Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” In a western world, a common part of introductions is to state your name and ask the other person for their name. Here in PNG it is no different. But then it is…Let me explain.
In our area, a newborn is given a man or meri (male or female) name (first name) and then are given their papa’s first name as their family or second (last) name. For example, my mom was named Linda when she was born. Her father’s name is Ben. So her name here would have been Linda Ben. But then she married. In this area, when a woman marries she takes her husband’s first name as her second (last) name. So my mom’s name would have been changed from Linda Ben to Linda Ralph. However, in addition to the second name changing, the husband’s family also gives the new bride a new first name to signify her leaving her childhood behind. When she was a little girl, she had a girl name. When she marries, she is given a woman’s name. So in this area, when a woman marries she gets a whole new name. Sometimes, she is even named after another female relative. In their tok ples (language) they call a namesake Apa or Apo.
Despite this change to a woman’s name when she marries, her own parents and siblings and her whole side of the family still call her by her little girl name. It is only by her husband’s side that she is called by her new woman’s name.
Other name changes come up whenever someone gives a name they prefer to be called when they apply for a job, move to a new area, or otherwise wish to change their name. One language helper said that often young people change their name (usually their first name) when they reach adulthood and independence simply because they like the new name better. Some have a ples name for when they are in their village and a taun (town) name for when they are in town. As if that’s not confusing enough, some have a pilai or giaman (play or pretend) name, a nickname. One such young man I recently met is called Ten Toea (10 cents). The joke is that once he marries he will then be Twenti Toea (20 cents)! Haha!
In some areas of this country, it is taboo to speak the name of someone that has died. In our area there are no restrictions to naming a child. You can call them whatever you want. But in some areas it is taboo to name them after certain trees, flowers, places, etc. It is believed that you will make the spirits angry or that you will bring curses to your lain (family) if you speak or use these names.
Confused yet? So now introduce yourself and ask them their name! Once you’ve learned their name, talk to someone else about this person and ask what this new person calls them. Is it the same name?
For example, a friend and I were talking to a man who married one of four sisters. We were trying to determine whether there were four sisters or five. We knew and could name four sisters but this man kept using a fifth name while still telling us that there were only four sisters. We finally determined that because this sister, though we knew her by her married name, had come back to live with her sisters, her sisters called her by her original first name (the one her parents gave her)! Four sisters after all!!! And this particular sister I’ve known by only one name over the past 5 years, never having heard her original name before!
So what’s in a name, Shakespeare? Apparently a lot!