When it comes to naming children, Filipinos are among the most creative (and cruel, depending on how things go) people in the world. It’s actually a wonder that there are no national laws being strictly enforced (if they exist at all) about how we name our kids. If you think that a naming law is silly, think about it this way: Denmark, for example, has a list of acceptable names. If you want to name your child with something that isn’t on the list, you have to get church and government approval – and still follow rules for gender and conventional surnames.
So, how do we codify the Filipino way?
Without a doubt, using archaic names and high-language Filipino verbs, adjectives, and nouns are still in vogue in many families. For example: I have had teachers whose names were interesting, to say the least: Prudencio was the more normal one, and the other was named Macairog (a slight spelling variant from “maka-irog”). I also know of one school administrator who has Asterio, and Filipinization of Asterius.
When it comes to the use of archaic names, it’s possible that it is to continue a tradition (I do have friends who have reached the “fourth” or “fifth” when it comes to the name being passed on). It can also be for the sake of formality that is linked to how a person should be properly named – as a function of the family’s social status.
There is a trend for Filipino names to include consonants – notably “H” – to names. We’re familiar with this idea, like “Bhen,” “Rhoel,” or even “Rhey.” This consonant addition can appear even in female names, like “Rhowena” or “Lhiza.”
Now, there are differing views on why this happens, for both nicknames and full names.
One belief is that it is supposedly lucky to change the name of your child slightly, to make him or her unique. Another belief seems to stem from the idea of how names are verbalized. A variant of the verbalization theory is how some dialects tend to add an extra consonant sound when they try to use some names – hence the form following function. Another supposition is that some people add an extra “H” with the mental assumption that it won’t be heard anyway. That particular idea stems from the use of the silent “H” in Spanish.
For some, it may only be to make the child’s name stand out, regardless of why the parents want it to be so unusual.
Some pundits, in fact, think about the “H” factor as an early manifestation of text language and jeje-speak, but this is very much in doubt, as we have all known at least one Tito Bhoy in our lives – and they were named way before textspeak and jeje-speak became notorious.
The patterned naming
Some parents actually do have a certain logic when it comes to naming. I have friends, for example, who were named Apples and Orange, respectively. Had there been more children, this would probably have devolved into a clan whose names would be a Carmen Miranda hat fest.
The famous Racela brothers of Philippine basketball are the über-example of naming patterns – albeit tongue-in-cheek. Olsen Racela had his nickname because he was born on All Saints’ Day, while Nash was born on National Heroes day. As if to emphasize the logic, the third brother was named Wally… because he was born on a normal day (walang okasyon).
And before you think that that’s ridiculous, I offer my own family’s take on patterned naming: my mother and father used “darling” as a term of endearment for each other. This eventually was shortened to “deng.” Now, my sister, who is Maria Caritas, was nicknamed Teng (CariTas), while I was named Cheng (RiCHard). Then somehow, the youngest, Maria Carmina, became “Jeng.” The only logic that makes sense of why it became a letter “J” is that my sister was born in July. As you can imagine, this could be very confusing around the house, whenever my mom would call us, since we all had to listen to the beginning consonant to figure out who was being called.
And let us not forget: Luzviminda, the infamous name that is a contraction of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Aside from patterned naming, Filipinos also have a love for repeating a syllable based on the person’s name. MacMac, CheChe, DinDin… the possibilities are endless.
Again, I was a victim of this. While my mother called me Cheng, an aunt of mine had this thing for calling me Chie-Chie-boy. All I can say is, I am rather happy she didn’t include an “h” in the “boy” part. Of course, this came as no surprise, as her nickname was Cho – a contraction, I’ve heard, of Asuncion. However, she was also affectionately nicknamed “Cho-Cho-san.” I’m not sure, but I remember that it was probably a reference to Madame Butterfly.
Now, the reason for repetitive names is simple enough. They roll off the tongue well, and such names are easy to remember. It’s unusual to use repetitive names as formal ones, since most of them are usually mutated nicknames of formal ones.
Again, why do parents do this?
I’ve actually asked my parents about why they had all these naming conventions – and I also asked many of my relatives. It’s interesting what the reasons were: For some, it was
just the sheer amusement of it all, particularly when it came to nicknames. For others, it was about giving a unique name to the child, so that they would have a name that was all their own. For others, it was all about family tradition, as some names really are passed on along the generations.
Whatever the case may be, the unusual names that people give their children is something that Filipinos approach with passion and creativity that makes the culture of naming in the Philippines so unique. Names, for Filipinos, can be a summation of family history, a display of wit and humor, or it can simply be an observation of how language and culture evolves with each generation.
So the next time you see or hear a name like “Bhoy-Bhoy,” “Gherard,” or “Jhennilyn,” don’t take pity on the person. Rather, you should see their names as a celebration of Filipino tradition and pop culture, as seen through the eyes of loving parents.
Note: For some Filipino parents, there is also a penchant for naming their children after famous persons, or using a variation of their names. In my case, I was named Richard Leo, after Richard the Lionhearted. However, this seems to be rather popular in other cultures, so it was not included in this article.