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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What is in a name?

“What is in a name?” Shakespeare said. However, I oftentimes think that it is very interesting to know the history why someone is named X or Y. when having a new class with new students, I often ask my students the history of their names; especially if some of them have unique names to me. I often feel curious when they say that they don’t know anything about the history of their names coz their parents never tell them whether there is really a special event preceding the birth of the babies.
I always love to tell my students, and also people who are curious to know the history of my name.

I am the first daughter of my parents after they had two sons before me (unfortunately the first son died when he was around five months old coz of a very serious disease). My mom told me that my dad was very excited to have the first baby daughter so that he called me “Nona”. Nona means a girl, not married yet. After my parents decided to give me a full name “Nurhayati”, they still called me “Nona” as the nickname. “Nurhayati” is an Arabic word that means the light of life. When I was in elementary school and learned Arabic, I loved to make “ti” long that shows possessive adjective “my” so that my name “Nurhayati” means the light of MY life; although my mom told me that their giving me that name was caused by the fact that my coming to their life was like a light they were waiting for in their life. Well, kids oftentimes love to be self-centered. LOL.

However, then they changed my nick “Nona” into “Nana” with the reason, “Later this baby will grow up and will get married. After getting married, she is no longer appropriate to be called “Nona”. In fact, she will be called “Nyonya”.” FYI, “nyonya” is similar to Mrs in English; while “Nona” is similar to Miss.

Btw, both of my parents come from Gorontalo, North Sulawesi where people use family name behind their names. It is different from the tradition of Javanese people who don’t commonly have family name. However, in my birth certificate, my parents didn’t add the family name behind my name so that my full name in it is just “Nurhayati”. Consequently, all of my school certificates only contain “Nurhayati”, without the family name.

When I was in elementary school all of my friends, including the teachers, called me my nickname rather than the full name. In fact, it made me feel so secure with my nickname rather than with my full name. And without my awareness, I always feel uncomfortable when people recognize me as “Nurhayati”.

After I got married, people in my neighborhood started to call me as “Mrs. X”. It even made me feel more uncomfortable. It made me feel like I really had to leave my old self behind, me as a free individual with all of my characteristics and became someone new. Once I complained about it to my mom and she said, “Don’t complain about it. All women will undergo the same thing with you; you are not the only one. No one else complains to my knowing so you are not supposed to complain either.” With strong upbringing I got when I was a kid—that children are not allowed to contradict their parents—I kept quiet.

I was still lucky, I suppose, coz in my workplace people still call me using my own name, and not hubby’s name.

When getting to know feminism ideology, and knowing that many feminists don’t like the idea of putting their husbands’ name behind theirs, I was excited coz eventually I found my “community”—a group of women who don’t like the idea that wives must always be related to the husbands. It seems like women no longer exist after getting married; they are just “part” of their husbands.

I know many women around me love to be called as “Mrs. X” rather than their own names (to show that they are already “sold out”? LOL). However, I think women also have rights to choose how they will be called.

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