DUBLIN – Papua New Guinean writers may find it useful and educational to research the meaning of the names in the language of their own locality.
In most languages, personal names and family names have meanings. For example the original meaning of “Peter” is “Rock” and the name Stella means “Star”.
It may be that parents nowadays choose a name for a child more because of sound rather than meaning, but it is still interesting to ponder the meaning of PNG names.
I look at the names of some of the writers who contribute to PNG Attitude and wonder what they mean. I look at politicians names and wonder if they have meaning.
In the Hagen area some personal names are taken from the names of birds or animals or insects.
A former politician from Western Highlands was Raphael Doa. Doa (also spelt ndoa) is the name for an eagle. Paraka, another common Hagen name is Melpa for the Ragianna Bird of Paradise. Goimba is a type of grasshopper. Watinga is a type of possum.
Former Governor Robert Lak’s name would have originally been pronounced lgak and refrred to “layers” or “things piled on top of each other”.
Olga can mean “above” or “on top” (not to be confused with oka which is a sweet-potato). The name Wingti means “holy” or “sacred”. Wamp means “people”.
Some Hagen names related to skin complexion. Poembra indicated a dark or black skin and Kund a light or red skin.
Some language groups also had pair-names. For example in the Hagen (Melpa) language you might find two male cousins one of whom was called Timbi and another called Raime. Timbi is the Hagen name for “wild pig” and Raime is a “cassowary”.
Dum and Data are also pair names. Likewise two female cousins might be called Mipil and Rangunt, the names of stars. Mants and Rong form another pair of names given to related females.
I am sure other language or cultural groups are equally rich in the meaning of personal names. However some of this knowledge will be lost if not written down.
I do not have an extensive knowledge of Hagen names, but what I do know I have found fascinating and instructive. I believe that research into the meanings of local personal and family names would be rewarding and informative.
Some familiarity with PNG names can also help expatriates avoid confusion.
An Australian manager of a trucking company based in Hagen told me that he had decided to get to know the names of his drivers.
So one morning he called them together and asked their names. He said to the first driver, “What’s your name?”, receiving the answer “Kerua”, which he wrote down.
He asked a few more drivers and then one driver said, “Why?”
The irate manager retorted, “Why am I asking for your name? Because I want to know, that’s why!”
The other drivers quickly explained that the name of the driver was Wai. In fact Wai is not an uncommon name in Hagen, one of the well-known Jika leaders is Wai Rapa.
Many years ago when I was relatively new in PNG, I was taking names of people who wanted to get married.
I knew a bit of the Melpa language and could ask basic questions. So I asked the young bride-to-be, “What is your father’s name?” and she answered, in Melpa, Kurum.
I dutifully entered Kurum as her father’s name in the pre-nuptial form. Later I could not find that name in our card index (Fr Ross had boxes of index cards with names of parishioners) and told the catechist I could not find the card and he laughed.
He explained the young lady had told me that her father was dead (kurum). According to custom she could not call his name, so she simply answered, “he is dead.”
What’s in a name? Maybe sometimes there’s more than we expected.