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Names and their times

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Public Lives

Names and their times

/ 09:43 PM December 25, 2013

The other day, ABS-CBN.com carried an amusing report about unusual names that were spotted among the list of successful examinees in the recent UP College Admissions Test. People at first thought the names Sincerely Yours ’98 Pascual, Cyber 1A22 Cruz, and Cressida B3 Reyes were computer errors.

But there is no error in these names: They refer to real people. Those alpha-numeric names belong to the time of e-mail, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Behind the breeziness of these password-sounding names is a seriousness of purpose that I have often encountered in my own classes at the University of the Philippines. These bright kids are differently wired.

Names may not always carry a social or religious significance, but one thing they usually have is a reference to their times. I was born shortly after World War II, when American movies and paperback novels started to flood the country. My father named me after Randolph Scott, the lanky hero of countless cowboy films. My parents spelled my name with an “f” so it wouldn’t look so foreign. The priest who baptized me however protested that it wasn’t a Christian name, and so he gave me the name Jesus, which I never used. Abroad, people usually have a hard time deciding which one is my surname—David or Randolf. To avoid confusion, I started using my nickname Randy, little knowing what it meant. In England, people gave me a naughty look whenever I introduced myself as Randy David.

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At UP, my disaffection with my American name grew as nationalism gripped the campus. But I soon realized I was just being overly self-conscious. There were other students who carried far more unusual names than mine, like “World War 2” and “Seato.” The UP of my time had two student leaders who wore their unconventional names rather proudly—Heherson Alvarez, who later became senator, and Jejomar Binay, who is now the country’s vice president.

My grandparents’ generation was strictly calendar-bound when it came to names. The calendar of saints and the powerful parish priests of the time simplified the process of choosing names for children. My father was named Pedro, and his two siblings were named Guadalupe and Ponciano. My father rebelled against this tradition by calling me Randolf.

When Karina and I were expecting our first child, we were both certain we would not abide by the names offered by the Roman Catholic calendar. We were graduate students in England at that time. By chance, our first child was conceived during one of those times when our fellowship stipend had been very much delayed. As the baby grew inside his mother’s womb, we started referring to him as “CIP”—meaning, conceived in poverty. We didn’t know yet that he was a boy, but we began looking for names for both sexes that started with a “C” and a “P.” When he was born, we named him Carlos Primo. We almost called him Carlos Primero but we were afraid people might think his parents were alcoholics. Today, he signs as CP David.

The name of our daughter, Kara, is a combination of the first syllables of Karina and Randolf. Born just after the declaration of martial law, Kara carries a second name—Patria. Her full name means “beloved country.” It was a time of activism. Other parents were naming their children Rebo or Demo or UG or Dante (after Kumander Dante of the New People’s Army). One activist wanted his son baptized as “1081” because he was born on the day Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1081 which imposed martial law throughout the country. The priest objected and gave him another name. Today, the young man is called Ten-ten.

The names of revolutionary heroes were iconic for parents of my generation. Our third child, a daughter, got the name originally intended for her mother—Nadya, with the nickname Nadezhda, Lenin’s wife. Her second name, Melina, is in honor of the actress and political activist Melina Mercouri, who fought the Greek military junta and later became her country’s minister for culture.

Our youngest child is named Jovita Erika, or Jika for short. We named her after Jovita Fuentes, the opera diva and National Artist for music, in whose house we lived soon after we returned from our studies abroad. Maestra Jovita, my wife’s grandaunt, was a professor of music and a pioneer resident of the UP campus. Jika’s second name Erika, on the other hand, comes from the title of a Mary Travers song. Mary completes the trio of Peter, Paul & Mary, the poet-singers of the 1960s generation.

The world that our children live in today is vastly different. Their activism is muted compared to ours, but it is equally meaningful. Our son CP and his wife, Ani, named their only daughter Jacinta, a lovely old name, the name of a flower and a saint, but also that of the brilliant Emilio Jacinto—the brains of the Katipunan.

Kara named her daughter Julia Kristiana. Her first name is borrowed from her favorite actress, Julia Roberts, while Kristiana is an evocation of Christmas. She thinks of her daughter who was born in December as her best Christmas gift ever.

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I have previously written about X, our youngest grandchild. His full name is Xavier David Jaulneau-Labarre. Xavier is the name of my son-in-law Brice’s grandfather, who is French. David makes its appearance here not as a surname but as Xavier’s second given name. As the French don’t have nicknames, his father calls him Xavier. His mother calls him Xavi. My wife calls him Xav; I call him X. Everyone else in the Philippines calls him Sab-Sab. Like all the children of his multitasking generation, the little boy is differently wired. He shows no confusion.

Merry Christmas!

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