12-7 naming, take 2

On naming, take 2

Names here are odd. Let me use my name as an example: I get my name “Gaea” and then a kastom name “Matanhelala” and then my family name “Dill-D’Ascoli” or “Dadu” here. I could be called Gaea, Matan, Lala, Matanhelala, Gaea Matan, Lala Dadu or Gaea Dadu. They use all of these names interchangeably and have no particular order in which they go on forms or anything else. Imagine how much fun Jason will have trying to take attendance on the first day of class.

Everyone has a bunch of names but very few people actually know any of them. For instance, I was playing with a baby on Sunday who was named after a previous volunteer. When I asked her name, I was given a sheepish grin and the answer, I don’t know, by her auntie. Now, this baby is 4 months old. She has a kastom name, a English/French name and a family name. She will be called by both her kastom and English/French names yet, her auntie didn’t actually know her name. I’ve run into this repeatedly. When I asked Jason’s neighbor what his housegirl’s name was he looked at me blankly for about two minutes before remembering it. He lives with this woman.

Now, take this lack of knowing names in context with the society here. The smallest unit of humanity is the family. Often when describing someone who’s name you don’t remember it sounds something like this:
Woman 1: You know, the husband of Mary’s sister.
Woman 2: Oh, you mean the oldest son of Charlotte?
Woman 1: Yeah, he’s married to Mary’s sister and lives close to Terekea.
Woman 2: Ok, I know him.
Or:
Man 1: You know, Pierre’s wife.
Man 2: oh, you mean daughter of Jean-Wyat?
Man 1: No, I mean second real daughter of Marcos.
Man 2: She teaches at the Kindy?
Man 1: yeah, her.

These exchanges happen regularly. And I’m not making up the gender aspect of that either. The men don’t know women’s names and the women don’t know men’s names. They move within their own little microcosms of society where the use of a name is only for yelling at a kid or writing on forms. Otherwise you call out to someone by their relation to you. I guess, when everyone is family, it doesn’t really matter what the names are since you are only ever going to call them by their relationship.

It still strikes me as strange to be introduced to people as “That’s you sister.” Not, “That’s your sister, May.” I guess I’ll get used to it and stop trying to learn names.

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