A name gives an identity to an otherwise obscure character. It defines a human being, making him/her tangible, unlike a concept that one can think of but can never really feel or visually identify.
Introducing one’s self is a normal thing. It’s like an initiation rite for a possible connection (whether romantic or platonic). We saw how Aiza Seguerra amazed everyone when she joined that pageant on national TV while strutting to “Wake up, little Suzie.” And yes, admit it or not, many of us still imitate the proud-to-the-whole-world intro “Maria Venus Raj… Tweneee Tuuu… Philippines!”
My fascination with names does not come as a surprise to the people around me. My first name is Roderick. And if you’re going to ask me, yes, I was named after the comedian who originally portrayed Petrang Kabayo and popularized Rick Astley’s Together Forever dance steps. (But mind you, he is the only Filipino actor who won twice as Best Actor in the Asian TV awards!)
The oldest child in the family is named Santi (but I don’t remember any personality by that name, and I’m not sure if my mother was aware of the delicatessen at the time of his birth), and the next, Sheryll (Mr. Dreamboy, Mr. Dreamboy! with matching signature peace sign pose). The middle child is the Megastar, while the one before me was called “Lumayo ka man sa akin, at ako’y iyong limutin” when he was a kid. (His nickname? A brand of machine lubricant.)
My name has gone through evolutionary stages. Sometimes it’s Rod. Sometimes it’s Rick. My nickname is Erick. They also call me “Kuya Dick,” the nickname of the Filipino actor from where my name was taken. (And yes, it sometimes evokes a “Say what?!” look from foreigners when they see me respond to being called such. In my high school days, there were three Rodericks in our class. We were called by our surnames, because one of them was seated next to me; our seating plan was based on the alphabetical listing of our last names.
My surname also catches attention. Literally sounding like a toad, it is not a typical Spanish- or Chinese- inspired surname that is common among Filipinos (300 years under the Spanish regime… you know the drill). F-R-A-G-O. Oh, it’s a frog. Thanks to a famous advocate of the use of the Filipino language, my surname was somehow uplifted from being the butt of jokes.
My literally big band of brothers calls me “Bunso” (youngest sibling) for the simple reason that I am vertically challenged. I may not be the youngest in our group, but when we’re together, I look like a kindergarten kid flanked by his brothers who are in college.
During my college days, I changed my name for literary writing purposes. I’ve always used “China Eyes” for my literary works, but because the editorial board wanted the literary folio to have a more dignified character, we were requested to use real-sounding names. The best of the best, our editor in chief, always used KChristian. The accountancy genius that could make a run for Pablo Neruda’s money used RMCorporation. My best friend used Andrei. The rest chose to use their real names.
Kchristian. RMCorporation. Andrei. Then China Eyes? Yes, they were right. It just did not jibe with the “dignified character” our folio had wanted to exude. I couldn’t come up with a real-sounding name, so I picked up a telephone directory and randomly pointed at three names: John. Arthur. Villanueva.
John Arthur Villanueva. I now had a more dignified literary name.
When I started working for the campus-based FM station in my early college days, I needed an “air name” (just like the real deejays). I’d always wanted to use Wayne, but the management deemed it too soft for my “almost-female-sounding” voice. They named me Walter instead. When I transferred to a local FM station, the station manager added Ricky (a play on my nickname, Erick). I was then called “the lovable, life-sized teddy bear, Ricky Walter.”
I’m also using a different name in my current work in the BPO industry. We had an agent named Rod Ric and another named Erich; that’s why any combination using my real name wouldn’t be feasible (lest the Quality Assurance team curse me for life). So I chose Adrian. Why Adrian? Wala lang. It was the first name that popped in my head when I was asked to choose a phone name.
I have known various people whose names (and the story of how they got those names) fascinate me. My father has been called “Adobo” since he was a kid because he loves adobo, regardless of the protein ingredient in the dish.
I have a dear friend, and a co-member of the faculty back in Batangas, who has three names: Franco Emman Von. There were moments when I had this urge to ask him: “Was it hard learning how to write your name when you were in kindergarten?” And then I would always remember his last name: Cena.
I have a coworker who is called Darkness by her peers, but is no way near to being dark at all. Her skin is flawlessly white, and her personality is too cheerful and bubbly. But then I would always remember her last name” Carilimdiliman (extreme darkness).
I also had a female schoolmate in elementary/high school with Francoise as her second name. That we, her classmates, always argued about how to properly pronounce her second name is an understatement. Unlike the French, we called her “Frank-wise.”
Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder: What if I had a different real name? What if I were a son of Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala—would Roderick as first name sound cute? I can imagine people calling me with a name that can put every Mexican telenovela character to shame.
But what if my name is the typical name, like Joseph, Daniel, or Robin? I bet there will be countless other people with the same name within a 50-mile radius. And will my life savings grow dramatically if were given an even unusual, not-so-Filipino name, like Mamokul?
They say a rose by any other name is just as sweet. But I know that had I been given the name Brando, it won’t go with my bubbly and gay personality. And yes, I just can’t imagine being given a real female name, like my cousin, Kuya Jennifer.
So I guess I just have to stick to perfecting the Together Forever dance steps to compliment the usual pick-up line, “Where’d you get that name?” Besides, it’s always fun imitating the trying-to-be-straight gay antics of the Filipino comedian after whom I was named.
What’s your name again?
Roderick M. Frago, 28, is a customer service representative for a medical billing account, peer counselor for TheLoveYourself Project, and change agent for the HIV/AIDS program of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. He says he hopes to go back to graduate school at the University of Santo Tomas and finish his master’s degree in creative writing.