Monday, October 12, 2015

What's in a name?

Growing up, I was intrigued by names. As a teenager, I had a Baby Names book (even though having a baby was the furthest thing from my mind). The vast variety of names with their corresponding meanings fascinated me. Hilary means "cheerful"! Nigel means "champion"! Cilla means "blind"? Oh dear.

Some names I instantly liked (Heather), some I disliked (Cybil). Some grew on me (Sophie). I didn't mind my own name but back then, if I had to pick one out of the sea of names, Monica probably wouldn't have made the top ten list.

Piece of trivia: My parents named me after the room I was born in at Mount Alvernia hospital - St Monica. When I first heard that my name was decided on in such a cavalier fashion, I shuddered. Imagine if I were born in the St Bernadette room! I'm so not a Bernadette.

So when I was expecting Lesley-Anne, one of the first things I did after discovering it was a girl, was mull over the name. It was definitely more fun than and a distraction from the heartburn, morning sickness and prospect of a crying infant.

I didn't want too common a name (I've lost count of how many Rachels and Ryans there have been in my kids' classes) but at the same time, I was careful not to choose anything too outlandish because I know how much anguish it can cause kids in school when teachers and students butcher any name remotely exotic. The romantically Irish moniker Siobhan (pronounced "Sher-von) in Andre's kindy class was reduced to a terribly unglamorous "Sio-bahn".

In primary school, my best friend was a girl prone to daydreams called Angele (pronounced "On-jel"). She was called anything from Angela to Angel to An-jelly by confused teachers (till today, her Sunday School kids call her Aunty Jelly). She was so traumatised that when she eventually had kids of her own, she named them no-nonsense John and James.

The problem is that in Singapore, the bar for "exotic" can be set pretty low, especially when it comes to Chinese educated teachers or those more accustomed to local names. Even the innocuous Sean (pronouned "Shawn") can cause problems. A friend with a son Sean laments that he has been called "Sian". Lesley-Anne has two Maths classmates named Sean and her teacher persisted in calling both of them "Seah". They quickly figured that she wouldn't remember even if they corrected her so they ended up answering to Seah Heng and Seah Koh. For a long time, Lesley-Anne actually thought those were their names! Until she heard them called outside of class. ROFL!

So back to my child: I'd decided on Lesley very early on in my pregnancy. In my fickle and ever-changing world of favourite names, it was the name that stuck. In fact, Lesley was often the starring protagonist in my school compositions. But as I shared the name with curious friends and family members, I encountered so many "Lesley? Isn't that a boy's name?" A female colleague of mine back told me that growing up with a name that everyone thought was male (her name was San) was a pain. So in an effort to spare my would-be daughter the ambiguity, I added "Anne" to Lesley.

Little did I know that it would create other problems. Lesley-Anne is constantly being asked, "So is your surname Anne?" which then leads to the next question, "Are you Chinese?"

When it came to Andre, the decision was harder. There were so few boys' names I liked compared to girls'. A couple of names that were tossed around were Elliot and Timothy. In fact, Andre was Timothy (which I was never too convinced was right) up to the eighth month in my pregnancy. Then one night, I dreamed that I had a son named Andre and the next morning, I declared, "this boy shall be called Andre!" I don't think Kenneth and my in-laws were too keen because they had already gotten used to an impending Timothy, but by then, I was extremely grouchy and bloated (from too many McDonald's chocolate milkshakes) and they knew they would be protesting at their own peril. So Andre it was.

The first Andre I ever met was actually my friend Angele's older brother and I'd loved the name from the day I heard it. Till today, I still love the name and I'm so glad I chose it. I don't think it's too unusual a name but Andre tells me his teachers have a tendency to call him "An-dree" (it should be "On-drey") or Andrew or change his gender to Andrea. One even called him Audrey. Needless to say, not his favourite teacher.

Pronunciation is a pain but with exotic names, spelling is also an issue. For some reason, people can't seem to spell Lesley-Anne's name correctly. I've seen Leslie-Ann, Leslie-Anne, Lesley-Ann, Lesly-Anne and so on. I can understand why if you've only heard the name but sometimes, people writing her name next to where it is clearly featured IN BOLD (like on her book) can still get it wrong! Even extended family members persist in spelling her name incorrectly. Maybe they think we're the ones who've gotten it wrong. Grrrr.

And finally, even if your name is easy to pronounce or spell, you can still get lots of unwanted attention. I read a Facebook post where a girl named Vanna said she's constantly being asked, "Can I buy a vowel?" and another called Isis who's tired of being asked why she's associated with a terrorist group.

Choosing a name has consequences. So choose wisely!

If you have a unique name, you will totally identify with this buzzfeed post. I would check it out for the hilarious gifs but if you're too lazy to click on it, here's the text:

16 Things Only People With Unique Names Will Understand
  1. You have a mild panic attack when a restaurant hostess asks for your name. 
  2. You immediately raise your hand as soon as there is a pause in roll call. 
  3. You still get birthday cards from your extended family with your name spelled wrong. 
  4. People on Facebook continuously spell your name wrong even when it is listed mere inches from the comment box. 
  5. People actually ask you if you are a foreigner. 
  6. When giving your name, you just automatically spell it out of habit. 
  7. You repeatedly get asked why your parents gave you “that name.” 
  8. Literally 95% of your mail is spelled wrong. 
  9. You’ve had to redo, reapply or resubmit official documents because your name is spelled wrong. 
  10. You take extra care to spell people’s names right and take it personally when others do not. 
  11. It actually makes your day when a stranger pronounces your name correctly. 
  12. People actually question if you have misspelled your own name. 
  13. Name tags give you nightmares. 
  14. When wearing said nametag people still call you “hey you!” 
  15. You have given up correcting people, but you keep a running list and misspell their name at the next opportunity. 
  16. You will never name your children, dogs, fish or stuffed animals anything weird.


Anonymous said...

Hi Monica,

You may want to check out this article called How to Name a Baby. It's hilarious!


Kyet said...

Why is "An"gele called "On"gele? Typo?

monlim said...

Kyet: It's a French name. Definitely not a typo!

Anonymous said...

This is so funny cos I identify with it totally!
And my parents also named by sister after the Mt A ward she was born in! so she could've been Monica....hahaha...


monlim said...

Letticia: Lol, now you make me wonder how many kids were named after their Mt A wards!

Vanessa said...

I can totally relate to this article!
My two kids are called Gerard and Gretchen.
There is a tendency for people to call him "Gerald" or spell his name as "Gerald". It happens so often even that he can't be bothered to correct them anymore.

Everytime my daughter introduces herself and says her name, people often hear it as "Rachel". She gets very frustrated if she has repeat a few times.

My name is also called by some people as "Va-nee-SA", which sounds really awful... :-)

monlim said...

Vanessa: Your kids' names aren't even that unusual! Singaporeans just mangle names...

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