Saturday, February 25, 2012

By any other name would be as delicious.

Many people I know have recently had babies, and I notice that there is a difference in the names given by different social circles. I have no data or anything to back this up; the following is just a general feel for name trends in the Malay Muslim community in Singapore over the years.

First, my grandparents generation. This is what my mother likes to call zaman jahiliyah (the age of ignorance), or a humorous contemporary use of a term which historically refers to pre-Islamic Arabia. What I know of this is mostly what I've seen on gravestones.

These names sometimes refer to characteristics of what men and women should be. Men should be strong and masculine (e.g. Jantan, Mamat), while women should be demure (e.g. Ayu), pretty, and sweet-smelling (hence flowers e.g. Mawar, Melati). But there are also names that didn't mean anything (e.g. Esah), or meant something negative (e.g. Buang, Momok -- I had a photo of this!)

Second, there are the names of my parents' generation, born post-war, and in the period of growing awareness of Islam, the building of more mosques, and access to religious education for both men and women. For men, many of it were very simply names of Prophets (e.g. Ibrahim, Yusuf, Harun) or well-known women in Islamic history (e.g. Khadijah, Aisyah, Fatimah).

Maybe I associate everything with my parents' generation as being classic, but I find these names so absolutely beautiful! They do bring to mind a time of respect, and uprightness. This was also the period where the previous generation grew more conscious of Islam. My grandfather for example, changed his name after coming back from his pilgrimage; instead of Eskom, he was known as Yasin (a chapter title in the Qur'an).

In my generation, names were often in Arabic, with Muhammad and Nur/Siti being incredibly common (especially when you look at a list of students in a class, Malay students populate the middle section of the list). I was even told many times when I was younger (and tended to ask questions to the point of annoying other people) that girls with the prefix 'Nur' or 'Siti' would definitely go to heaven. (Wow, that is easier than doing housework!)

There is a cluster of names with anglophone origins e.g. Lynn, Amelie, Sarah, Danial, that continue from the 80s to today. Danish (Isn't that an absolutely delicious pastry? Or someone from Denmark?) is also another name that appears countless times.

Spot the danish

Today, these anglo names remain popular, but mostly with a certain social class. Malays from another social class, who also tend towards more religiosity, are choosing Arabic names of lesser-known characters in Islamic history (won't name any because they're the names of my friends' babies haha!), but as far as I see, no one's chosen Sukaina yet though (she's probably not the kind of Muslim woman one is expected to be nowadays.)

Oh, and it would be best if you didn't search for 'Momok' in Google Images.

What names did your parents and grandparents have?

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