Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My Wife's Name

My wife and I were at a conference in Langkawi, paid for by the Ministry of Education, of course. Actually, I was attending the conference, while my wife was enjoying the amenities. Being pregnant has it's privileges. The room was nice, the food was good, but she was really disappointed that he hotel didn't have a swimming pool. For some reason, since she's been pregnant, she wants to go swimming all the time.

Anyway, one of my colleagues asked me what my wife's name is. She said that no one can remember it because it is an unusual name. She said that they wait for me to say her name so they can remember what it is, but I call her "my wife" when I am not with her, and "baby" when I am with her. So no one can remember what her name is.

That made me worried. I was worried that by calling her "my wife" all the time, that I might be unintentionally insulting her or objectifying her. So I asked her about it.

"It's Ok, honey. When I am with other people, I always call you 'my husband'. I very rarely ever call you John."

"Then it's Ok if I call you my wife? It's not insulting to you?"

"No, not in anyway. That's what Filipinos do. You are just following our custom. We never refer to our husbands or wives by their names. When we talk about them, we usually refer to them as 'my husband', or 'my wife', and not by their real names"

"What about 'Inday'? Would it be proper for me to call you 'Inday'?"
(note: it is pronounced IN-dye)

"No, that is is an affection name that family members use to call a sister or a daughter. It is a sweet name that just family members use. A husband wouldn't call his wife Inday. You would call a woman you don't know that to be polite, but shorten it to Day. Like when we are at a restaurant, when you want the woman's attention, you say Day."

"What would a Filipino husband call his wife, then?"

"Ummmm- it depends. He might call her Mommy, and she call him Daddy. Or some name he made up for her."

"So what can I call you? You have so many different names, I don't know what to call you. Every person calls you something different. That's why I call you my wife all the time, or baby- I'm not sure what to call you."

"You can call me whatever you want."

Then she kissed my cheek and held my hand.

My wife's official name is Trien. ( pronounced TRY-en). That's the name the Philippine government considers her "real" name. It's not what her parents named her.

They named her Irien, which was their alternate spelling for Irene. What happened was whoever filled out her birth certificate at the hospital used an old fashioned manual typewriter, and wasn't too careful about how they typed out the form. The "I" didn't come all the way up, so the bottom bar got cut off, making it look like a 'T". Her parents obviously never bothered to check the birth certificate to see if the name was right. If they had, and went to city hall within two weeks, they could have gotten it corrected.

So to members of her extended family (meaning 95% of Buaya, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu) she is Irien.

When her mother went to register her for school, the officials looked at the birth certificate, and pointed out it didn't say Irien at all. Accordingly, they couldn't register her under that name, but what seemed to be typed on her birth certificate, Trien.

Here she was five years old, and all of a sudden she has a new "official" name. Her father and mother didn't even know how to pronounce her "official" name. It was her kindergarten teacher who came up with the pronunciation.

Her parents consulted a lawyer about changing her name to what they intended. They couldn't afford the fees involved, so Trien remained her name.

Like all Filipinos, my wife has several nicknames. Depending on who is talking to her, she is Trien, Irien, Inday, Yen, Yen-Yen, Tri, Baby, Day, and God knows what else. That's why I don't know what to call her- I am confused.

When we went to the Philippine embassy to register our marriage, I said that because we were married, we could change the name to Irien on her passport with no problem. Her reply?

"Leave it. All my school and work records, and official documents all say Trien. It would be too much work to make them all read the same."

So now she carries my family name, and her "official" given name.