Feb 3, 2011

Why are Filipino nicknames repetitive and do Filipinos name private parts in a similar manner?

Dear Filipino,

Why do Pinoys love giving nicknames to their kids that repeat the same name/syllable (e.g., Dodo, Toto, Leklek, etc.).  Is it true that most of their private parts are named in a similar manner?  That is, in the examples given, you just change the vowels? LOL!

Boy B.

Dear Boy,

It’s true: Filipinos do love to give nicknames with syllables that repeat. I mean, who can deny it?  The sitting President himself sports one: Noynoy.  And the Vice President? Jojo.  And the Cabinet's Executive Secretary?  Also Jojo.

I personally grew up with neighborhood playmates, classmates and friends with nicknames like Penpen, Dandan, Denden, Dondon, Dindin, Lotlot, Lala, Nene, Bebe, Jonjon, Junjun, Tintin, Yanyan, Tingting, Toto, Katkat, Macmac, Maimai, Nognog, Ningning, Chichi, Baba, Bongbong, Bangbang, Bingbing, Bambam, Bimbim, Bumbum.

Then, there are those with Western-sounding double-initialed names: AA, BB, CC, DD, GG, JJ, MM, RR,TT.
(Source: SaintBarry.wordpress.com)
A little imperfectly repetitive, I know of Dodot, Dodong, Kakay, Kokoy, Dodoy, Totoy, Boboy, Nonoy, Popoy, Momoy.

Believe me, I can go on and on and on.

But what accounts for this, er, national tic? Are we suffering from some sort of collective palilalia, the pathological repetition or echoing of one's own spoken words?

The answer, actually, is found in linguistics.  And here below is my theory.

You see, almost all languages in the Philippines belong to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages, which is itself a member of the Austronesian clan. As such, our languages are agglutinative – i.e., we extensively glue words together to form new words.

We do it by joining what are called morphemes in linguistics.  Think of morpheme like you think of an atom: It is the smallest, irreducible component of a word that has its own semantic meaning, and a combination of several of these make a word. Wikipedia has this English example: The word "unbreakable" has three morphemes: "un-", a bound morpheme because it cannot stand alone; "break", a free morpheme because it can; and "-able", another bound morpheme. The morphemes "un-" and "-able" are called affixes: the former is a prefix, the latter is a suffix.

Generally, new words are said to be created using three methods: by affixation (i.e., by attaching affixes onto a root word); by composition (i.e., by forming a compound word); or by reduplication (i.e., the repetition of words or portions of words).

Occasionally referred to as cloning or doubling and found in a wide range of languages, reduplication may be full or partial; if the latter, it may be initial (i.e., prefixal), final (i.e., suffixal), or internal (i.e., infixal). It has many uses, but it is used primarily to indicate a different tense of the root verb; pluralize a noun; adjectivize a noun; adverbialize an adjective, noun or verb; accentuate or intensify an emotion; adopt a more expressive tone; speak figuratively; or express conceptual similarity.

Going back to Filipino nicknames, many of them are actually terms of endearment commonly used by parents in addressing their children. Bicolanos, for instance, use the generic loving terms “nonoy” (if male) and “nene” (if female) to address their babies, toddlers and young kids. But for many of these children, these common nouns stick and as their nicknames, become proper nouns, because to the dismay of some, they never outgrow them.

(Source: IlovehateAmerica.com)
Now, many Philippine terms for private parts indeed use reduplication.  But what I really find interesting is that our languages really don’t seem to have more “clinical-sounding” terms for them. Instead, we have terms that regular people completely avoid mentioning in polite conversation because they sound lewd, rude or linguistically belonging to someone uncouth, uneducated, lascivious, given to prurient thoughts, or otherwise, well, horny. 

And when we do find ourselves absolutely needing to, we use English, or if it really has to be in a Philippine language, we use all sorts of euphemisms or less threatening language – i.e., we “speak figuratively” and/or “express conceptual similarity” – hence, our use of linguistic reduplication.  That's why the scrotum becomes bola-bola instead of the rougher-sounding bayag; the penis is infantilized and gets called pitotoy instead of the more potent uten; the breasts become baby-ish, life-nurturing dede instead of the babe-ish, lust-conjuring dyoga; and vagina is turned less veteran-ish and gets called pekpek instead of the more experienced-sounding puki. (Interestingly enough, the Tagalog version of "The Vagina Monologues" was called "Usaping Puki".)

Personally, though, I do not know of any parent who would or did name his/her child after private parts (I know a couple of people nicknamed Dong but their well-meaning parents were surely after the onomatopoeic ring to it!).  But to get some inputs, I actually forwarded your question to my friend, EZ, who is also a lawyer (so I have no reason to doubt his truthfulness!) and who shared with me a funny story which he claims actually happened during a Little Miss Philippines contest on Eat Bulaga! in the late 1980s.

According to him, there was a contestant nicknamed Kengkeng. When one of the hosts, Vic Sotto, asked her why she was nicknamed Kengkeng, her answer on live TV was: "Kasi po, noong ipinanganak ako, ang taba-taba daw po ng aking pukengkeng!" 


Okay, here’s the deal: If you didn’t understand the joke because it’s in Tagalog, I’m so sorry but this is one occasion which I will not translate in English.  So this is a good reason for you to ask your Tagalog-speaking friend for a translation, or get to know one who is.  But make sure you show this blogpost first because if you ask it verbally without properly contextualizing the line, I can’t guarantee that you won’t get slapped in the face!

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.


Unknown said...

Nice article...it's funny too. Actually, you don't need to acknowledge me as the source of the image. I used that image 2 1/2 years ago when I was new in blogging and don't know much about the "rules" in blogging...so I got that image from Google images and used it on my blog post without acknowledging the source (because I didn't know any better :-)
When I learned about "acknowledging images and image copyrights" I could no longer find the source of that image. So, just please delete the my blog URL .....it's quite unfair for me to be the source when I'm not. But I admire and respect you for your blogging ethics....Hope you could drop by my often and you could use ideas from my blog (of course no copying) and that's where you can cite me as one of your "inspirations" of a particular post.
God bless!

The Filipino said...


Actually, I think it's fine to leave you as the "source" because you are in fact "my source" and you've given a reasonable explanation in this post's comments section. :-) If the real owner of the image asks us to delete the picture, we'll just have to comply. No biggie!

Thanks for the kind words, btw!

Barry Boy said...

Hahaha! Excellent insight, great breakdown, and downright funny!

Thanks for tracking back and the acknowledgment, but just like I-Love-Hate-America.com, the photo in my blog is not mine (my apologies for the owner of the photo, but I couldn't trace the original source).

Please don't hesitate to drop by again.

AJ said...

It's distinctly Pinoy to make cutesy baby nicks, even for their nether regions. Haha! And I don't think Tagalog has a monopoly on this. I'm Ilonggo and my childhood nickname was Tata.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my Q, Mr Filipino or can I call you Fil-Fil for short?

This also reminded me about the creativity (with a splash of comedy and naughtiness) that is endemic to our race. I remember how the Racela brothers (of Ateneo basketball and PBA fame) ended up being named Olsen, Nash and Wally. Olsen since he was born on All Saint's Day. Nash on National Heroes Day. And last but not the least, Wally, since he wasn't born on any special holiday ended up with the shorter version of "Wala Lang"
Mabuhay ka Fil-Fil!

Boy B aka B-B

The Filipino said...

@Barry Boy:

Thanks! Will definitely drop by your blog again.


I wish I could speak more Filipino languages, but alas, I only know 2. BTW, AJ is a nice name but to have a nickname similar to an up-and-coming Indian car company, Tata Motors, which now owns Jaguar and Land Rover, is also not bad. (Another BTW: Your blog is awesome! I especially enjoyed your article on your ancestral home!)

@Boy B aka B-B:

Thanks for sharing that funny story about the Racela brothers, but no, you may NOT call me Fil-Fil! It's an absolute NO-NO! Hahaha!

filipino girl said...

LOL! I agree with the repetitive name. In fact my sister's Nick name also are on repetitive words: tam tam. :D With the private I am not sure what you call it in tagalog but in cebu we call like the Penis "Tin tin", Vagina "Pe pe"

Anonymous said...

Nice one !! ^ ^

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