What's In a Name / by Alan Strathman

Coming from a family where the children are named David, Susan, Michael, Judy, and Alan, I have a pretty low threshold for thinking that a name is particularly interesting. Anything with three syllables qualifies.

So it is lucky for me that names is one of the many ways in which St. Lucia is an interesting place. As you read below try not to get confused.  In this post, I refer to two people named Sam, one person named Sammy, and one person named Samuel.  This should give you a hint of what's to come.

Item A - House Names

My host dad's name is Sam.  Except in some ways it isn't. Julietta calls him Sam. He was introduced to me as Sam. But, recently, when I discovered that his email address is his first initial and last name, I noticed that his first initial is D. He said it stands for Dave.  OK, his first name is Dave and his middle name is Sam. Except it isn't.  The name on his birth certificate is Sam (not Samuel). But most everyone calls him Dave.

Then Julietta added that my host sister, Amy, is not actually named Amy.  Her name is Ria.  As with Dave, Amy appears nowhere on her birth certificate.  Names like Dave and Amy in this case are known as house names, and are very common.   I have asked a few people how their house name came about and no one has a good answer.  It typically happens when the child is very young so when the child begins to recognize their name it is the house name and as far as the child knows it has always been this way.

Item B - Twin Names

One of the trainees stays with a young man named Sammy.  I met Sammy at a party.  A week or so later I went into a place to meet two other trainees, Mary and Steve, and there was Sammy.  Except it wasn't.  It was his identical twin.  He introduced himself as Sam.  I smiled and laughed one of those "Ha ha oh you're so funny" laughs.  Then Steve, touched my shoulder and said, "I just went through the whole thing.  Take my word for it; it's true."  "Their mom named both children Samuel?," I asked Julietta later. Nope. Their mom named one twin Sam and the other Sammy. Period.

Julietta also knows twins named Judy and Judya, and Laura and Lauralyn, and I met twins named Acinta and Jacinta.  In the U.S. we are more likely do to what the mother of triplets in my high school did when she named the girls Faith, Hope, and Charity.   Some  multiple birth children are dressed alike, given identical haircuts and, here, they often have almost identical names.

Item C - Middle names

Multiple middle names are more common here than in the U.S.  My host brother, Samuel has two, Armando Mordecai, and my host sister's name in Jhardel Ermia Miracle. Very few Lucians have no middle name. In the U.S. the only person I know without a middle name is my dad.  When people ask him about it he always says, "I don't have a middle name.  My family was very poor and couldn't afford one."

Item D - AKA and BKA names

Learning about the existence of house names explained something that has intrigued me since I arrived in St. Lucia. Every morning, one of the TV stations shows televised obituaries.  The show is sponsored by a funeral home, which, by the way, offers burial at sea.  Anyway, the show presents something like an obituary.  They do not go into all the things the person did in his/her life, but instead they focus almost entirely on who the person is survived by.  And with large Lucian families this can be a long list of people.  Some families provide a PowerPoint of pictures that are shown.  It is a very sweet remembrance and you can tell that Lucians have very loving families.

Many households have the show on every day.  Without daily newspapers, the show is an important means of disseminating notice of a death.

After they give the name of the person who passed away they often add "also known as," or "better known as."  And, like with Sam/Dave, the AKA or BKA name is often completely unrelated to the original name. So if someone is named Joe and his BKA name is Uncle Joey that would be clear.  Same with someone named Victor whose AKA is Vicky.  But here the AKA/BKA name is not always derived from the name on the birth certificate. In my time here I have seen, for explample, Marilyn AKA Elinore and Ramona BKA Miss No-No.  Other AKAs have been Bacoona,  Okar, and Shore, none of which are derived from a given or family name.

It turns out that it is important that they give the AKA/BKA name because for many who might be watching the show it is the only name by which they know the deceased.  I have decided that for the five children in my family our house names should have been Beaver, Genius, Shirley, Scooter, and Stella.  But I'll leave it to you to decide which is which.