Friday, September 22, 2006

Who Like Many Indonesians Only Has One Name

Nearly any newspaper article about Indonesia will, at some point, include the phrase "who like any Indonesians only has one name," or, in some variations, "who like many Indonesians only uses one name." (Try me on this and see. I guarantee it.) I'm not sure why this is the accepted phraseology--perhaps Reuters releases it every so often, just to remind reporters never to stray from the formula--but you can try me on this and you'll see. I guarantee it.

It's true that many Javanese do only use one name. My school, though, being a Christian school, is attended mostly by ethnic Chinese students. (The ethnic Chinese minority tends to be Christian and rich, while the ethnic Javanese majoirty tends to be Muslim and poor. You can see why there's a lot of resentment.) In any case, the Chinese students usually have plenty of names: three, or four, or even five. The amusing thing is the type of name, though; as I've worked this week on memorizing the names of my students, or, at the very least, on forcing them to wear nametags, I've noticed some basic groupings of names, which, since I'm obsessed with onomastic and assume that everyone else is equally interested, I'll share with you.

1. The traditional (Javanese) names. We do have a few ethnic Javanese students, with a few ethnic Javanese names. Thus, we have a Dewi and a Sri, a Hendra and a Nugroho. I've also encountered a wide variety of nicknames that sound like nonsense syllables to me: Dede and Jojo and Bowo. With these kids, I peek at their nametags.

2. The traditional (Biblical) names. It's a Christian school, so one should expect Christian names. My classes are filled with Andrews, Stephens, Davids, Esthers, and Marthas. They pronounce them a little differently, but the kids don't seem to mind if I don't roll the "r" in Andrew.

3. The traditional (American) names. I'm curious about these ones--why, exactly, do they have these names?--but I'm always happy to see them, as it's much easier for me to pronounce and remember names like Jane and Melissa and Edward.

4. The traditional (Russian) names. These ones confuse me. Why on earth, in Semarang, Java, Indonesia, do I have students named Ivan, Alexei, Sonia, and Natalya? Is this some sort of crazy Russia-China-Indonesia Axis of Generally Disagreeable, or were their parents just reading too much Dostoevsky?

4. The nontraditional (Biblical) names. These Christians tend to be a little more adventurous in selecting Biblical and saints' names; I have an Obed and a Nehemiah, a Bonifacius and a Bernard, a Yehezkia and an Abednego. I dig these kids; I mean, who can't like someone named Abednego? What's more, I even have, in one eleventh grade class, a certain tall and solemn boy, always seated near the back of the classroom, who answers to the name "Christ."

5. The nontraditional (American) names. Everyone's heard stories about Chinese foreign exchange students in the States who adopt bizarre English names, thinking they're normal. (I have, at least, and so I will assume, once again, that everyone shares my experiences.) Kaneeneenie, for instance, had a roommate who went by "Phyllis." Alea has a friend of a friend (FOAF) who chose "Mitzie." My school has its fair share of that type as well, and I'm finding that it's hard to keep a straight face meeting students named "Vienna," "Antartika," and "Queenina." (She goes by "Queenie." Is she a Berenstein Bear?)

The prize so far, though, goes to a pair of tenth grade boys in one of my classes, who sit next to each other and are clearly best friends: Hans and Franz. Now, if, like my students, you've never seen the old SNL sketches, you won't appreciate the self-control it took for me not to laugh and instantly call them "girlie men." It was tough, but I succeeded. I think congratulations are in order.

(I did not, however, successfully resist the temptation of laughing and instantly saying, "I'm going to PUMP [clap] you up." I think the students were confused. Then again, they don't really speak English, so confusion is pretty much the default in the classroom.)


Katya said...

I knew a Chinese woman who'd chosen the English name "Berinda" for herself. (Like "Belinda," only with an "R.") Except that everyone thought her name was "BeLinda." And then she got annoyed that people said her name wrong. (OK, but the point of adopting an English name is so that people will be able to say it if they can't pronounce your real name. Making up an English name flies in the face of that . . .)

Melyngoch said...

My brother used to walk into a room and say, apropos of nothing, "I am Franz Schubert. And I am Felix Mendelssohn. And we are here to PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENTS."

Just thought I'd share.

Melyngoch said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tolkien Boy said...

I laughed so much at the mental image of the last sentence of four that I nearly tumbled from the chair.