What’s in a name?

During a break in a meeting last week, one of my bosses started joking about the name of a man who had just been arrested for involvement in a bombing in Manila. His name, which is now Dawud Santos, used to be Tyrone del Rosario Santos. (And let’s not forget about his brother, Ahmed Santos.)

Her point was that Filipinos who have converted to Islam often have hybrid names. Muslim first name, Christian last name. And we just happen to read about these men when they’re suspected of bombing a bus or ferry.

Case in point: Three men were recently sentenced to death in Manila for bombing a bus in February in Manila’s business district. One of the three men is Angelo Trinidad. The name is so common here that there are probably thousands of Angelo Trinidads in the Philippines. But his alias is Abu Khalil and he is linked to the Abu Sayyaf group, which is known for kidnapping 20 or so guests from the upscale Dos Palmas resort on Palawan – including the Burnhams, an American missionary couple that was held hostage for more than a year.

The names are so strikingly different that Reuters felt it necessary to insert a paragraph “explaining” the Trinidad vs. Abu Khalil discrepancy.

“Trinidad had converted to Islam from Roman Catholicism, the main religion in the Philippines.”

The mixed-religion names end up being more than just something to joke about, but are an insight into the culture of this country. Had Spain not gone on a land-acquisition rampage more than 400 years ago, Islam might possibly have been the dominant religion in the Philippines. After all, the country is a stone’s throw away from Indonesia and Malaysia. (But that’s just speculation on my part, and not really worthy of further examination.)

More interesting is how the mixing of cultures here shows up more than just in Filipino food (heavy, oily Spanish food with an Asian staple…rice) and language (Tagalog mixed with English, also called Taglish, is more commonly spoken than straight Tagalog), but also in the names Filipinos are given or give themselves.

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