A Rose by any Other Name
There are two envelopes. The outer one—white with atomic tangerine detailing—has my name and address. The inner one—persimmon colored foil with speckled cream liner—holds a crisp origami-style, fold-out invitation. Peeling back the layers, I am sprayed with a burst of confetti.
Mr. and Mrs. Diosdado Patromento and Mr. and Mrs. Augustino Alancazar
request the pleasure of your presence
at the wedding of
Diosvivo Oscar Crisante and Raina Mendea Liesel
Stifling giggles makes me snortle. Hearing piglet noises, hubby enters my pen.
“What? Funny card?”
“No. Gorgeous card.”
Snortling more heavily now, I hand it to him.
He studies it for a minute, puckers his brow, purses his lips, tilts his head from side to side. Nada. He shrugs and gives up.
“Who’s getting married?”
“Oso and Ramen.”
For traditional Filipino parents, certain traditions are imperative. Among them:
1. the debuting of daughters
2. the serving of hot chocolate to gentlemen callers
3. the assigning of glorious christening names to the consequences of 1. & 2.
For nine months, potential names are carefully investigated: syllables rolled around on the tongue; hidden meanings researched; fortunetellers consulted. Parents-to-be must reflect on which ancestors need acknowledging, which godfathers, flattering. Consideration has to be afforded the future of infants not yet conceived. Upon arrival, will they inherit something on which a series or subject can be run? All T’s? All saints? All flowers? Should they consider shortening and conjoining parental names? Estella and Vernal, can become Estevera if it’s a girl, or Vernest if it’s a boy….
It’s a curious fact, that despite agonized decision-making, sharp arguments, tortuous hours of picking and rejecting before the winners are announced … the exalted names will rarely, if ever, move off of the paper they’re written on.
The reality is, the moment the infant is christened, it’s over. Dame Decorous Duty Done, congratulates herself and bows out, so that now at last, the fun can begin. A switch is flipped and the true Filipino nature: his goofy, creative, sweetly sentimental, happy-go-lucky, pun crazy, poetic soul … steps boldly into the spotlight.
Filipinos, the original free thinkers, are driven to decorate, and naturally that starts with the room they live in. Why not? Life is what you make of it, and life begins with a name. Impulsively inventive, they can’t resist re-imagining, re-configuring and re-identifying themselves. Again, why not? With at least a hundred million of them, the moment they’re born, the battle to be seen, begins.
Parents start by calling the baby a nonsensical, two syllable rhyme: Dodo, Binky, Cho-Cho, Tot-Tot, Bang-Bang, Boo-Boo, Rap-Rap. This baby name usually lasts until the child enters school, where at the crux of his social development, he will join his peers in the universal quest for “self.” Nothing strange about that. Across the planet, children from other tribes are doing this exact same thing with tattoos, branding, scarification, piercing, cutting, lion slaying….
Danger and sharp pain not being Filipino ideals, these instead focus on their moniker. What should it be? Heroic? Stylish? Sexy? Cute?
Let’s see … maybe you want to play for the other team. You’ll need flair to match those rhinestones. Taah Daah! Philemon sashays up to the mike as … Fili! Fermin as … Minime! Pantaleon as … Panti! Exclamation point imperative!
Fashionista, Casimiro? Try silky sexy Cashmere.
Modernista, antiquated by Liwayway? Square it babe. Way2.
Financialista? Now this is absolutely 1000 percent true. The three sons of a banker friend: Millionaire, Billionaire and Trillionaire. And naturally Mill, Bill and Trill went into the family business.
Amorista? A popular guy I know had to go completely off grid. Simply unable to work with Hermogenes, he gave up, erased it and was reborn as SugarCane.
Sportista? Another friend artfully managed to be on the golf course during the birth of each of his children. His wife nicknamed them: Woody, Eiron, Chippit and Putty. (Revenge?)
In the last several decades, with the increasing pressure of Western culture, traditional Filipino names have declined and snappier ones become more fashionable. Alex, Dan, Joe…. (Snicker here) You don’t know Filipinos if you think having a compact name will save it from demolition.
Are you plain and simple, Tom? Well, better choose your nickname quick or your friends will do it for you. Hey, in a world full of Toms they need to know which one they’re yuk-yukking about. A casual remark could turn you into: Tommy T-shirt (never changes his), TomTom Pirate Son (dad on pork barrel list), or Thom d’Bhom (flatulence issue).
Sometimes it happens that a goo-goo baby name holds on and clings like a burr for the rest of your life. Which is fine. As long as the rest of your life is lived in the Islands.
Case one: My husband’s pro-basketball coach. Short man. Shorter temper. When motivated, his tongue could flay flesh off of a player’s eyeballs. His scream was like twenty pieces of chalk simultaneously scraped across a board. Yet … he was known to one and all as “Baby.” The assistant coach, an even less amiable man, was “Honey.” The ex-con point guard was “Boy-Toy.” It confounded all the foreigners we knew and, unable to explain why these names weren’t meant to be funny, I could only plead with white friends to please not snicker when introduced.
Case two: My husband himself. Paper name: Ronaldinho Loreto Tolentino. Ronaldinho, being an outstandingly large and handsome baby, brought to the mind of his mother a movie she’d seen, in which the adorable lead character grew up to be a mighty king. Perfect.
The problem surfaced when we moved to the U.S. Arriving home from his first day of work, my 6’2” husband was agitated. Slamming the door behind him, he told me right then and there that I was never ever, on pain of death, EVER, when in public, to use his nickname. My 225-lb. tower of solid muscle had been cruelly mocked by the “guys.” They’d laughed, saying he had a stripper’s name. He was devastated.
I exploded in defensive fury. What? Ridiculous! His name is original to the book from which the movie was made, and in both book and movie, the character is unquestionably MALE. Just because his co-workers were literarily challenged, should the rest of the world concede to ignorance? No! It’s a male name! A King’s name! AND we can prove it! Stand firm!
I argue to no avail. He will not be moved by appeals to a higher consciousness. From this moment forth, when in public, the family will address him as Ronaldinho.
We obey, although it is particularly hard on his mother who often forgets, and blind to all our signals will inevitably pop out with, “my dear, my darling, Bambi….”
When asked to explain this cultural idiosyncrasy to a white world, I often fall back upon symbolism dredged up from movies.
Me. “You know ‘Dances with Wolves’? John Dunbar was lost in and confused by, his own culture? And then the Sioux named him? Bam! Self-awakening!”
Her: “They gave him that name because they didn’t know his real name.”
Him: “They couldn’t pronounce his real name because they were Indians.”
Me: “Okay, maybe, whatever. That’s not the point. John himself didn’t know who ‘John’ was. The name ‘John’ didn’t have any meaning for him. Then he got a new name, a new identity, a new life.”
Her: “They didn’t know his name was John.”
Him: “They couldn’t pronounce it because they were Indians.”
Okay, never mind. Finding ourselves wasn’t meant to be easy. If it were, we’d all do it. In the U.S the closest I have come to the exhilaration inherent in the exploration of identity, is among black Americans.
I say HURRAY! for the Daevons, Deshons and D’Maryons.
I say HURRAY! for the Tamikas, Jarrikkas and Chinikas.
I say HURRAY! for Saltine and Peppertine, the dimpled twins next door!
I say HURRAY! for people not afraid to decorate the universe!
Nota bene. The stories are true ~ but names were changed to protect the guilty.