|What's in a name? He whom we |
call Puke in any other language
would still smell as sweet.
Naming in Tonga is a unique and important topic. Often, people can trace their entire family line through their last name, and know that certain families are renown for high status, for producing many church pastors, for being very kind and reliable, for having the familial honour of serving the King's kava, or having baked the late Queen's bread. All the noble names are another matter altogether; immediately recognizable, and irrefutably noble.
When a baby is born, the father's oldest sister gets to choose the first name, and often, people choose old family names to carry on a memory. The most common names are the Tonganized British-sounding names:
John Tonganized to: Sione
There are the Marys and the Janes, and plenty of Maryjanes (Meleseini, which doesn't carry the same connotation as it does in English), but that girl I knew in highschool named Summer would not be out of place among the many creative names that are popular here. It is very common for both men and women to be named 'Ofa, (Love, in Tongan), and other names get even more creative.
One of my favourite names, first and last name, translated into English, was First one Late from the House. It isn't uncommon to see names, that translated into English, lose all of their meaning and become quite different. We know people named: Hurricane, Tower, Big Ship, Rocket, First, Eight, Mother, Journey, and Israel. Eventually, the names become in our minds what they are intended to be: simply a poetic name for a person.
Sometimes, we get incredibly confused when a person is called by the English version of their name, when all along, we've been using the Tongan one. A friend and colleague at work is called Sina- her full name is Siosina, or in English, Georgina. The other day, a mutual acquaintance told me "So I saw Georgina the other day and we talked about the great lunch we'd had." "Who?" I asked. "You know, Georgina. You work with her." It took me embarrassingly long to realize that she was talking about the friend that I see and work next to every single day of the week. "Ohhhh, you saw Sina!" I finally exclaimed.
But with the surplus of unique names, some are still very unfamiliar. When I introduce myself verbally as "Elena" (Pronounced Eh-LEH-nah), I get a host of interpretations back. "Alina," "Elina," "ElenAH," "Elenoa," (the Tonganized Eleanor), and "Helena". I don't mind, but always chuckle a little when someone introduces Mark and I, and, being much more familiar with Mark's common name, they refer to us in a thank-you speech or a prayer as "Ma'ake mo .. hono hoa," or "Mark and his partner," a very respectful and careful way to refer to us!
My name, which is virtually the same pronunciation in Spanish, Russian, Greek, and English, is at least not quite as strange to Tonga as some. My absolute favourite English name has been that of a recent candidate for Parliament. He is named Seventeen (not in Tongan, straight up Seventeen in English), but everyone, not just me, thought that was a bit too out of the ordinary.