(A former United Nations colleague emailed that he had resent a 2011 column we had written titled : “What’s in a name?” That dealt with what startles visitors here but which we take for granted. We’ve re-read the piece. .Does it bear up?– JLM )
A British Broadcasting Corporation reporter and a business executive from England have written, nine years apart, witty features on unique Filipino names that we take for granted but stun foreigners.
“On my first day in Manila, I…was served by a smiling coffee shop girl who wore a name badge: BumBum,” Kate McGeown of BBC recalls. “I did a double-take. But if it is a joke the whole country seems to be in.”
Sutherland agreed in an Observer feature “The secretary I inherited on arrival had an unusual name: Leck-Leck.” Filipinos, he discovered, were fond of “repeating names.” They include: Lenlen or Ning-ning.
“Names are refined by using the ‘squared’ symbol as in Len2 or Mai2,” Sutherland wrote. “How boring to come from the UK, full of people named John Smith. How wonderful to come to a country where imagination rules.”
The head of the Catholic Church here then was named Jaime Cardinal Sin. “Welcome to the house of Sin,” he’d greet guests. “Where else in the world could that have happened but in the Philippines!”
Everyone here has a nickname: Babes, Lovely, Precious; Honey Boy, Bing, and Dong. Even the former chief of the National Police, and now Rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson has a doorbell name: “Ping.”
“There are millions of them,“ gasped Sutherland. Such names are frequently used in doorbell combinations like: Dingdong; and Bingbing. Others graduate into “repeating names” like: Len-Len, Let-Let; Mai-mai or Petpet.
“The President’s full Christian name is Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino,” McGeown weighed in. “(These) names are Spanish, Hebrew and Chinese. His nickname, Noynoy, is the only part that is truly Filipino.”
Former president Joseph Estrada is commonly known as “Erap.” When spelt backwards, Erap becomes “Pare.” That means mate in Aussie or buddy in Tagalog.
“No one questions the integrity of Joker Arroyo, one of the country’s most respected senators (who has since retired),” McGeown wrote. “That is his real first name. Apparently he got it because of his father’s fondness for playing cards. Joker’s brother is called Jack.
Sutherland points to another category: the “randomly-inserted letter “H” names. “It results in creations like: Lhenn, Ghemma, Jhimmy or Jhun (Jhun2?). I think it is designed to give a touch of class to an otherwise only averagely weird name.”
Then, we have the tendency to cluster names for children, like Jun, Joy, Joyce, Luzviminda splices Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. And Jejomar, of course, is not only the vice-president; the name melds Jesus, Joseph and Mary. “They look great painted on the trunk of the cab you hail.”
Why those unique names?” McGeown asked Filipino friends. Soon a heated debate began.“They agreed that, to outsiders at least, it all might sound a bit strange.” The Philippines is a melting pot of different cultures.
The Spanish, in a 1849 decree, mandated everyone had to have a surname. That resulted in tens of thousands of newly christened Marias and Joses.
So even today, most surnames are Spanish. “With the Americans came names like Butch, Buffy and Junior–and the propensity to shorten everything if at all possible.
The large Filipino-Chinese community here is caught up in this national name game. “Their surnames are often a form of Anglicised Chinese. But the Philippine penchant for fun shines through.”
Tsinoys apply imagination and humor in the naming process. Sutherland’s favorites include: Bach Johann Sebastian, Edgar Allan Pe, and Van Go.
When they become U.S. citizens, some Filipinos opt to “Americanize” their names. What happens then?
Side-splitting mayhem, says a tongue-in-cheek Internet feature. Gregorio Talahib, for example, becomes who else? George Bush! That’s who. Tomas Cruz is recycled as Tom Cruise, while Remigio Batungbacal becomes Remington Steel. But Maria Pascua prefers Mary Christmas.
The Internet feature is captioned: “Filipino Names = U.S. Citizens.” It asserts the pre-September 11 Immigration and Naturalization Service “released the list of names of Filipinos, who changed their names, when they became naturalized U.S. citizens.”
The U.S. too, is full of John Smiths. But that does not deter the mint-new Pinoy Americans. Thus, Juanito Lakarin took the name of Johnny Walker, while Esteban Magtaka picked Stevie Wonder. Leon Mangubat flicked through the sports pages and chose Tiger Woods Victoria Malihim preferred to be literal; she picked Victoria Secret
“Pinoy is what Filipinos call each other, a term of endearment,” author Gilda Cordero Fernando writes. “You’re Pinoy from Pilipino just like you’re tisoy from mestizo or chinoy from chino.
It’s a nickname just as Minoy is from Maximo, Tinay from Florentina and Kikay from Francisca. But now they’re Maxi and Ben and Tintin and Cheska.”
So, no one raises an eyebrow that Boxer Manny Pacquaio named his two girls Queen Elizabeth and Princess. Ay, lintik!