During my years growing up, I have had friends with surprising names. Their parents probably named them without realising that the combination of a Christian name with a Chinese surname can sound like an English word. Like my friend Diana. Lo and behold, her surname was the common Chinese surname “Soh.” She was Diana Soh.
We called her “Dinosaur” all through school. She was very proud being related to beasts of the past.
A Chinese combination is Ngor (surname) Ti Juan (Chinese name), so he became Naughty Juan. He did live up to his name and gave the teachers and the girls “hell” in school! But on the last day of school just before the Primary School Achievement Test (UPSR at 12 years-old) results were released, he actually knelt down and apologised to the teachers and girls. Another Chinese name is Pua Lay See. Sometimes the parents do not realise that the two names amount to an English word.
Some parents give names for their children to live up to. I met Atomic L in Uni. He was my senior doing his PhD in Science. After getting to know him well, I asked the question that was on my lips since the day we met, “Is your father a scientist?” “No, but he wanted my brothers and I to be scientists,” said he. “Your brothers’ names?” asked I. “Nuclear and Hydrogen!” He was not kidding as I did meet Nuclear.
When I became a teacher, I shouted out “Khor Chicken” on a roll call.
Ayam Serama - Bantam chicken breed.
A huge roar of laughter followed and poor Khor Chee Ken stood up bashfully. With 50 names to call out, I was excused for my mistake. Chee Ken completed his Science degree and became a singer! Another time when I did not wear my glasses I called out, “Ahmad Superman,” instead of “Supraman,” a common Malay surname. Ahmad did not perform like Superman,
but he was called Superman throughout his undergraduate studies, thanks to a very long-sighted teacher.
Some parents give names to their kids cos they think it is cute but it can be hard on the child. There is a “Tinkerbell Leee” and "Little Flower" in Malaysia. Others named them on the months so I have acquaintances named April, Mei, my niece June and a guy friend Julai. Princess Beatrice has named her son August. January Low is a beautiful Malaysian Chinese who is an accomplished Indian classical dancer. I saved the best for last. When I worked at the Institute for Medical Research, many of the staff were of Malay ethnic origin. As a term of endearment, the Malays often add the prefix “Si-” before the first name: Si-Putih (white) for a cat, Si-Belang (a cat with strips), Si-Comel (a cute child). Our research assistant was called Phyllis Lam.
The dogs got one slice each, the humans will share the rest!