A definition of my name was blurted out as a bombshell from the mouth of my elementary school classmate.
Out of frustration, she accused me of war-mongering, shouting that my name indeed meant what I liked best, a “little war.” As I searched, not even Google has a definition for it, 40 years after my classmate defined it.
Somewhere in the course of finding a name for me, my mother must have pleaded with my father who insisted that I should carry his name. Perhaps as a compromise, she picked the first of my double name, as an option for me, a way out, in case I would be teased in school. Mothers are best in providing a way out for their kids at any stage in their development.
Five of my six siblings have safer single names—Meriam, Marlon, Maritess, Maricar, Raymund—and our second to the youngest, Mary Bernadette, has a more refined name, with holy undertones even, perhaps an indication that my parents have learned something from naming me, the second child, or perhaps another compromise since my mother’s name was Bernadette.
Growing up in the barrio that had much wider open fields five decades ago, there were social situations requiring names to be mentioned out loud—like when the teacher was checking for attendance, a barangay official acknowledging an event’s donors, or a wedding’s emcee honoring the sponsors.
I silently wished for them to ask, “How would you like us to call you, Sir?” before proceeding with the ritual.
There were occasions when I donated to charity or to a benevolent undertaking, and the solicitor would politely ask, “What name am I going to write here, Sir?” And I would answer, smiling, “Anonymous, Ma’am, please.”
Perhaps the act of naming a child also betrays a man’s secret ambition; an attempt at perpetuating his honor, a hope that once a junior is named, there is a probability for a III, IV, V, and so on. Like how kings and popes were named. Ambition erases boredom. It perpetuates a species.
I once had a college English teacher in UP who was one of my favorites. We never met a single instance since graduation, only to bump into each other at the Ayala Mall in Alabang after more than 20 years.
We were walking in opposite directions, and upon recognizing him, I almost shouted, “Sir Paeng!” He instinctively called me by my name, our topic now, and I responded, “Oh, thank you for remembering my name.”
We exchanged a few updates, arranged for a meetup with my family over ice cream in the same mall. He remembered me by my name that I’d rather forget. Wink.
Who could forget such a unique second name? Who could forget a Microsoft password which I have been making of it? Whenever my officemates called me by my second name, I reminded them that they were violating company rules that prohibited the sharing of passwords. That would merit suspension because a password is considered holy: holy, valuable, and an instrument in moving forward, moving ahead.
One refrains from saying it in vain and only invokes it at an inescapable moment of need in a silent, protective, almost prayerful gesture. A key one keeps and never forgets. A key that unlocks the information it keeps.
Sometimes, I think of making my second name my pen name, like Rio Alma, Huseng Sisiw, or Di Kilala, shortening 23 letters into seven. It would then be easy for me to sign my by-lines. If my writing goes international, a CNN anchor would be warping her tongue, struggling to mention it. Grin.
Perhaps some names are better in print traditions than in oral ones, like oracles, spoken folklores, or songs (OMG). Names like Mary (and her little lamb), Clementine (our darling), and even Tayo (the little bus) fill our shared, universal songs. I can’t imagine mine along this category.
Maybe my classmate was half-right after all: I was a bit warlike. But I like to think of myself as a warrior, not a war (regardless of size).
SPIRIT OF THE NAME
Time has convinced me to believe so. Having four kids, a broken ring, and my share of dreams that have not come true, I am still here, carrying on with my warrior spirit.
I have lived long enough to experience life’s way of giving me countless times the exact opposite of what I desperately planned to do.
Maybe it’s the spirit in my name that keeps me going after all. Perhaps even if none of my sons would be a “III,” it’s the spirit of the warrior that keeps us going. My parents are both aged 77 and are sharp, still raging against the dying of the light.
Maybe I am indeed a warrior, regardless of what the logs in the Civil Registry say. I have met little as well as big wars head-on, one by one, sometimes in bunches, and I have had my share of victories and failures. Maybe I am shaped, to a certain extent, by what people call me.
Maybe the spirit in my name inspires and enables me to take on whatever the world gives, be it success or failure, happiness or sadness, peace or war.