Four hundred twenty-one years ago, Shakespeare’s Romeo pondered the meaning of a name and today I find myself joining him. As a child, I resented my possession of a unique name and the questioning and teasing that came with it. But as a young adult, my name became a small source of pride. For one thing, it is an easy conversation starter. For another, it hints to my roots, to my culture. Eventually, I settled with the idea that my name suits me: it’s a little bit irregular and so am I.
But what’s in a name? Is a name an identity? Would I be Stav if I was not “Stav”? If I had grown up a Jessica, or a Michelle, or even a Xena, would my life have been different? Would I be different?
These thoughts came to mind during my new language class. In much of the Philippines giving nicknames is common. In the Visayas, where I am headed, long names get shortened and short names get lengthened. Joe becomes ‘Jo-Jo’, Jessica becomes ‘Jess’ or ‘Ica’, Christopher becomes ‘Kris’ or even just ‘Tophe’! My language teacher told me that I would likely get called Stav-Stav, but as the ‘v’ doesn’t exist in Filipino languages, it would become Stab-Stab. This was unexpectedly concerning: do I want to spend the next two years of my life listening to stabbing jokes every time my name was called? Or would Stab-Stab drive me to stab something? Joke lang (just kidding)!
I offered the English version of my name instead (Autumn) and was told that it would likely be shortened to “Tum” and then doubled: Tum-Tum. But as there is no “uh” sound in Visayana, it would sound more like “Tom” and there’s a chance I could end up as Tom-Tom instead. I fretted for a day or two over which would be the lesser of two evils and then I realized: poor, ill-fated Romeo was right. Whether I’m called Stab-Stab, or Tom-Tom, or Autumn, or Stav, or something completely out of the box for the next two years… I am still me.
I anticipate that this experience-27 months in a foreign country!-will change me in many ways and that excites me. A change in my name is only part of that; the core of me is still me. So I guess I am ready to embrace whatever name change is thrown my way. After all, it’s just a word, just a name, and what’s in a name?