Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's In A Gr8 Name?

It wasn't too long ago when I wrote about names. I shall do it a again. (See What's In A Name?

You see, name is a special privilege for human. Not all animals have given names unless they happen to be human pets. Names stay with us for as long as we live and for a long time after that as well (hopefully, and in a good way too).

The Straits Times reported on 15 Feb that having a double western name is an in-thing today. Names such as Shaun Perry Png and Melissa Penny Tan, feature a middle name. As the concept of a middle name is unusual in Asia, having it gives a certain aura of uniqueness and perhaps, sophistication too. Well, so long as you stay away from the juvenile version such as Tom Jerry Lim or the quirky version such as Passion Feliciality Tan.

While names are fairly fanciful today, it was not the case many decades ago.

In the last one or two generations, our old time parents were usually quite clueless as to what they would name their children until they were born.

Our folks in those days were usually illiterate farmers, fishermen and workers and naming was not an easy thing. To them, simple names like "Ah Moi" (little girl) and "Tua Tow" (big head) were good enough. For some reasons, names of animals, such as "Ah Kow" (dog) and "Ah Gu" (Cow) became common as they were seen as good for the children. It was believed that giving meaningful names using words such as "long" (龙,dragon) could be too 'loud' and the children may end up being punished by gods.

Some parents left the matter to the midwives. For greater efficiency, the midwives would 'recycle' names and many "Ah Kow's" and "Ah Gu's" left the labour rooms everyday.

Try looking into a telephone book and you should be able to find many "Tan Ah Kow's" which is our local version of John Smith. I personally know more than a handful of "Ah Kow's".

Today, it would be seen as insane to name our children after household pets or farm animals. If you hardly see any such names around, it is because many "Tan Ah Kow's" and "Lim Ah Gu's" are hiding behind names such as "James Tan" and "John Lim". Some probably have a middle name too.

I was lucky not to be given a name of that genre and I am grateful that my parents considered naming a serious business. In fact, it got too serious that mom and dad could not compromise on their choice name. So, I ended up with two.

Being the head of the family, dad's choice got into the official document aka birth certificate and mom's was used by people in the family and neighborhood. I was only told about the existence of my 'official' name when I went to school.

Naming is usually a matter left to the parents. However, the National Registration Department of Malaysia has decided to intervene. They are mindful that the country's multi-ethnic community comprising Malays, Indians and Chinese and some names may be 'undesirable'.

The department has put up a list of such names in a bid to spare a child the blushes when he/she grows up. Listen to some of these no-no names: Ah Gong (unsound mind), Chai Too (pig), Kai Chai(chick) and Sum Seng (gangster).

While it is crass to name your son, Ah Kow (dog) or Karruppan (black fellow), other Indian words like Sivappi and Vellayan (both meaning fair), and Amma-Kannu (mother's eye) are also on the list.

The situation in Malaysia may sound weird but it is not unusual for government to intervene in child naming.

In this SMS era, spelling words with numbers is not uncommon. For example, "Gr8" means "Great" and "2moro" means "Tomorrow".

A couple in New Zealand was obviously being contemporary and wanted to name their child "4Real". The authorities in New Zealand rejected the name as the rules state that names starting with a number are not allowed.

The couple had argued that since names ending with a 'number' is allowed, as in "John Williams III", they did not see a problem with their choice. It seemed that 'uniqueness' is an important criterion as the couple's second choice was "Superman".

Do you think Singapore authorities should intervene in "creative" naming too? Can you accept names such as "Pondan Choo" or "Bodoh Tan" or "*Gr8est Lau"?

If the general sentiment is "why not", then I think the relevant authorities might want to seriously consider banning unsavoury names.

Parents, spare a thought for the child and do distinguish between 'unique' and 'harmful'.

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