What’s in a Filipino name? Plenty
All you global Filipinos probably were watching the Academy Awards and lamenting why the Oscars don’t have a Best Bomba category, right?
From an Asian perspective, Cambodia had its first film nominated. But it was a documentary on the Killing Fields of Pol Pot and had to compete with the eventual winner, “La Grande Belleza” (a beautiful, fictional film that I recommend for people who think films have too many car crashes — metal on metal or Lego on Lego). It was an Italian film that harkened back to Fellini, not Filipino.
But, of course, we had one winner.
It came when Robert Lopez and his wife won for composing the Best Song winner, “Let it Go,” from the movie “Frozen.”
Or as I like to say, “Prozen.”
How many people, however, heard tongues wag the next day: “Lopez? I didn’t know he was Filipino!”
And Filipino-American at that.
Thus is the curse of the Spanish surnamed amongst us.
If you are a Kababingdong or a Yababuyat, you are lucky.
We Spanish surnamed folk are among the most maligned, name-wise.
For example, I asked my son if he was ever stopped in college by other Filipinos.
“They think I’m Mexican,” he said.
Jimmy Kimmel’s sidekick security guard doesn’t help matters either.
The name is a heteronym. Same spelling, same meaning (it means “William” as in Guillermo Shakespeare). Ah, but there’s a different pronunciation.
Most people say “GEE-yer-mo,” in homage to the Spanish colonizer and/or their three years of high school Spanish.
Even some of my relatives pronounce it that way — to my chagrin.
The correct way? “GILL-yer-mo.”
That’s “Gill” as in “breathing apparatus of a fish.”
“Yer-mo” as in “Yer mo’ wears combat boots.”
Ah, phonetics. But go ahead. Do this test anywhere where there are REAL FILIPINOS.
It doesn’t matter what ancestral province in the Philippines they’re from. Ilocano, Tagalog, you name it.
Just ask them to pronounce the “Double L” sound.
The wise guys see two Y’s and mispronounce it the Spanish way.
The REAL Filipinos will say it the right way, and as far as I’m concerned, the only way.
They see two L’s and translate that into an “L” and a “Y.”
They pronounce that “ell-yeh,” or as they say in the vernacular, “-ell, yeah!”
Do it with any Double L. It’s the same. That’s the Filipino sound.
I figure the ancestors of those beautiful Baraquio sisters from Hawaii just bypassed the whole thing by doing the “–quio” trick.
It easily could have been spelled “Baraquillo,” and therefore double-elled into a sound of “Bara-KEEL-yo.”
Now I know what you’re saying. “What’s the big deal, Emil?”
If as we’ve established you were contemplating the lack of bomba films at the Oscars, surely you saw that unfortunate mishap of John Travolta’s where he introduced the singer of Lopez’s nominated song, Idina Menzell.
But Travolta didn’t say that. He called her “Adele Dazeem.”
There’s several hundred million watching the Oscars, and Menzell’s name gets “travoltified.”
People still buzz about it. You screw up a name, that’s a big deal.
And yet how many times do people worldwide screw up your good Filipino name? And what do we do? We are nice and simply pretend it doesn’t matter.
But deep inside, we are likely to go, as they say, tampo.
I know the problem. I’ve had anchor people from coast-to-coast insisting their Mexican way of pronouncing my “double-elled” name was correct.
And they weren’t Mexican.
Neither was I.
The double L? It’s my personal double hell.
But then I took a stand.
Believe me, if you make any waves about being Filipino at all, it should be about your name.
Why not? There’s no debate. And just think of how bad it would be when we mispronounced.
We’d be laughed into a gulag if we called Poot-in, Putt-in.
In the U.S., you don’t say O-BAAAAH-ma.
Someone mispronounces Guillermo?
Do we let it go?
Wherever the diaspora finds us, we cannot.
We must correct and say all our names proudly.
There’s no better way on a daily basis to hold up high your very Filipino identity.
Emil Guillermo is an American Filipino who writes from Northern California.
A veteran journalist and commentator, he won an American Book Award in 2000.
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