Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gold by any other name

My namesake "aquarium" fish: koi

My name is Goldfish. Around the time I was born, my father who kept aquarium fish in tubs in the backyard had a spawn of goldfish. And he gave me my Chinese name, Gummoi, which may be simply translated gold, or golden fruit. My mother gave me my English name after a nun, Sister Patrick, who was kind to her as an Anglican child in a Roman Catholic school; but it was my middle name that the family used, a name that means "father's joy," and for the first year of life I was "spoiled."

By the end of that year, my sister came along; she too had a home name that was her middle name; a name that is synonymous with "beauty" and it is no wonder that she pursued a career in the arts, fabric and fashion designer and now a glass bead jeweler. By the time the second sister was born on Carnival Saturday three years later, she got the female version of my father's name and Joyce, for the celebration of her birth. Her home name was not even among her registered names and eventually had to be added by affidavit. Both brothers received good solid names English names from my mother, Charles and James - my father did give his eldest son his own name - and both have good solid steadfast lives.

Because I was born on Sunday, I was, according to the rhyme, "... bonnie and bright and happy and gay!" I had a duty to live up to my name day, and I felt bright and lucky even as a child - and I believe I've been that way ever since.

I grew up in a family with uncles and aunts called by their Chinese names, Chan, Sim, Whoonie, Didd, Seemoy, Leemoy, Powkee. They were not strange sounding to me. Now I have an Indian surname - for the elephant-headed Hindu god who is the invocation of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune; and there's always puzzlement when strangers meet me for the first time. People I went to school with and and those I grew up close to still call me by my maiden name. Not because they don't remember the married name, but perhaps the sing song Chinese fits what I look like.

Naming in our family tradition, I felt (still feel) is a focusing of potential. My son received epic names: Orion the Hunter among the stars and Alexander the greatest coloniser of the ancient world. My father conferred on him the Chinese "precious dragon." How could he possibly live up to these? I think he does. Later, when the daughter asked what her name means, I would say "princess of flowers." Came the day that she accosted me, "You lied, my name really means mother of Hanuman." Well, it is still an auspicious name, beloved of Shiva. If you had been born in July - as you were supposed to - you might have been called Anjuli, but you came in June! Your middle name is for my mother's mother who died the year before I was born, and is a variation of your aunt's name for "beauty." Your Chinese name also means golden.

Some of us try to escape our names when we are small. I wanted to be called Edith at one point. I liked the gravity of it. And later on, Renee, because it seemed to offer transformation, rebirth.

But in the end, I believe we live up to how we are called. At "inception," one of the first ideas planted is your name. How you are called gives the first idea of who you are and what you become. Like my grandfather who loved to hear his name: Ham goo mah (how do you call me?); obliging us to respond, Akung! (grandfather)

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