Naming and shaming, the Indonesian way

I was assigned by a magazine for to write about family planning in Europe. I was sent to the Oxford Family Planning Association to meet the director, only to find that his name was, ahem, Tim Lusty! Naturally I told him how appropriate – or ironic? – his name was. He just grinned. ‘People always comment about it’, he said. No. Really?
Eric Chen is another name that would cause embarrassment if its owner worked for the Family Planning Association (just read it out loud quickly, if you don’t see what I mean).
And what about DR. Happy Bone Zulkarnain, an MP from Golkar? He’s clearly in the wrong job (or maybe not…?)
And then there’s my Japanese journalist friend from many years ago, who appears in his card simply as “S. Awanohara” because when he gave his full name, ‘Susumu’, Indonesians would start giggling. Why? Because in Indonesian it means “your boobs”!
Malaysians, always happy to get tough to make sure everything stays polite and boring, have cracked down on all this sort of indecency.
I read that their National Registration Department will no longer allow names with silly double meanings in the country’s main ethnic languages — Malay, Chinese, and Indian.
Thus Malay names — such as Zani (male adulterer), Zaniah (female adulteress) or Woti (sexual intercourse) — are banned, as are Chinese names including Ah Kow (dog), Ah Gong (loony), Chow Tow (stinky head) and Sum Seng (gangster).
Ah well, Malaysia’s loss I suppose! Back here across the straits in Indonesia, no such strictures exist. Our government does not impose niceness restrictions like Malaysia and that means the well-established social rule for Indonesian names continues to apply: there are no rules.
Indonesia thus remains a global paradise for weird and wacky names (or hell, if you’re the bearer of one of these names), and the sheer crazed lunacy of some Indonesian names continues to amaze even the most hardened observer.
Let me offer you just a small selection …
Some of you may have read about the now famous Batman Suparman, a 19-year old Singaporean of Javanese descent, who had problems with the Department of Homeland Security in the US when he tried to enter, as they thought his name was a joke. Can’t imagine why.
I’ve also come across a Hitler in Kalimantan, and my husband Tim knew a Goering from Medan.
I’m not sure if his that was his first or last name, or whether his first name was Hermann, or if he had met another Hitler Tim also met (that would be a worry), but their names would probably be criminal offences if they had been born in Germany, another country with lots of rules about names.
Wiwik and Toto are other (common) Indonesian names that create problems in the West. Toto is usually a boy’s name but it also happens to be the brand name of a well-known sanitary ware company and, of course, the little yappy dog beloved of Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
As for Wiwik, it can be used for both boys and girls, but in either case it is pronounced “wee-wee”, which always causes great hilarity for Anglo-Saxons, for whom it means taking a pee.
And there’s the class-mate of a researcher I know, named Eva. I‘ve always thought Eva a nice name, except that in her case it’s short for ‘Evaluasi’ (evaluation). A testing name by any standard! Her parents must have been avid project managers, I suppose.
It’s not hard to find utterly bizarre names anywhere in Indonesia. In fact, the recent flood of posters
promoting candidates for election that now plaster every available meter of public space across the country, has proved to be a real motherlode. Take for example Flavius O Caesa of the Justice and Unity Party (PKP).
Caesar is, of course, an imperial title, derived from Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), and Flavius Augustus Honoris (384-423) was an exceptionally weak emperor whose most notable achievement was the assault and sack of Rome.
So the exact source of the inspiration for the parents of the Indonesian Flavius O Caesa remains mysterious, as does that enigmatic ‘O’ (unless, of course, he’s part Irish as well!).
But the best example of Indonesian parents naming their kids after their heroes or figures they admire must be a legislative candidate from the Christian Peaceful and Prosperous Party (PDS): Tom Jones Tarrigan. His mother probably had the hots for the Welsh singer, Tom Jones, famous for being sexy-as-hell (even now, aged 69).
If so, I hope she hasn’t been disappointed — while not bad looking, her son comes nowhere close to his namesake’s raw magnetism. Seems this is yet another case where one can’t help wonder what the parents were thinking when they decide to burden their child with a name against which he or she will be measured for the rest of their lives.
And that is a question that should especially be put to the parents of a friend of one of my nephews. Dad was a gyneacologist, so when his lovely daughter arrives, what name does he pick?
Brace yourselves folks, yes, it’s…. Vagina Modesiana. Talk about not bringing your work home! Let’s just hope her friends call her Gina or, better still, Desi.
Well, the very least we can do is match-make her with her logical counterpart, a participant in a training course on intellectual property law that my husband was involved with in Kalimantan. His name is (I swear this is true!) Hansem Pinis. Thank God his parents were bad at spelling.
Or perhaps they could try a threesome, with Ms Modesiana and Mr Pinis getting together with another legislative candidate, also from PDS. His name is (I kid you not) Rimhot Turnip. Turnip is, of course, a root vegetable. As to what Rimhot might mean, I suggest you just google the first syllable and see what the bottom line is.
I’ve had so much fun researching this column that I may well write another one. But I need your help, dear readers. Please email me more bizarre Indonesian names, with evidence (a photo or document to prove the name is real). I will send a free copy of my book “Sex, Power and Nation” to the one I like the most.
So, start naming and shaming, folks!
The Jakarta Post

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