I wish my name was Brian because maybe sometimes people would misspell my name and call me Brain. That’s like a free compliment and you don’t even gotta be smart to notice it.Mitch Hedberg, American stand-up comedian known for his surreal humor and deadpan delivery
Sarawakians have a novel and imaginative way of naming their children after actors, legendary cowboys, cartoon characters and dictators.
My Form Six classmates were John Wayne Najod and former Medical Services director Dr Stalin Hardin.
And I have been told there were also a few Adolf Hitlers in our midst.
My dear friend, the late Beano Asau, was named after the longest running British children’s comic magazine ‘Beano’.
Sometimes, names are given at the spur of the moment, when a VIP or foreign dignitary visited Kuching, on an auspicious occasion.
Unless you are a true blue Christian who swears by the names of Jesus’ 12 disciples—James, John, Matthew and even Simon Peter included – many parents feel that if they give their child a good name, it would bring good fortune or a propitious future.
Some Sarawakians born after Aug 31, 1957 when Malaya got its independence from Great Britain or when the Federation of Malaysia was formed, have been named Malaya and Malaysia.
History buffs have often opted for names like the third Rajah, Vyner and even Alexander the Great, which is Iskandar in Malay.
In fact, the Federal Complex in Kuching is named after Sultan Iskandar of Johor – to honour him when his entourage paid a visit to Sarawak in 1985 when he was Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
On this tour, which included his daughter Tengku Azizah, who was betrothed to the current King of Malaysia, Sultan Abdullah ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang, the royal couple adopted a new-born child from the orphanage and named him “Miri” after the northern Sarawak city.
Thirty years ago, a police sergeant, who studied at St Thomas school where both my younger brother John George and I were sport captains, named his twin sons James Ritchie and John Ritchie.
Selakau chief Pemanca Mina’s Richie is named after my father John Ritchie – the first Malaysian commissioner of police after the colonial government – and not American singer Lionel!
On the issue of males with female names, I know of a couple of security guards – Lisa and Nellie – and a retired Sarawak Ranger Sgt-Maj Lillie!
And I don’t know how my friend Wilfred got the name ‘Kutu’ because in English, it means tick.
Of course it’s common for Kelabit and Lun Bawang Christians to name their children after famous kings and aristocrats and thus the names – Raja, Agong, Pengiran and Dayang.
A Kelabit born during a moonlit night may be named ‘Bulan’ (moon) or ‘Ba’o’ which means precious bead.
Ibans have praise names such as ‘Matahari’ (the blazing sun), ‘Bayang’ – he who stalks in the shadows – and Rentap, named after the warlord who made the ground tremble!
Sub Inspector Wilson Naga is a dragon while others seeking greater fame for their children would come up with ‘Nabau’ – the king of serpents.
For your information, my Kelabit praise name is ‘Bela’an Aran’ which means ‘The Royal Messenger’!
And appropriately too because I have worked as the public relations officer with the Sarawak government and written 10 books on Chief Ministers Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud and Tan Sri Adenan Satem, and Sarawak Governor Tun Ahmad Zaidi.
Recently RMAF general Tan Sri Affendi Buang, a fighter pilot, was named by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as commander of the Malaysian Armed Forces – the first Sarawakian to hold this powerful position.
Former RTM director Affandi Tahir reckons that Affendi was named after him.
Affandi, 80, said: “Since Tan Sri Affendi was born in 1962, it is likely that his parents chose my name because between 1961 and 1963, I was a renowned Radio Malaysia announcer, DJ and a well-known celebrity.”
Indeed, with the recent announcement that Affendi is now Malaysia’s top military chief, there may be a surge of new-born Affandis among the Malay community.
During the launching of an exhibition on my career as a journalist in 2013, the late Adenan was surprised to learn that my middle name is Alexander, after Alexander the Great.
Member of parliament Alexander Nanta Linggi, whose grandfather was paramount chief Tun Temenggong Jugah, was given the lofty name by his parents Tan Sri Leonard and Puan Sri Margaret Linggi.
And what about James Alexander?
We will see if the name I got from my Aberdeen grandfather, a descendent of Robert the Bruce of Scotland, will bring me better fortune in my twilight years.
But no worries! Que sera sera –whatever will be will be!
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.