What’s in a (Filipino) name?

This post was written on 2015.

One of the questions I shudder about getting asked is, ‘What’s the story behind your baby’s name?

Naming is probably one of the most challenging tasks set forth by man–whether it’s naming a person, a pet, a business, a blog handle or a newly discovered animal species. It should probably be taken more seriously, but it really just took me thirty minutes, tops. What kind of mother.

Back in the olden times, infant mortality rate was very high and thus it was customary for babies to have no name for the first few years of their life. Why name a babe if they’re least likely to reach childhood, lest adulthood? Thanks to developments in science and modern medicine in the past century, infant and toddler health has vastly improved (This has not always been the case for most of the history of humankind). Parents nowadays choose their baby’s name way before their babies are out of the womb.

A name is permanent, and once it’s been named, it’s stuck forever. I don’t blame my childhood friend whose dad and four other brothers were all named ‘Mark’. Better safe than sorry, right? Although calling him on their landline was awkward and confusing back then. (Still is).

So my criteria for naming my baby was pretty basic: that it’s easy to remember, it’s easy to spell, and a nice sound to the name.

‘Easy to Remember’

I have friends with lovable and unique names: Poopie, Chatline, Jim Beam, Pepper, Gaga, (a man), just to name a few.Even I am not spared. My senior high classmates still call me ‘Snoopy’ ten years later for some inside story I can no longer remember. I hated that nickname.

Where else in the world could we find a cardinal named ‘Sin’, a politician named ‘Joker’, and a matinee idol named ‘Dingdong’? It’s more fun in the Philippines!

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Names can range from mildly funny to wildly unflattering. We once had an employee named ‘Windshield’. I met a girl in an outreach named ‘Virgin’. And then there was the infamous man who passed the 2014 bar exam named ‘Habeas Corpuz’. An ex-seminarian I know was quirkily named ‘Van Go’, but upon further prodding I was disappointed to know that he doesn’t paint.

I want my son to stand out, but not too much to become the target to future school bullies.

‘Easy to Spell’

I have a fairly common name, ‘Rachel’, which I use in my email and social media accounts. Still, my name still gets butchered on a daily basis. I now know that my name can be spelled in at least seven different ways: Rachell, Rachelle, Reychel, Raychelle, Richelle, Ritcil, Rashel, among other variations.

Filipinos like names that are Western-sounding but also hate giving their kids a ‘common’ name. To remedy this, some parents choose to make ‘alternative spellings and names morph like mutant X-men: ‘Jessica’ would become ‘Jyssikah’, ‘Caitlyn’ becomes ‘Kaetlynn’, or ‘Adrian’ becomes ‘Aedryanne’.

While I laud the creativity, I feel bad for the kid for problems they’ll encounter in the future on the butchered name department. It will be annoying filling up those government forms, or ordering a venti cup from Starbucks. Teaching them their Alpha-Bravo-Charlies early will definitely come in handy.

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‘The Art of the Name…’

How do parents come up with their baby’s name–particularly, Filipino parents? Filipinos are known to have really quirky naming skills. No one seems to flinch about peculiar names in this country because we grew up to all the weirdness all our lives. You only realize how weird the names are when taken from a foreigner’s perspective (such as by Matthew Sutherland).

During the Spanish times, it was customary to name children based on the feasts of saints celebrated during that day. That is why it’s not uncommon for our grandparents to have names such as Natividad, Asuncion, Concepcion, Lourdes, and even Circumcision (there is a thing known as The Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord back in the day!)

My son Caleb was born on Christmas day, to which people in the Philippines would often respond ‘You should have named him ‘Emmanuel’. Ironically, both my brother and father are named ‘Noel’, but neither were even born during Christmas season.

Other odd naming practices in the country: If you come from a Filipino family, we all have an uncle or male relative named ‘Boy’–and a tita named ‘Girlie‘, ‘Baby‘ or ‘Babes‘. The Filipino-Chinese have the preference of putting the suffix ‘-son’ in their names. Names such as ‘Benson’, ‘Harrison’ or ‘Johnson’ are popular among the Filipino-Chinese community. My personal favorite is the ‘themed families’; who name their children after fruits, seasons, virtues, superheroes, desserts or Beatles band members. So if you know a guy named ‘Newton’, he probably also has a sister named ‘Marie Curie’. I am saying this with a straight face.

‘…And Nicknames’

Nicknames are an integral part of the Filipino culture. Have you ever had a friend who everyone refers to by their nickname that no one really knows what their real name really was? I have a good friend named ‘Poopie‘ whom I met back in college– but seriously didn’t know her real name for years until she added me on Facebook. (I remember proclaiming ‘Who the hell is Michelle?’ when I got her friend request.

Filipinos like to make nicknames out of everything. Repeating syllables is a form of endearment, so common Filipino nicknames include ‘Len-len’, ‘Bam-bam’, ‘Dan-dan’, ‘Mik-mik’, the list goes on. Our current president is better known to the public as ‘Noynoy’. And even if you have a short name like ‘Seth’, your friends will call you by a longer nickname, ‘Set-Set’.

And then we also see the trend of ‘combining’ names to make up new names. Jomari is the offspring of Jose and Maria, and Gracniel’s parents were probably named ‘Grace’ and ‘Daniel’. My former school principal was called Luzviminda after Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. How else did current Vice President Jejomar Binay get his name but by combining Jesus, Joseph and Mary together?

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President Noynoy and VP Jejomar

A two-syllable name that’s short, concise and unnickname-able–that’s what I wanted for my baby. Unfortunately some of his cheeky ninongs have started calling him ‘Leb-leb’ and even ‘Taleb‘.

He’ll probably acquire a few more nicknames from family and friends as he grows older.


(P.S., I don’t hate unique names. I love them! Like what Sutherland said, imagine if we live in a world full of John Smiths, life would be so boring, won’t it?) 😄

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The Filipino’s penchant for personal hygiene

Every time I travel, I always get into the trouble of overpacking toiletries. No matter how I try to limit my personal hygiene products, I end up convincing myself that I needed this sunblock, this eau de toilette, or this hair serum. Because of this, traveling with just a carry-on can be difficult. While I can fit my toiletries by repacking it in a dozen of 100ml bottles, some countries like the UK require you to fit all your hand-carry liquids and gels in a provided (tiny) Ziploc bag.

You have to fit everything in this Ziploc bag. FML.
You have to fit everything in this Ziploc bag. FML.

It’s not just because I’m female. Yes, women do need a lot of toiletries—but being Filipino, the stash of products increases at least twofold. We love to take care of our personal hygiene—men and women alike.

Filipinos are known to love bathing. We do it as frequently as possible, once or twice a day, and some as much as thrice daily during the summer! We have more shampoo and soap products and commercials than any other culture (that I know).

Even centuries ago, Filipinos already love bathing… which we can also attribute to our tropical climate and abundant source of water. But we also love being clean and smelling good. We can smell body odor from a mile away. We’re such a stickler for good personal hygiene.

When the Spanish colonizers came to the Philippines in 1521, the foreigners were aghast at how often we bathed, as they believed bathing provides an open opportunity to take off clothes, and in turn can lead to immorality, promiscuous sex, disease, and sin.

Bathing Girls by Fernando Amorsolo
Bathing Girls by Fernando Amorsolo

Because of this belief, the Spanish (and Europeans in general) rarely bathed during the Middle Ages up until the late 1800s. Hygiene is only restricted to washing hands and parts of the face. Even that, washing the face was done as infrequently as possible for they believed it could lead to blindness. They try to hide their stench with heavy perfumes, scented rags, or carrying fragrant herbs in their pockets.

The European royalty were probably worse off than common peasants. A Russian ambassador who visited to France described that King Louis XIV ‘stunk like a wild animal’. The Sun King is said to find the act of bathing ‘disturbing’, and has only bathed twice in his lifetime. Another royalty, Queen Isabela of Spain boasted that she had bathed only twice in her life: first, when she was born; and second, when she got married. Russia wasn’t so finicky when it came to bathing and did it far regularly–relatively speaking, once a month. Because of this, Europeans thought Russians were perverts. (Source: Today I Found Out)

Historical records show that our ancestors thought the European colonizers stank. And we weren’t the only ones who thought so, too.

The Spanish explorers under Hernan Cortes first arrived in Mexico in 1519 under the Aztec Empire. It felt for Aztecs that they encountered an alien race for the first time: the Spanish looked like fellow humans, but looked different. They had white skin, lots of facial hair, hair like the color of the sun, and they also stank horribly.

In fact, Aztec natives assigned local incense burners to follow the foreigners around wherever they went. The Spaniards thought this was a mark of divine honor, but now we know from native sources that they just really found the foreigners’ smell unbearable. (Source: Sapiens, Harari)

At the least, the colonizers tried to change our local customs and beliefs as much as they could– but they never took away our love for good personal hygiene.

Can’t get enough of Cebu Pacific puns!

This post was written on 2015.

Being a budget traveler, I’m an avid Cebu Pacific flyer. CebPac website is among the first sites I check when I open up a browser, so I can see their latest promos even without any future plans of travel. Sometimes, I just check their site for a daily dose of laughter–I can’t get enough of their puns.

Puns and jingles are the ‘scum’ of advertising in the West–but they work so well here in the Philippines.  I have collected some of my favorite Cebu Pacific puns I’d like to share with you. This list will be constantly updated and if you would like to share your favorite CebPac pun, you’re free to join in the fun.

Here are some of CebPac’s best and pun-tastic ads (excuse me, I just had to do that)

1. Movie and Pop Culture References

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2. Music and Song References

How many music and song references can you guess?

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3. Common Phrases

How about Cebu Pacific Puns based on common phrases or sayings?

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5. Puns during the Holidays

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What’s your favorite Cebu Pacific puns? Did I miss anything? Let us know and share!

Old-school gangsta pirates in the Philippine islands

It is amazing how the Spanish walls, made from stone or quicklime with egg whites as mortar still survive centuries after, despite constant visiting typhoons and earthquakes. Our Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) wasn’t as lucky.

Old Spanish forts like Fort San Pedro and this one in Kota Park, Madridejos, Bantayan (pictured) might look like ruins to most people, but they served an important purpose centuries ago.

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The old Spanish forts and churches were built so sturdily to protect the natives from kidnapping. Muslim raiders / pirates used to come at night and steal girls and boys to be sold off to slavery. Slavery was the biggest and most profitable industry during its hay days. If it weren’t for these forts our folks might have ended up in Slaver’s Bay and be one of Khaleesi’s Unsullied.
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Speaking of pirates, the more famous pirates are those in the Caribbean Sea, such as the Blackbeard, Capt. Henry Morgan and Jack Sparrow, and that drink that destroyed my friends last Valentines.

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My knowledge of pirates is still a bit limited, but I have read somewhere that pirates then rarely get gold and other valuable treasures in their expeditions. Pirate booty mostly comprised of items from trade ships: barrels of cotton, sugar, animal hides, rice and spices. Imagine that, Blackbeard the King of Sugar Smuggling. Not so gangsta after all.

Although pirates are now romanticized by movies and media, pirates are still just low life robbers stealing off from honest traders and merchants at sea.

(This is a reblog from my old blog in Tumblr blog back in 2012)