A typhoon named ‘Gloria’ | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

A typhoon named ‘Gloria’

/ 10:03 PM January 07, 2014

Before Ateneo de Manila moved its e-mail server to Google with an @ateneo.edu address, we had a very distinct, Pinoy e-mail address in @pusit.admu.edu. This led to my being called, behind my back, “Pusit” or “Tiya Pusit” in Ermita antique shops. Ateneo employees had a different address: @balut.admu.edu. The story on campus is that when the IT people were brainstorming on unique names for the Ateneo e-mail address, they chose pusit and balut because someone brought these for lunch that fateful day. Today, even with underscore and hashtag, everyone is challenged to find an exceptional name to use on Twitter or Instagram.

During the Spanish and early American period, Filipino names for newborn babies were picked from the names of Catholic saints on the calendar. Another option was to use the names of parents, grandparents, or godparents. This explains why, on the first working day of 2014, Monday Jan. 6, we remembered the [Grand]Mother of the Philippine Revolution, [ma]Tandang Sora or Melchora Aquino. She was born on the Feast of the Three Kings in 1812, and her parents had three names to choose from: Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar if the baby was a boy, or Gaspara, Melchora, and Baltazara if the baby was a girl. Our history may not have turned out differently if Melchora were Tandang Spara or Lola Zara, but our textbooks and street names would be so. If you think “Jejomar” odd, what about “Melgasbal” (nicknamed Melchor)?


The Feast of the Three Kings is a children’s treat in Spain. It is still celebrated by Casino Español in Manila, with three men dressed as the biblical Magi distributing sweets to children, as we do during Halloween Trick or Treat though in different costume. I learned something new from Gilda Cordero-Fernando last Sunday because we all know of Christmas gifts in a stocking on Dec. 25 but not about leaving a shoe out for additional gifts on Jan. 6.

Then there is the German tradition of writing “20+G+M+B+14” on your doorway this year for good luck and protection.


I have written on Filipino names for years, and they keep evolving. We are so used to names like Bongbong, Tingting or Dingdong that we do not notice them, until a foreigner looking in, like the BBC correspondent, makes a story out of it. The Internet makes the name search so easy these days, and one of the names that went viral last year was picked out of the list of people who passed the University of the Philippines’ entrance exam: Sincerely Yours’98 Pascual, nicknamed “Truly.” If she were gay, the contemporary nickname would probably be “Trulili.” The story does not end there because Truly has two siblings, Spaghetti’88 and Macaroni’85. Spaghetti has since married, and if the Internet post is not a hoax her son’s name is “Cheese Pimiento.” The nickname is probably “Chiz,” as in the senator or the sandwich spread.

When I read my class lists at the start of each semester, I understand why my students think history is a foreign country. The names of heroes are taken from the calendar: Andres Bonifacio (Nov. 30, Feast of San Andres) or Melchora Aquino (Jan. 6, Feast of the Three Kings) sounds so old. When we go through the list of the 11 children of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonso, my students cannot relate to someone named Saturnina, Trinidad, or Olimpia. They are surprised that St. Joseph’s name can be given to a boy (Jose) or a girl (Josefa). Then we complicate things by going over the names of heroes and their symbolic names or aliases.

Everyone knows that Jose Rizal used “Laong Laan” (ever-prepared) and “Dimasalang” (untouchable); Bonifacio, “Agapito Bagumbayan” and “Maypagasa” (There is hope); Emilio Jacinto, “Pinkian” (flint); Antonio Luna, “Tagailog;” and Emilio Aguinaldo, “Magdalo.” Marcelo H. del Pilar had the biggest number of pen names, the most famous being “Plaridel” and “Piping Dilat.” But he also used: “Carmelo,” “L.O. Crame,” “Hilario,” “Dolores Manapat,” “D.M. Calero,” “M. Dati,” “D.A. Murgas,” “Haitalaga,” “Kupang,” “Patos,” and “Siling Labuyo.”

To be current, we look at the old-style typhoon names generated by Pagasa in four sets to be used in different years. On average, the Philippines is visited by around 20 typhoons each year, so the list is sufficient with 25 names using the Filipino alphabet—no “X” and no “Ng” either. In 2014 the first tropical cyclone will be named “Agaton,” followed by: “Basyang,” “Caloy,” “Domeng,” “Ester,” “Florita,” “Glenda,” “Henry,” “Inday,” “Jose,” “Katring,” “Luis,” “Mario,” “Neneng,” “Ompong,” “Paeng,” “Queenie,” “Ruby,” “Seniang,” “Tomas,” “Usman,” “Venus,” “Walso,” “Yayang” and “Zeny.” If we exceed 25 typhoons in 2014, we will move down an auxiliary list starting with “Agila,” then: “Bagwis,” “Chito,” “Diego,” “Elena,” “Felino,” “Gunding,” “Harriet,” “Indang” and “Jessa.”

Few people know that Typhoon “Glenda” used to be “Gloria” until we had a president with that name. “Jawo” used to be on the list, and I wonder if it was dropped when Robert Jaworski shifted from basketball to politics and won a seat in the Senate. Pagasa also dropped “Jolina” and “Darna” on the request of the singer’s manager and the estate of cartoonist Mars Ravelo, respectively. “Yolanda,” “Ondoy,” “Sendong,” and storms that cause a lot of damage or casualties are also removed from the Pagasa list.

There seems to be a science or logic to names in the Philippines. Let’s hope someone writes a doctoral thesis on this topic someday.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, column, Filipino names
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