Monday, August 07, 2006

Nom de plume

A few years ago, one of my favorite articles about Filipinos was written by a resident Brit who wrote about Filipino names. He noted all the different variations of names given to children (all starting with the same letter, baby-ish names, bell names - ding dong, ding ding, ting, etc, and the pun-nish names). I enjoy sharing that essay with new travellers to Manila, since so many of my colleagues don't quite know how to deal with a Ma. Carmen Luisita Charmaine Pe Lopez. They don't know what the Ma. stands for, or whether the first name is Carmen or Carmen Luisita. Plus they get emails from people with email domain names like "" or "" and it just scares the beejezus out of them.

Nicknames are so much a part of our culture, I don't know when the idea began. Was it a spanish or american cultural habit that was passed on to us? All I know is we all had one, sometimes several. One of my childhood friends who has her own blog recently posted that a comment I had made (or I assume it to be my comment) made some people suspicious that she had a spammer since I was using her old nickname, one we used when we were kids. No one in the US knows her by that name. Even when I call her up and ask for her, her husband thinks I'm some kind of telemarketer! Luckily she recognizes that it's me, and hasn't told me NOT to use that nickname of hers.

I used to bristle when family members would use my nickname in front of strangers and non-family folk. It was, for me, a very personal and private name, only to be used by family and childhood friends. Even now, I'd feel a bit of an affront if someone simply copied my parents and called me by my nickname if I hadn't given them approval to use it. Likewise, family members using my regular name sounds odd. My sister in the US does that and it seems weird to hear her use my name.

When I turned 14, I shortened my first name, using a derivative that was easier to pronounce. The worst part of having a Spanish sounding name while living in an English speaking world was during college when the fellow calling us up for our graduation march had to ask how to pronounce the name. I had to write it up phonetically "Me lah gros - short "o", he still mangled it.

And then the middle name, one given to me by my father, that never felt right. It sits on my birth certificate, my passport, but never spoken. The few times it has to be shared, it seems to stare at me unwanted and forgotten. It doesn't even have any meaning. It's a feminized diminutive form of another name. And so it just seems like a throw away name.

The last new name I received was in China, when my dad taught me what my chinese name was, but which I assume to be a "sounds like" form of my nickname. He gave me some song and dance about how he chose it from great chinese leaders names and all such stuff. But I still got strange looks from my teachers since it's the least feminine name they'd ever heard of in China. Sigh. That's what I get for asking my dad to give me my chinese name. I hadn't learned from when he gave me my middle name.

I'm just thankful I wasn't nicknamed Ding Dong.


christine said...

I read that article!! Wasn't it by Scott Garceau (sp?). I remember it so well because I couldn't stop laughing at how true it all was. Sigh, those doorbell names.

Mila Tan said...

No, some guy from the UK, Matthew something. It was also printed in PDI though.

christine said...

I'm sure it's the same article because I read it in the PDI. Ok, who's Scott Garceau? Do I have my expats confused?

BTW, I will always love your name (Mila & Milagros) because that's the name of my grandmother who I was extremely close to. We shared a bedroom until I was 16 yrs old. She lived with us until she passed away a few years ago. :) She was just the sweetest woman!!

She used to make us laugh so much with her antics. I especially loved when, during her later years, she would answer "Happy Birthday Bita!" with a very cheery " Aw same to you!!". hehe :)

Mila Tan said...

She sounds like a lovely lady, I'm glad to share a name with her.

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