â€œOn my first day in Manila, I was served by a smilingÂ (coffee shop) girl who wore a name badge entitledÂ Â BumBumâ€,Â Kate McGeown ofÂ Â British Broadcasting CorporationÂ recalls.Â Â â€œI did a double-take.Â Â ButÂ if itâ€™s is a joke, practically the whole country seems to be in.â€
Matthew Sutherland said as much in an Observer featureÂ in 2001. â€œThe secretary I inherited on arrival had an unusualÂ name: Leck-Leck,â€ Filipinos, he discovered, were fond ofÂ â€œrepeating namesâ€.Â Â They include: LenlenÂ or Ning-Ning.
â€œNames are furtherÂ refined by using the â€œsquaredâ€ symbol as in Len2 or Mai2â€, Sutherland wrote.Â â€œHow boring to come from the UK,Â full of people named John Smith. How wonderful to come toÂ a country where imagination and verveÂ rule.”
The head of the Catholic ChurchÂ here was namedÂ Jaime Cardinal Sin. â€œWelcomeÂ to the house ofÂ Sinâ€, heâ€™d greet guests.Â Â â€œWhere else in the world could that happened but in the Philippines!â€
Names areÂ alsoÂ used in doorbell-like combinations like Dindong.Â When asked why he was called Bing, a friend replied: because his brother was called Bong. â€œFaultless logic,â€ Sutherland adds.
â€œThe president himself is a good example”,Â BCCâ€™sÂ KateÂ McGeown weighedÂ in. “His full Christian name is Benigno Simeon Cojuangco. (These)Â namesÂ are Spanish, Hebrew and Chinese. His nickname Noynoy is the only part that is truly Filipino.
â€œA well-used adage is that the Philippines spent 400 years in a convent then 50 years in Hollywood, referring to Spanish then American colonial ruleâ€.
â€œThe former president Joseph Estrada is more commonly known as â€˜Erapâ€™, she notes. â€œ(Thatâ€™s) – a name he acquired in his 20s.Â Â When spelt backwards, Erap becomes Pare, which means mate or buddy in Tagalog.
â€œNo one questions the integrity of Joker Arroyo, one of the country’s most respected senatorsâ€,Â Mcgeown wrote. â€œThat is his real first name. Apparently he got it because of his father’s fondness for playing cards. Joker’s brother is called Jack.
â€œFormer Congressman Ace Barbers, like Joker Arroyo, obviously had a card-player in the family. He bears theÂ Christian name ofÂ Robert. So, do his father and all his brothers. â€œHe has not found it a problem as he named his four sons Robert too. Nicknames must be essential in their house.â€
SutherlandÂ pointsÂ to another category: theÂ â€œrandomly-inserted letter â€œHâ€ names. â€˜It results in creations like: Lhenn, Ghemma, Jhimmy or Jhun (Jhun2?). â€œAÂ RhoseÂ by Any Other Nameâ€Â isÂ a play on Julietâ€™sÂ balcony plant about how Romeo was called.
â€œWhat this device is supposed to achieve; I havenâ€™tÂ yetÂ figured out,â€ Sutherland confesses. â€œBut I think it is designed to give a class of touch to an otherwise only averagely weird name.”
â€œThereâ€™sÂ another thing Iâ€™d never seen before coming to Manila:Â Â taxis with the driverâ€™s kidsâ€™ names paintedÂ on the trunk”.Â Luzviminda, of course,Â splices Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. AndÂ Jejomar, of course, melds: Jesus, Joseph and MaryÂ â€œTheyÂ look great paintedÂ on the trunk of the cab you hail.â€
SomeÂ parents draw up groups likeÂ Jon, Joy, Jo-AnneÂ and Joyce. But some names defy explanation.Â Â â€œWhy would you call your children after days of the week or your favorite desserts, likeÂ Â Â Apple Pie orÂ Peachy?”Â Â No one has yet picked Macapuno. But give us time.
“To many Filipinos, the better question is: â€˜Why wouldnâ€™t you?â€™ The odd names are not a translation issue,Â McGeown notes. â€œMostÂ Filipinos speak English well, or well enough to know that BumBum, for example, is not exactly on top of the Anglophile world’s list of popular baby names.â€
She lobbed theÂ questionÂ a dinner party crammed withÂ lawyers, academics and business people. â€˜Many of them were surprised. They never thought of these names as having any kind of negative connotationâ€. Soon a heated debate began. â€œThey agreed that, to outsiders at least, it all might sound a bit strange.â€
Was itÂ the propensity of Filipinos to have large, tight-knit families?, some asked. A man called Babe or Honey BoyÂ suited him when he was two years old. “Now, he is a slightly overweight businessman in his 50s.Â Â Why change it?”
The Philippines is a melting pot of different cultures. Perhaps,Â that is what led to these strange names?
â€œThe Spanish introduced the concept of surnames.Â They issued a decree in 1849 that everyone had to have a surname. So even today, most surnames are Spanish. But the main thing Spain gave to the Philippines was CatholicismÂ and with it, tens of thousands of newly-christened Marias and Joses.
â€œWith the Americans came names like Butch, Buffy and Junior – and the propensity to shorten everything if at all possible.
Both McGeown and Sutherland were struck how the large Filipino-Chinese community joins this national name game. â€œTheir surnames are often a form of Anglicised Chinese. But the Philippine penchant for fun shines throughâ€.
TsinoysÂ applyÂ imagination and humorÂ in theÂ naming process. Sutherlandâ€™sÂ favorites include: Bach Johann Sebastian, Edgar Allan Pe, Jonathan Livingston Magic,Â Chiongson Chica and Van Go.â€
Sutherland says in his Philippine tour, names. â€œprovidedÂ Â a continuingÂ Â source of amazement and amusement. For her part,Â McGeown observes:â€ Filipinos are self-assured enough to use these names, no matter how odd they sound or how senior the person’s public role.
Few raise an eyebrowÂ whenÂ Â Boxer Manny Paquaio named his twoÂ Â girls â€œQueen Elizabethâ€ and â€œPrincessâ€. #### (By Juan L. Mercado)