Tuesday, July 09, 2002

A Rose by Any Other Name...

I don't proclaim to call myself a rose. I'm probably more of a sampaguita: fragrant today, gone tomorrow. Besides, it's the only other flower I know. That aside, I'm a person known to lots of people under different names. It's not something I planned, nor wanted, but happened anyway.

It all started with my parents. They're both Chinese and I think my father is an immigrant from China. When they gave birth to my brother, they gave him my mother's surname: Tan. I can only presume that the reason they did that is because my father has confusing paperwork with being a Filipino citizen. Ever since then, my parents' children had surnames belonging to my mother.

Legally, my name is Charles Agan Yu Piah Tan. That's what it says on my baptismal certificate. And perhaps even then, my troubles already began. You see my family's faith is protestant. But my parents being "practical-minded" wanted to enroll me in the best Chinese school they knew: Xavier. Of course, it so happened that Xavier was a Catholic school and they thought that "being Catholic" would increase my chances of getting accepted. And so they baptized me in a Catholic church: Mary the Queen parish. After which, I was raised in a protestant church. Of course me being a child, I had no idea all of this occurred and I lived my life thinking there was only one religion.

My grandparents are so Chinese that they don't have English names. My father, however, does have one. It's also Charles and his middle name is Agan. And so, I was referred to as a junior. By the time I was three, all my relatives and family friends started calling me JR. Charles didn't exist, only JR. When you wanted to talk to Charles, that meant my father. If you wanted to refer to me, you asked for JR.

It was a pretty simple life until nursery started. We all had name tags and my parents had to use my legal name. Thus, I was introduced to my teachers and classmates as Charles. Soon, my identity was no longer JR but Charles. My relatives still called me JR and so did the maids at home but out there in the world (which mostly consisted of school, school, and more school), I was Charles.

Since it was school and we were all kids, people gave us all sorts of nicknames. There wasn't any nickname that stuck to me over the years, or ones that I care to mention, but suffice to say, by the time I was in grade school, I was Charles Tan. Since Xavier was a Chinese school, I also had a Chinese name but no one calls each other by their Chinese name except in Chinese class. It was a pain to memorize how to write it in Chinese but I got used to it. Of course the funny thing about Chinese names is that it usually comprises only three characters and the first character is the clan name or surname, taken from the father's side. This should have clued me in since the first character of my name wasn't Tan but Yu (since there are many Chinese dialects, Tan isn't really pronounced as tan in mandarin: it's chen, while yu is pronounced as yang, so it's not as obvious as it seems), the surname of my father.

It was during an appointment with the doctor that I realized this difference. My mother gave my name as "Charles Yu" instead of Charles Tan. It was also embarrassing since the secretary would ask my mother what my name on the file was. She's usually answer "Charles Yu or Charles Tan". This proved to be a hassle to the secretary as she'd have to look up two names instead of just one. I'd ask my mother why my name was Charles Yu and she'd answer that my father's last name was Yu so it was only natural I'd be called Charles Yu.

I can only surmise why my parents started calling me Charles Yu at this point in time. This was the best I could garner. During one late evening, my father came home drunk and called me and my sister. He lectured us about being proud of our names and how I should be proud to be called Agan since that was what his classmates called him. He also happened to mention that in the past, he was a nobody and so relied on mother's father to support the family, which is probably one of his reasons why we all had Tan surnames. Now, he's a somebody and was doing quite well with business, which is why we should be proud of having Yu as a surname.

Of course there's also this other fact I learned from a friend a year ago. She said that Chinese families used the mother's side as a surname if the father wasn't a legal citizen. This way, the children would be counted as Filipino citizens. And considering the fact that my father had a Chinese Visa, this was probably the more logical reason.

It wasn't only I who was having identity problems. When I'd ask father to sign letters and forms, he'd be known as three people: either as Charles Tan, Charles Yu, or Yu Piah Tan. This proved to be a problem on my part as sometimes, I don't know what to put on forms asking for my father's name. I'd usually write Charles Tan and put my name as Charles Tan Jr. to differentiate me from my father. Thus I unwittingly created a new identity for myself.

More problems turned up when I'd invite people to come over at my house. Since we live in a village, the guards are strict and asked people coming in who they came to visit. I told them to say Charles Tan when in fact that's not what they should have said. You see my parents are registered as Charles and Mary Yu here in the village. To the villagers, I was a Yu, not a Tan. Thus, my friends sometimes had problems getting in.

In high school, my classmates started calling me Agan. This was to insult me more than anything else. "What, your middle name is Agan? What kind of a name is that? A gun?" they'd say. I found it offensive because of the tone and manner they said it but soon, that name stuck. By the time I was in fourth year, everyone in school was calling me Agan. Of course some of them don't know why I was being called Agan. They had no idea it was my middle name or anything. They just used it because everyone else was using it.

If that was the situation at school, this was the situation with family friends and relatives. I was introduced as JR, existed as JR, and known only as JR. Few people would recognize the name Charles Tan and identify it as me. To them, I was either JR Tan or JR Yu.

In church and in the village, I'd introduce myself as Charles Tan. When they ask about my parents though, I mention Charles and Mary Yu since that's the name people recognize them for. And I'd usually get a stupefied look as to why there's a difference in last names. Or perhaps I'd just introduce myself as Charles, the son of Charlie and Mary, and they'd immediately start calling me Charles Yu. It's not something I adore since my legal name is Charles Tan and recognize myself as such.

There was also this issue with a dentist appointment I had. I came from school and had my nametag on. Charles Tan was written on it but mother had registered me as Charles Yu so when they were looking for the dental records, they couldn't find it. I had to correct them and saw a small smirk from their faces. As a policy, I introduce myself to everyone as Charles Tan. It's only when my parents make my appointments that suddenly become Charles Yu.

It was also around this time that we acquired Internet Access. With the proliferation of chat and email, I had two aliases: Kamen and Naga. Kamen is the Japanese word for mask and I found that it suited me as a pseudonym. In the chat rooms I'd go to and in the mailing lists I participated, that was more or less the handle people knew me by. Of course if they did ask what my real name was, I'd gladly introduce myself as Charles. Naga, on the other hand, was my name on ICQ. Naga is a mythical creature that is half serpent and half female. Interestingly, it's also the name of a character from my favorite anime, Slayers, and the name of a clan from a popular CCG (Collectible Card Game). It also happens to be Agan spelled backwards so I thought the name really suited me.

I also gave myself the nickname "stalker" because I loved to creep up on people and surprise them. Some would call it ninja while others would just mutter that I'd give them a heart attack one of these days. Still, it was a nickname I gave myself and had to explain thoroughly to a lot of people since the name had negative connotations.

By the time I entered college, not only did I meet new people but also encountered old acquaintances. The people that came from Xavier or who knew me by an introduction from them called me Agan. The few family friends that were there referred to me as JR. To everyone else, I was Charles. It suited me somehow since in the event that I do forget who you are, the way you called me would clue me in as to how I know you.

Of course not everything is as clean cut as I'd want it to be. During my summer job at Pulp Magazine/MTV Ink/Philippines Yearbook, the publisher, Grace Glory Go, called me JR since she was a family friend and knew me by my mother. When I told her that I wanted my name on the credits as Charles Tan, she was astonished. "So you're Charles now, huh?" she said. Of course when my name finally got printed, it wasn't Charles Tan that I saw but Charles Yu.

And there's also the instances of my character lookalikes. The main character of one anime, Evangelion, looked like me, except that I had glasses. So at one point in time, all my friends who liked anime called me after his name. During college, Harry Potter was all hyped up and I also happened to look like him so some of my friends teased me and called me Harry Potter. And of course, there are those who called me by my self proclaimed nickname, Stalker.

No matter what people will call me, I will always be who I am. And like Clark Kent who refers to himself as Superman, or Bruce Wayne who calls himself Batman, I call myself Charles when addressing myself.

No comments: