updated 7 Jan 2014, 03:13
Login password
Sun, Jan 05, 2014
The Star/Asia News Network
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Marked by strange but true names

Baby names are getting more colourful these days as Hollywood celebrities try to outdo each other by giving their children outrageous names. In Malaysia, names mean something and can change one's destiny, even if they aren't always flattering.

Prior to GE13, the Election Commission (EC) came under heavy fire for allowing names of animals, vegetables and famous people in its roll of 12.8 million voters.

But according to EC chief Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, Timun (cucumber), Kangkung (water convolvulus), Harimau (tiger), Kuda (horse), Atas Jalan (on the road), Tepi Jalan (roadside), Machine Gun, Boeing, Elvis Presley, Reagan and A. Ramlie bin Jefridin (Ramlie and Jefridin are both top Malay pop singers in the 1960s) are real people and "very much Malaysian".

Defending the commission against allegations that it had made up names for non-existent voters in the electoral roll, Abdul Aziz referred to National Registration Department (NRD) records to prove that they are real voters with unusual names mainly from the interior areas of Sabah and Sarawak.

Among the more peculiar names reported in our midst are Ubat anak Nyamuk (insecticide), Betik bin Kobis, Hairan binti Duakali, Samalia Cuba (countries Somalia and Cuba), Mogumbirak, Tigabelas (thirteen), Ponyrace, Rothmans and Benson (cigarette brands) and Jamban (a colleague actually met a man whose name was inspired by the loo).

Though funny, such names would seldom turn heads in East Malaysia, former Penampang MP Philip Lasimbang, of Kadazan descent, points out.

In his constituency comprising mainly Kadazans, baby names reflect character or physical attributes in the native language, Kadazandusun.

"Most older Kadazan parents don't speak English and Malay so their kids had names like Bugiad (always crying) and Gamato (big eyes).

"There was a person who ended up with 'No Name' as his name because his parents did not know how to fill in the birth certificate document.

"It's also a norm for the Kadazan community to give their children nicknames which sometimes end up on the birth certificate.

"These days, the Kadazan community here are predominantly Christians so most have English names which are suggested by priests," he shares.

He says younger parents are now trying to preserve the native language by giving their children Kadazandusun names.

"The names may sound peculiar to other communities but means something good in our language.

"Malaysia should celebrate her diverse communities and names are a way of doing that," he notes.

Kadazandusun lecturer Evelyn Annol, 39, loves her nickname Botut eventhough most of us would cringe at being called 'chubby'.

Before the 1960s when Christianity was widespread in her community, Kadazan folks would spend days trying to identify the physical and character traits of the baby before making the all-important decision to name them.

Although her sisters all have conventional English names, they still go by their nickames Gutuk (scabs) and Biak (frog).

Gutuk got her nickname because she had skin problems as a child and Biak was always jumping around the house.

"These are terms of endearment common to the Kadazan community. People may ask out of curiosity but no one makes fun or bullies us because of our names.

She insists names like Kambing (goat), Kerbau (buffalo), Sapi (ox), Bonging (bee) and even Toto (female private parts), refer to real people.

"My eldest son's name is Linibid. I named him after a local folklore character.

"In the story, Linibid was a stubborn boy who refused to clean up after himself.

"He soon learned the error of his ways and by the end of the story, was a smart and healthy lad.

"The name may sound peculiar to those unfamiliar to Kadazan culture but my son is proud and loves that it's unique," the mother-of-four shares.

For the superstitious Chinese, third generation Taoist priest Gan Huat Beng advises parents to consult fortune tellers or Bazi experts before naming their child.

Consider the date and time of birth and whether elements like wood, metal, fire and water are in perfect balance with the chosen name.

"If the name is unsuitable, these factors can result in your child falling sick often, acting disobedient, crying non-stop and even becoming susceptible to supernatural disturbances and ghostly encounters because his luck and energy are low," he explains.

Also, avoid names that are "too heavy" for the child to bear, he warns.

Names like Chor Kong (ancestor) or Thee Kong (Jade Emperor) impose too great an expectation on the child, resulting in misfortune.

"Those who are experiencing the negative effects of having an unsuitable name can still remedy it.

"Just change the Chinese character of your name so that the meaning and sound is something good.

"Don't worry about what's on your identity card - just make sure that others address you by your new auspicious name," he suggests.

Animals and flowers have inspired the Chinese for ages, Penang Hokkien Association chairman Loh Nam Hooi notes.

"Ah Niu (like Malaysian singer-songwriter), or Ah Gu (in Hokkien) which means cow, is common.

"The older generation, especially those who are illiterate, are also influenced by fortune tellers when naming their children," he says.

Hence, there are older Chinese who were given names or nicknames such as Ah Too (pig), Ah Kow (dog) or Ah Meow (cat) to ward off bad luck or to stay healthy. Fortunately for the millenial generation, such names are no longer "fashionable".

One mother who named her son Boon Khiang says she changed it to Om on the advice of a medium.

"He cried so much as a baby. Nothing could pacify him. In desperation I consulted a medium who told me that Khiang, a crashing sound, attracted evil spirits.

"So since he was three months old, we've been calling him Om," she shares. (Om is a mantra and mystical Sanskrit sound of Hindu origin).

Fengshui instructor Sherwin Ng says names affect a person's destiny but how crucial it is to get "the right name" depends on the individual's behaviour and mindset.

The best name with an unproductive attitude will go nowhere, he says. "Every word or syllable is a sound that has a vibration. A combination of vibrations interacts differently with the world, which is also made-up of its own vibrational patterns.

"The name we identify affects how we interact with our environment, shaping our lives and destiny. But ultimately, your attitude is more important than your name," Ng opines.

The MuslimNames website in its article 'Instructions on naming your new born', wrote that Islam provides parents with clear guidelines for naming a child.

A child's name must be "meaningful, lovely and good" because on the Day of Resurrection, a person will be called by his name and the names of his parents, the article explains, warning that ill omen or bad character names are a no-no.

Malaysian Hindu Sangam president Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan also stresses the importance of a good name.

Hindus look to astrology and numerology for guidance in the hope of averting misfortune and bringing good luck to their offspring.

Great achievers have great names, he says matter-of-fact.

"The name must have a good meaning," he says, cautioning that ugly words or funny names must be avoided at all cost because a name can determine a child's path in life.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.