. Nothing wrong with any culture that does, its just simply their culture.

Our actions, our music, our lanquage and our food, is what defines us as people and binds us as culturally unique.



Kingdom of Estarra said...

Thanks, Blue Butterfly. I feel better now. We have nicknames in India too, that the Western world wouldn't understand. We call them 'pet names' and they're equally absurd - Bittoo, Sweetie, Baby, etc. But 'doorbell names' take the cake!! :D
Cardinal Sin?! Joker?! WOW!!!

blue_butterfly said...

Kingdon od Estarra:

Indian names do sounds funny too just take the name Sukhdeep ( suck deep) and imagine how it sounds in America. Lol
Putting the "h" there doesnt even help, haha.

Kingdom of Estarra said...


tsdeogan said...

its realy funny... and i like ur article

Sirblues said...

I enjoy your style witty intelligent and very warm Thank you for sharing your blog I will be watching with interest now I know where it is :)


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