In my last blog, I told you about Korean wives not taking the names of their husbands, about Mexicans having many names, and two of them are family names, and about how American Indians and blacks got their family names. However, there is so much more about names that could be said. I will tell you a lot of it in this blog.
My friends from Bangladesh think of a family name as much different than the rest of the world. They are not given the name of their families. When they are born, the family gives them a name, and that is their family name, the name their family chooses for them. Later, as they grow, they chose another name for themselves and add it to the family name. They choose their names young, and unfortunately, they grow and change, and when they get older, they may decide they made a mistake with the name they chose as a child. One man I know comes form a Muslim family, and he grew up as a Muslim. He gave himself the name “Mohammed.” However, now he is a Christian, and he is traveling to different countries. He has noticed the reaction of people from other countries to his name,and that is one reason he regrets naming himself that. As a Christian also, he doesn’t want to be named after the Muslim prophet Mohammed. He uses the name his family gave him, and unless you know him well, he doesn’t tell you his other name. He doesn’t want to be labeled as a terrorist.
They do something else interesting with their names in Bangladesh. Since they have no family name as we think of as family names in American, Europe, and Oriental countries, they have a problem when they go to get a passport and visa to travel.. They need a family name to fill in the blanks, so they choose a family name. I actually have another friend from Bangladesh who named himself Cockatoo. When I first met him, I found his name so funny and asked him, “Do you know what Cockatoo means?” because I thought it sounded like a made up name. He knew what it meant, and it was a made up name that he happened to like. If they stay in Bangladesh, they don’t need a family name like the rest of the world thinks of as a family name, but if they travel, they need one.
Here in Korea, many Koreans have more than one name. I am not talking about the family name, the given name, and the middle name. They have that, and if you see their name written the Korean way, the family name will come first, and after that their first name and their middle name. If they are influenced by English, their family name will be last. If they are influenced by English, they may also have chosen another name for themselves. Koreans know their names are complicated for the rest of the world. They try to adapt. They not only learn to speak English, but they also choose an English name and if you have a Korean friend, very often, as a foreigner, unless you get to know them much better, you will never know their Korean name. They usually choose Bible names, another sign of how much Koreans like Christianity. There are many Korean young men named David, James, Luke, etc. There are many young Korean women who call themselves Mary, Esther, or Grace. As for my Korean son in law, when we met him, he introduced himself with his English name because that is what they do, and it wasn’t until after he married my daughter when I finally learned his Korean name. You have to know them well often to know their Korean names.
Bible names are also extremely popular in Nigeria. I was really surprised when it seemed when people were introducing themselves to us that they were using English names that Americans and English had forgotten about. They were named things like Bartholomew and Solomon. They also had more common English names from the Bible like Daniel and Johnathan. They also had Muslim names in Nigeria. A name like “Ibrahim” could be either Muslim or Christian because it comes from Abraham.
When I met a guy from Uganda in the States, he called himself George, but I learned that it was not his original name, but that he had given himself the name. His real name was OCongo which means “little beer” in his native language. I have Facebook friends from Nigeria, and some have very Nigerian names that are so complicated that I couldn’t really quote many of their names like Uchena or Otolongo, and I have thought back to all those people with Bible names in Nigeria, and I wondered if they perhaps hadn’t chosen those names for themselves themselves like George did or like the Koreans do.
In Japan, they have a lot of names that come from nature. It makes sense since their original Japanese religion, Shinto, stresses that they stay as close to nature as possible. They admired Samurai because many didn’t even use a heater in the winter because they were such strong believers in Shinto. The Shinto idea of staying close to nature has caused many things to develop in Japan like the interesting ways they heat their houses, special padded winter Kimonos to wear in the house in winter, straw mats on the floor, and the way they sleep. It makes sense that Shinto has also had influence on their names. Unless you speak Japanese, you don’t understand the meaning of their interesting names, but learning names helps you learn Japanese. Some names mean things like “Autumn,” “Winter,” “Snow,” ” Black Swamp,” ‘Mountain Mouth,” “River,” “Love,” etc. Learning the meaning of your friend’s names in Japanese also helps you to develop your vocabulary a bit. If you see the syllable “ko” on the end of a Japanese name, it means “girl.”
I learned the idea of learning the meaning of the names in Japan also works in Korea. If you can get past the English name they give you and learn their Korean names, you can develop your vocabularies. Many times, you have seen my friend, Hanul, on my blog, and her name actually means “Sky.” Many Koreans give their kids names that have to do with God. I have a friend who named his son “Hamin” meaning “God’s person.”
and he had two more kids after that, and each one began with “Ha” referring to God. Some Koreans, though, actually do carry a Bible name in Korean that easily translates to other languages. I have a friend whose Korean pronunciation is “Yosef,” and in English, that is “Joseph.” Joseph’s son’s name is “Joo-An” giving him an English Bible name, John.
In Mexico, they also use many Bible names. “Maria” is Mary. “Jose” is John. They also use names that we would never use in English out of respect. The name “Jesus” would never be used in English, but the Mexican use it. Only some would use the name “Emanuel” in English, but the Mexicans use it without hesitation. I also knew a girl from Ghana who carried the name “Emanuela” which is a common name is Mexico, a feminine form of “Emanuel.”
Romanians also like Bible names too, and they are said with the Romanian slant, but hey also have other traditional Romanian names that aren’t Bible names. Romanians like to have the names of Christian saints. I had a friend in Romania whose name was Elena, and she was very proud of her name because the Elena she was named after was a queen. The rector from the university where I taught carried the name “Dumitru,” and he had a saint too, and he was so happy to put a plaque up in his office telling everyone about hi saint. If a day in Romania celebrates a certain saint, the people consider that day just as much their birthday sometimes as their regular birthday. They are thrilled to be connected to saints. They have some interest holidays having to do with their saint days. On Saint John’s day, they go through the village and find everyone with the name “John,” and in Romanian, it would be names like “Ion” and “Ioana” (the feminine form), and they throw all these people in the river. That Saint John is John the Baptist, and that is why they are thrown in the river. On Saint Mary’s Day (Maria), the young girls go out into the fields and pick flowers. They make a crown with flowers, then they take it home and throw it up on their roofs hoping for a husband.
As Romanians have begun to travel to other parts of the world since the Romanian revolution, many change their names. They don’t want to use their Romanian names for some reason. I know a guy names Lucian who has changed his name to Luciano, an Italian name, who lives in America. There is a Romanian woman named Mariana here in Korea, but she doesn’t want to use her Romanian name either. She goes by Marianne, an old English name. Perhaps they think they are adapting to the new country, but what they do is hard for me to fathom because I don’t change my name. I am who I am.
I have been given new names as I travel too, but I don’t use them. The Japanese gave me a name, Reiko, but I don’t use it. They gave me a kanji, a Chinese character, that has meaning with my name, and initially didn’t tell me the meaning of the name. Someone else had to tell me that they had named me “pretty girl.” The Koreans gave me a name: Park Jin Hee, but I don’t use it either. They gave me the name “Park” because it is like my maiden name, Parks. When Koreans hear my maiden name, they all want to know if I am part Korean, but I am not. They also gave me “Jin” because it is pronounced the same as my middle name, Jean. And, they gave me the last syllable, Hee, because a movie star is named “Jin Hee” and they though I should be named after her. To me, it is just a fun game for them to give me a name, I don’t use these names. I want to be called by my name my real name even if they mispronounce it, and they do.
Names and how people get them, their meanings, and how they are used is interesting. Many people don’t realize that those things change from country to country. My mother chose my name in a very strange way. She was watching a movie star on TV, and she wanted her baby to be just like that movie star because she liked her so much, so she named me after the movie star. My grandmother gave some extremely interesting names. She had 12 kids, and people used to joke about the names she gave because they were so unusual saying, “What’s the matter? Did she run out of names?” Actually, my daughter has studied the subject, and she named her kids according to her culture. She was half Cherokee, and she gave her kids Cherokee names. She named them after places which is a very Indian thing to do. She named them according to what they looked like too which is a very Indian things to do. I actually have an uncle named “Brownie” because he was so brown as a baby. I have an aunt named “Glo,” and if you know her, her personality glows. One of my uncles has a woman’s name, and one of the aunts has a man’s name. My mother’s name is so unusual, and I had never heard her name before until I learned about a town in northeastern Texas with her name and realized my grandmother used to live there. We all get our names from somewhere. Other people give them to us, and sometimes, we give them to ourselves.