What’s In A Name? Let’s See

Ask first for the name of person you want to find out, and you will save a lot of questions afterwards. By asking a person’s name, they say, you will get much more information. Can you really tell a person’s gender, religion and nationality just from their names?

I determined to prove this suggestion. “What’s your child’s name?” I asked my friend’s, who recently became a proud father, instead of the standard inquiry, “Is it a boy or a girl?”.

My friend smiled when he mentioned the name, “Chenscova.”

“A girl, congratulations!” I meant it. He wanted his first child to be a girl, I remembered.

“No, it’s a boy!” he said, still grinning though. I was wrong.

“Then why you named him Chenscova?” I looked at him curiously, “It sounds like lovely Russian name, yes, but it’s for girls.”

“How do you know that?” he shot back. I’m not sure either. But I did mention to him names such as Kournikova, Sharapova (which are females), Karpov and Kasparov (which are males).

“If Russian names end with –ova they seem to be females; -ov for males.” I concluded.

“You want me to change my son’s name to Chenscov, without ‘a’?”

“I’ll do the research, to be sure.” I hesitated. I felt bad. I didn’t mean to tell him wrong, who perhaps, didn’t mean the name to be Russian, either. But I know how it feels to be frequently mistaken because of my name. I’ve lived it, and it’s annoying. I want his son not to repeat my own experiences.

*****

My name is Julitra Anaada. If you thought I was a woman, you are a statistics. 9.5 out of 10 people who initially come in contact with me thought I was a female. The rest of 0.5 % were correct because they changed their mind.

My name reveals it, only on the wrong side of perception. When people called me they were often surprised to hear a low, baritone voice that answered them. “Can I talk to ibu Julitra?” was the familiar respond. Some would disconnect abruptly thinking it was the wrong number. And there are delayed check ins, newspaper and magazines subscriptions and invitations where I became a Miss. If not for legal complexities, I would have changed it long time ago.

What’s in a name? asked Shakespeare five centuries ago. Plenty. Your name, in many ways, affects your life. There was a report saying that your name determines how quickly you get hitched by the opposite sex. One Australian newspaper reported that good and bad guys were perceived from their names. Today, we live in an instant world, and names are often one of the easiest things reachable to form instant opinion of others.

Some parents consider some names are sexier and more sophisticated than others, so their expectations. But it’s not always the case. I’ve got a friend who shares the same name with one particular famous, handsome celebrity, except that, physically, they are total opposites. Every time the actor’s name is mentioned, my friend’s physical appearance comes first to my mind, simply because it has associated with my friend longer. But, oddly, it’s never the other way around.

It’s also common here for Indonesian parents to name their offspring after the exemplary Figures in their respected faiths, hoping the child would inherit the same qualities. But I wonder why although there are many “Muhammads” –in fact, the name Muhammad, and its variations, is said to be the most popular babies names all over the world, including in so called Christian land like Britain- here, I never meet people whose name are Jesus, even though the name is common in Latin America?

Your name could be the first thoughtful gift your parents gave you. Or later, embarrassing, although you know they didn’t intend it to be that way. Or did they? Until you meet people with names like “Hitler” or “Judas”. Seriously, they ought to be joking. But it’s nothing when you know in New Zealand a couple named their baby “4Real”. Yes, it’s for real!

In this age of case sensitivity, your name could also mean whether you could receive emails your new acquaintances sent you. Or being able to legally vote, because the name on your ID doesn’t match. It’s true that in Indonesian language, once you could pronounce a word, you could also correctly spell it. Still, there are many variations to familiar names. Take for example one name of “Ahmad”. Although it’s the most popular spelling, there are variations such as Achmad, Ahmat, Akhmad, etc. Ditto for other imported names.

Some parents even go further than showing their children as living existence of their shared loves: They want their children to share their names as well. Thus papa Timotius and mama Priscilla, for example, could rightly call their girl as “Tiscilla”. Very clever, and at the same time it expands the name database. Only one problem: it introduces more unfamiliar names, clumsy on the lips, exotic to the ears and slow to write on papers.

And that brings me to my last thought, why there are not many Indonesian names taken from Indonesian words? Plenty of ordinary words are available but yet go with deep poetic nuances and meaningful metaphors such as, among others, “Bunga” and “Cinta” for girls or “Lantang” and “Tegar” for boys?

*****

I did my research. I was right: -ova is the ending for Russian female names while –ov is for males. I gave the Internet printouts to my friend.

“Thank you for your research.” My friend said. “But the name ‘Chenscova’, with ‘a’, would stay; I didn’t mean to name him the Russian way. I named him after my mother, Chen, who has passed away three years ago.”

“Besides,” he continues, “once you get the birth certificate, the name stays for good.”

I looked at Chenschova who was sleeping on his mother’s lap before saying goodbye to him, to his brand new parents.

*****

2 Responses to “What’s In A Name? Let’s See”


  1. 1 Yuri December 20, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Hi, I was trying to find the meaning of “Lantang,” it is my given last name.My Indonesian family is from the town of Manado on Sulawesi in Indonesia if that helps?

    • 2 julitra December 21, 2009 at 6:08 pm

      In Indonesian, “Lantang” means clear, loud (voice).

      Since originally your family hails from Manado area, in this regard, of Minahasan origin, then the word has an entirely different meaning.

      According to Taranak Minahasa by W.J. Pangemanan & V.O. Luntungan, “Lantang”, in Minahasan dialect, means berharga (priceless, precious, invaluable) .


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Author

Julitra Anaada:

Born and grew up in Talaud Islands, the northernmost, and one of the remotest, parts of Indonesia.

He earns living in Jakarta, the capital.

All posts are his own work, unless stated otherwise. For non-fictional piece, the opinions are strictly personal views.

He can be reached at julitra dot anaada at gmail.com.

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