What’s In A (Filipino) Name?

One of the questions I shudder about getting asked is, ‘What’s the story behind your baby’s name?

Naming is probably one of the most challenging tasks set forth by man–whether it’s naming a person, a pet, a business, a blog handle or a newly discovered animal species. It should probably be taken more seriously, but it really just took me thirty minutes, tops. What kind of mother.

Back in the olden times, infant mortality rate was very high and thus it was customary for babies to have no name for the first few years of their life. Why name a babe if they’re least likely to reach childhood, lest adulthood? Thanks to developments in science and modern medicine in the past century, infant and toddler health has vastly improved (This has not always been the case for most of the history of humankind). Parents nowadays choose their baby’s name way before their babies are out of the womb.

A name is permanent, and once it’s been named, it’s stuck forever. I don’t blame my childhood friend whose dad and four other brothers were all named ‘Mark’. Better safe than sorry, right? Although calling him on their landline was awkward and confusing back then. (Still is).

So my criteria for naming my baby was pretty basic: that it’s easy to remember, it’s easy to spell, and a nice sound to the name.

‘Easy to Remember’

I have friends with lovable and unique names: Poopie, Chatline, Jim Beam, Pepper, Gaga, (a man), just to name a few.Even I am not spared. My senior high classmates still call me ‘Snoopy’ ten years later for some inside story I can no longer remember. I hated that nickname.

Where else in the world could we find a cardinal named ‘Sin’, a politician named ‘Joker’, and a matinee idol named ‘Dingdong’? It’s more fun in the Philippines!

filipino-names

Names can range from mildly funny to wildly unflattering. We once had an employee named ‘Windshield’. I met a girl in an outreach named ‘Virgin’. And then there was the infamous man who passed the 2014 bar exam named ‘Habeas Corpuz’. An ex-seminarian I know was quirkily named ‘Van Go’, but upon further prodding I was disappointed to know that he doesn’t paint.

I want my son to stand out, but not too much to become the target to future school bullies.

‘Easy to Spell’

I have a fairly common name, ‘Rachel’, which I use in my email and social media accounts. Still, my name still gets butchered on a daily basis. I now know that my name can be spelled in at least seven different ways: Rachell, Rachelle, Reychel, Raychelle, Richelle, Ritcil, Rashel, among other variations.

Filipinos like names that are Western-sounding but also hate giving their kids a ‘common’ name. To remedy this, some parents choose to make ‘alternative spellings and names morph like mutant X-men: ‘Jessica’ would become ‘Jyssikah’, ‘Caitlyn’ becomes ‘Kaetlynn’, or ‘Adrian’ becomes ‘Aedryanne’.

While I laud the creativity, I feel bad for the kid for problems they’ll encounter in the future on the butchered name department. It will be annoying filling up those government forms, or ordering a venti cup from Starbucks. Teaching them their Alpha-Bravo-Charlies early will definitely come in handy.

saruh

‘The Art of the Name…’

How do parents come up with their baby’s name–particularly, Filipino parents? Filipinos are known to have really quirky naming skills. No one seems to flinch about peculiar names in this country because we grew up to all the weirdness all our lives. You only realize how weird the names are when taken from a foreigner’s perspective (such as by Matthew Sutherland).

During the Spanish times, it was customary to name children based on the feasts of saints celebrated during that day. That is why it’s not uncommon for our grandparents to have names such as Natividad, Asuncion, Concepcion, Lourdes, and even Circumcision (there is a thing known as The Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord back in the day!)

My son Caleb was born on Christmas day, to which people in the Philippines would often respond ‘You should have named him ‘Emmanuel’. Ironically, both my brother and father are named ‘Noel’, but neither were even born during Christmas season.

Other odd naming practices in the country: If you come from a Filipino family, we all have an uncle or male relative named ‘Boy’–and a tita named ‘Girlie‘, ‘Baby‘ or ‘Babes‘. The Filipino-Chinese have the preference of putting the suffix ‘-son’ in their names. Names such as ‘Benson’, ‘Harrison’ or ‘Johnson’ are popular among the Filipino-Chinese community. My personal favorite is the ‘themed families’; who name their children after fruits, seasons, virtues, superheroes, desserts or Beatles band members. So if you know a guy named ‘Newton’, he probably also has a sister named ‘Marie Curie’. I am saying this with a straight face.

‘…And Nicknames’

Nicknames are an integral part of the Filipino culture. Have you ever had a friend who everyone refers to by their nickname that no one really knows what their real name really was? I have a good friend named ‘Poopie‘ whom I met back in college– but seriously didn’t know her real name for years until she added me on Facebook. (I remember proclaiming ‘Who the hell is Michelle?’ when I got her friend request.

Filipinos like to make nicknames out of everything. Repeating syllables is a form of endearment, so common Filipino nicknames include ‘Len-len’, ‘Bam-bam’, ‘Dan-dan’, ‘Mik-mik’, the list goes on. Our current president is better known to the public as ‘Noynoy’. And even if you have a short name like ‘Seth’, your friends will call you by a longer nickname, ‘Set-Set’.

And then we also see the trend of ‘combining’ names to make up new names. Jomari is the offspring of Jose and Maria, and Gracniel’s parents were probably named ‘Grace’ and ‘Daniel’. My former school principal was called Luzviminda after Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. How else did current Vice President Jejomar Binay get his name but by combining Jesus, Joseph and Mary together?

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President Noynoy and VP Jejomar

A two-syllable name that’s short, concise and unnickname-able–that’s what I wanted for my baby. Unfortunately some of his cheeky ninongs have started calling him ‘Leb-leb’ and even ‘Taleb‘.

He’ll probably acquire a few more nicknames from family and friends as he grows older.


(P.S., I don’t hate unique names. I love them! Like what Sutherland said, imagine if we live in a world full of John Smiths, life would be so boring, won’t it?) 😄

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