A NAME BY ANY OTHER NAME
When Oliver and I first opened Flic Spa, people would ask us what “Flic” meant. Always up for a joke, I told people it was short for “Filipinos that Lick”. Oliver used to get annoyed at that one, since he wanted the spa to be an oasis of beauty, elegance and peace.
“Beauty, elegance and peace,” I repeated. “Remind you of someone?”
“Ha ha. Not funny.”
If you are interested in why we chose the name “Flic”, please ask Oliver. Some mysteries in life are a blessing. Since I myself have an unusual name, I am also often asked what it means and how my parents came up with it. Sorry to disappoint, but my name’s etymology isn’t all that interesting.
“I liked the name Eric,” my mother told me. “Since your father is Leodigario, and I’m Luz, and we named your oldest brother Levin, we decided to give you an “L” name. too. So I came up with “Leric” but that looked unfinished. So I added an extra “r”, so you became “Lerric”. But that didn’t look finished, either. So I added a “K” so you became ‘Lerrick’.”
“At that point,” my father interrupted, “I told your Nanay that was enough letters.”
I wish she hadn’t stopped. I would have liked a name with 15 letters in it, like Llherhrrhicqhue. When I was a toddler my parents gave me a nickname – Leklek – but that didn’t really stick. To my younger siblings, I am not Lerrick, but instead “Diko” which means second oldest brother. In my hometown, older siblings are given honorific titles, a peculiar remnant of Chinese culture. For the rest of the country, all older brothers are addressed “Kuya”.
In the Philippines, uncommon names are pretty common. I knew a man who named his twin daughters Apple and Orange, long before Hollywood movie stars started the fruit name trend. I had two elementary school classmates, identical twin brothers named Leonardo I and Leonardo II. Some surnames in the Philippines are so common that there are literally thousands of Juan dela Cruzes, which explains the Filipino penchant for crafting unique first names in the first place -- to avoid creating even more Juan dela Cruzes.
Having an odd name is a pain at Starbucks. I wind up waiting longer than usual whenever a barista calls me repeatedly by the name they think I said: “Larry”. Trying to be clever, one day I told a barista that my name was Oliver.
“Oliver?” She was looking right at me. “Excuse me, but aren’t you Oliver?”
“What? Oh, yes. Right, that’s me. Oliver.”
“Didn’t you tell me your name was Oliver?”
“I’m not myself today.”
I learned recently that the name Lerrick is not really that unusual – in Scotland, for instance, it is a surname. A bunch of Lerricks from Indonesia sent me a barrage of Facebook Friend requests. The crazy thing was, these Indonesian Lerricks were both boys AND girls. I declined all requests in my futile attempt to stay unique, at least in Facebook.
A former officemate erroneously called me “Lyric” for over 17 years. The last time I saw her, she looked at me with a pained expression.
“Hey, Lyric, I just found out that your name isn’t Lyric.”
“Donna just told me it’s ‘Lerrick’. Is that true?”
“But Lyric, how come you never corrected me?”
Actually, I did correct her numerous times, but bad listeners are impossible to correct. I have also been called the following: Lerry; Lirry; Limerick; Larek; Lareque; Lemrick; Lemrock; Lawrence; Laurents; Little Rock. I like Little Rock for its Native American ring.
I once played the piano for a famous Filipino composer, George Canseco. During the concert, he introduced me this way: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is my pianist, Lerrick Santos. I write the music, and he is the Lerricks.” I thought that was a pretty good pun, as far as puns go, but it only got a few chuckles from the audience.
When my brother Levin was graduating from high school, our family attended the ceremony. After they had tossed their caps in the air, my brother led me by the arm to his classmate, a very thin, tall black guy.
“Lerrick,” my brother said, gesturing to his classmate. “Meet Leric.”
“Well, this is a first,” we both said at the same time.
Neither of us had ever experienced meeting face to face another human being with the same name, even though we were just each other’s homonyms. I know you can’t sympathize with this, John, Jim or Dan.
Some similarly named Lerricks aren’t even human. A former officemate told me she was watching a morning news show that featured an engineer suffering from a seizure disorder. He had trained his pet dog to call 911 on a giant telephone dial pad he invented. The man had lost consciousness and the dog sprang into action, dialing 911 with a swipe of a paw and barking eagerly into the phone speaker. The paramedics came just in time to save the engineer’s life. The grateful owner led his hero dog leash through a local parade.
“Guess what the dog’s name was?” she asked me.
“No, silly. His name was Leric! Isn’t that hilarious? Leric the dog!”
“I get that sometimes.”
Some people with common names want to become unique. We once had a therapist named Susan. She learned that we were going to hire a new therapist, also named Susan.
“You can’t have that,” she said to me.
“Two Susans. It’s too confusing.”
“I can’t hire her?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. If she has a second name, we should call her that. Anything else but Susan.”
“But that’s her name! A name is a person’s most important possession. What if she doesn’t have a second name or a nickname? What about we call her Susan Junior? Or how about you’re Old Susan and she’s New Susan?”
“I’m just saying. The last place I worked at had four Allisons, and it was crazy.”
“Okay, how about we call you Allison? Like your sister.”
Susan did not think this was funny. Thankfully, New Susan Junior decided not to work at Flic Spa, so the argument became moot. I wondered though, why she wanted to be the only Susan at Flic Spa. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be forced to use a nom de plume just to avoid confusion. Which reminds me of an old joke:
“Burke, Burke and Burke.”
“May I speak to Mr. Burke?”
“He’s out to lunch.”
“How about Mr. Burke?”
“In a meeting.”
“How about Mr. Burke?”
Many movie stars change their names into something more movie star-ish. Tom Cruise used to be Tommy Mapother. I know, because some of his Glen Ridge High classmates are my clients. Judy Garland used to be Frances Gum. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is now Lady Gaga, but I’m not sure, in the realm of name hierarchy, if Lady Gaga is an improvement. Then there’s Meatloaf, née Marvin Lee Aday. He legally changed his first name to Meat and his last name to Loaf. I understand why celebrities do it: they want to stick out, even if they stick too far out.
My sister-in-law Ruth loves jokes about Filipinos who change their names to become more “American” sounding. Casimiro Bukaykay changed his name to Cashmere Bouquet; Burgos Reyes to Burger King; Cleopatra Manikis to Kleptomaniac. A friend of mine told me that a friend of a friend (yeah, yeah, it’s all hearsay) changed his name from Jose Maria Juan to Joe Mary John.
If a Filipino has an ordinary name, he or she will probably acquire an oddball nickname. Francisco, Mercedes and Isabel have, respectively, the following nicknames: Kiko, Chedeng and Chabeng. Even Oliver has three nicknames: Bon, Libon and Bong. In fact, we even have a national moniker for ourselves: the nickname for Filipino is Pinoy.
My cousin Milagros has three nicknames, in chronological life order: Michiko (child), Baby (teenager) and Bheng (college).
“Uh, good afternoon. May I please speak to Bheng?”
“No one here by that name.”
“Uh, I’m looking for Milagros?”
“Oh! You mean Michiko. Baby! Phone!”
A mundane name can have disastrous repercussions in a foreign country. A famous Filipino fashion designer was showing his collection in Madrid. He was introduced over the loud speaker: Damas y caballeros, Señor Pitoy Moreno. The audience burst into laughter. Apparently, in Spain, Pitoy Moreno translates into Dark Penis. Poor Pitoy Moreno.
My father’s full name is Leodigario M. Santos. His real last name is Pardo, but that’s another, more complicated topic. His first name comes from some German saint. His middle name was Miranda. In the Philippines, a middle name is traditionally the mother’s maiden name.
“Actually, that’s not so,” he told me when I was a teenager.
“What do you mean?”
“Your grandmother’s maiden name is really Malasa.”
“Doesn’t that mean ‘Tasty’?”
“That’s why I changed it to Miranda.”
“I liked it better Tasty.”
As it turned out, he never changed his name legally. Shortly after he arrived in the States, he changed his nickname, Leody, to simply Leo. So, Leodigario Miranda / Malasa Santos became Leo M. Santos.
My father died suddenly February last year. He had not been well for years, trapped in a cycle of memory and muscle loss. As we put his things away, a copy of my parents’ marriage license slipped out of a folder. I looked at the yellowing page, the letters dissipating like sand in the wind. I looked at my parents’ signatures, written by younger hands, the script assured and energetic. It took a while for me to decipher my father’s full official name, typewritten by a county clerk: Leodigario Malaya Santos. Another middle name change, oddly prescient.
Malaya means “free”. And now, so is he.