[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 14 January 2006, 13:29 GMT
The Philippine name game

By Sarah Toms
BBC News, Manila

Naming a child is often a difficult decision. For many Filipinos, individuality is an important factor, with many choosing unconventional first names. So when the BBC's Sarah Toms gave birth in the Philippines, could she come up with an original name?

Sarah Toms' daughter Elise
Would Sarah Toms' daughter end up with an unusual name?
In March, my daughter will be celebrating her second birthday in Manila.

Made in the Philippines and born in the Philippines, it seems only yesterday that I was trying to leave hospital with my newborn.

The nurses had quickly christened her "Miss Philippines" because of her long legs.

But then I discovered that until I came up with a real name and began her birth registration at the hospital, I would not be allowed to leave.

Exhaustion made any decision difficult and I started worrying I would be celebrating her first birthday in the hospital if I did not find a name soon.

'Ace' politician

Filipinos place serious importance on finding unique names for their children, most of them injected with a large dose of Philippine humour.

Here, there is nothing ironic about a senator called Joker Arroyo - it is his real name.

Senator Joker Arroyo
Several politicans have unusual names including Joker Arroyo
Joker Arroyo, who is no relation to the Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, has a brother called Jack but there is no word on any other siblings called Queen or King.

Another politician however, is known as Ace.

Congressman Robert Ace Barbers is always known by his middle name as his two other brothers and late father all share Robert as their first name.

One composite name that has become popular is Luzviminda, taken from the three main regions of the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

One writer said it is like being called "Engscowani" for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In this devoutly Roman Catholic country it is not surprising that many have taken on religious names, but with a Philippine twist.

With a rapidly growing population, it seems there are not enough last names to go round
Take the mayor of Makati, the financial district in Manila.

His name is Jejomar, composed of the first few letters of Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

Catholicism started here with the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 and the colonisation of the Philippines.

Beyond food and architecture, religion is one of the lasting influences of Spanish rule. And that is at the root of the desire to have a unique first name.

Many Filipinos who converted to Catholicism took on surnames with religious references, such as Santos or De la Cruz, for good luck. But this resulted in many people having the same last names.

To solve the problem, the Spanish decided to restrict the surnames of Filipinos to a number of acceptable ones. But with a rapidly growing population, it seems there are not enough last names to go round.

Originality

Security experts say that with so many surnames being the same it can take ages to do background checks.

A first name with a bit of individuality can help avoid confusion and cases of mistaken identity

Filipinos encounter their own problems with the country's notoriously poor records system.

Getting a bank loan or passport can be a nightmare if someone with the same name is wanted for a crime.

With the country ranked as one of the most corrupt in Asia, thousands of Filipinos are forced to walk around with certificates from the National Bureau of Investigation to prove they are not wanted criminals.

So a first name with a bit of individuality can help avoid confusion and cases of mistaken identity.

Because of that I know a Peachy, a Preciosa and even a Bogi. I also know a Boy and a Girlie, names that often come from being the lone son or daughter in a large family.

One journalist friend told me of an interview he had with a Hitler Manila
I even have a female friend called Ken and no one thinks it is odd.

Still, I was taken aback when a famous and middle-aged newspaper columnist asked me to call him Babe.

Cultural misunderstanding

Some of the names are real and some are nicknames, but it is hard to tell them apart.

That brings me to the doorbell names: it is not uncommon to call your little one Bing, Bong, Bong Bong and even Ping and Ting.

Map of the Philippines showing the capital Manila
Another category is the rock 'n' roll name.

How would you feel being christened Led Zeppelin, Mick Jagger or Nirvana?

One journalist friend told me of an interview he had with a Hitler Manila.

Mr Manila, who does not share the Nazi ideology, told him that he was always remembered for his name but it sometimes caused problems.

One time, when he was shooting pool with some visiting Germans, the atmosphere became tense after he wrote his name on the blackboard to reserve the next game.

Another friend told me of a couple who named their five daughters Candy, Caramel, Cookie, Peanut and Popcorn
Order was not restored until he pulled out his driving licence to prove his name really was Hitler.

Still, that experience did not stop him from carrying on the family tradition. His sons are named Himmler and Hess after two of Hitler's closest associates.

Deliberation

Another friend told me of a couple who named their five daughters Candy, Caramel, Cookie, Peanut and Popcorn.

Scott Harrison, an American businessman here, says he has heard of a woman who gave birth to twin girls on either side of midnight, naming them Sunday and Monday.

Nothing unusual in that - my daughter's kindergarten teacher is called Wednesday.

So what did I name my daughter?

After much deliberation and temptation to join the Philippine name game, I settled for an old French favourite, Elise.

Elise is not a strange name by any means, but in the Philippines it is as unusual as you can get.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 14 January, 2006 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

SEE ALSO:
Country profile: The Philippines
03 Jan 06 |  Country profiles


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific