Page last updated at 01:21 GMT, Sunday, 27 March 2011 02:21 UK

Playful Filipino names hard to get used to

By Kate McGeown
BBC News, Manila

Boxer Manny Paquaio holds his daughters Queen Elizabeth (l) and Princess (r)
Boxer Manny Paquaio named his girls Queen Elizabeth and Princess

Bizarre and often unflattering names are as quintessentially Filipino as the country's Catholic faith, friendly smiles, former US military jeeps known as jeepneys, beautiful beaches and love of karaoke.

On my first day in Manila, I walked down to the local cafe and was served by a smiling young girl who wore a name badge entitled BumBum.

I did a double-take, then smiled back, deciding it was probably a joke.

But if so, it is a joke that practically the whole country seems to be in on.

Since then I've met a Bambi, three Bogies, several Girlies, a Peanut, a Barbie and a middle-aged man called Babe.

These names are found in all sectors of society.

Sometimes they are nicknames, sometimes genuine first names - but they are always what people are referred to on a day-to-day basis.

Even the president is not spared. His real name is Benigno Aquino, but almost everyone here calls him Noynoy.

Two of his sisters are called Pinky and Ballsy. No-one seems to see the need to ask why.

Why would you call your children after the days of the week or your favourite desserts?

Neither does anyone question the integrity of Joker Arroyo, one of the country's most respected senators.

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.

And it seems perfectly natural to Filipinos that the boxer Manny Paquiao should express his love for the British royal family by naming his daughter Queen Elizabeth.

Lost in translation?

So why do Filipinos have such odd, even risque, names?

This is not a translation issue, as most people speak English well, or well enough to know that BumBum, for example, is not exactly on the rest of the Anglophile world's list of popular baby names.

Filipino motorcyclist Gilbert and his dog Bogie on a scooter
Filipino motorcyclist Gilbert gave his stunt dog a common moniker - Bogie

I rather tentatively brought the subject up at a dinner party full of lawyers, academics and business people.

Many of them were surprised - they had simply never thought of these names as having any kind of negative connotation.

But once we started discussing it, they did agree that, to outsiders at least, it all might sound a bit strange. Soon a heated debate began.

Perhaps it was because of the propensity of Filipinos to have large, tight-knit families, some of them said.

A man called Babe or Honey Boy, for instance, is probably the youngest member of that generation in the family.

It suited him when he was two years old - now he is a slightly overweight businessman in his 50s, why change it?

But nicknames are not always given when people are young.

The former president Joseph Estrada is more commonly known as Erap - a name he acquired in his 20s.

When spelt backwards, Erap becomes Pare, which means mate or buddy in the national language Tagalog.

Other guests thought that nicknames came about because of a need for individuality.

When I'm introduced to a Dinky or a Dunce, or read about people called Bing and Bong, it seems almost normal

People here often have the same Christian name as their parents.

Former Congressman Ace Barbers, who, like Joker Arroyo, obviously had a card-player in the family, has the Christian name Robert, but so do his father and all his brothers.

He clearly has not found it a problem as he named his four sons Robert too. Nicknames must be essential in their house.

'Melting pot'

The conversation soon turned to the fact that the Philippines is a melting pot of different cultures, and perhaps that is what led to these strange names.

Benigno Aquino
President Benigno Aquino, is also known as Noynoy

The president himself is a good example. His full Christian name is Benigno Simeon Cojuangco, names which are Spanish, Hebrew and Chinese respectively. His nickname Noynoy is the only part that is truly Filipino.

A well-used adage here is that the Philippines spent 400 years in a convent then 50 years in Hollywood, referring to Spanish then American colonial rule.

The Spanish introduced the concept of surnames - in fact they issued a decree in 1849 that everyone had to have a surname.

So even today, most surnames are Spanish.

But the main thing Spain gave to the Philippines was Catholicism, and with it, tens of thousands of newly-christened Marias and Joses.

With the Americans came names like Butch, Buffy and Junior - and the propensity to shorten everything if at all possible.

Perhaps it is the combination of these two influences which has led to names like Jejomar - short for Jesus Joseph Mary.

The current vice president is called Jejomar Binay.

I think it is great that BumBum can wear her name badge with pride

Even the large Chinese community here has not escaped this national name game.

Their surnames are often a form of Anglicised Chinese, but sometimes the Philippine penchant for fun shines through.

I have heard of a Van Go, a John F Kenneth Dee and an Ivan Ho.

But there are some names that just defy explanation.

Why would you call your children after the days of the week or your favourite desserts? To many Filipinos, a better question to ask is: "Why wouldn't you?"

I have been living here for a while now, and I have got used to all these names.

When I'm introduced to a Dinky or a Dunce, or read about people called Bing and Bong, it seems almost normal.

In fact, if anything, I rather like the fact that Filipinos are self-assured enough to use these names, no matter how odd they sound or how senior the person's public role.

But my assimilation is not quite complete.

While I think it is great that BumBum can wear her name badge with pride, I'm not quite ready to adopt a Philippine nickname myself just yet.

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