Naming and renaming

In 2005 in Manila I named a kitten Lucifer, and he grew into a lovable adult cat. For some people the name has negative connotations, but I can’t understand why. Lucifer is a pretty name for a pretty boy, and I just wish I could see pictures of my precious little foster baby.

Phoenix and Gemma came to me from another family in 2007. They had silly joke names, and I waited a long time to change them. I waited because I thought they’d be returning to their family after a few months: even a year after they moved into my officetel in Pyeongchon, there was talk of sending them to join their original guardian overseas.

When I realized they were going to be permanent members of my family, I hesitated about giving them new names. They’d had their names for more than six years, ever since they were tiny babies. But in the end, I decided on prettier names that started with the same letters: Phoenix is one of my favourite girl’s names, and Gemma came from a story I read many years ago about a baby who died. (Gemma was the name of the baby in the story.)

My sister made it clear she was outraged about all this—outraged that I hadn’t changed their names after a whole year, outraged that I might never change their names, outraged that they might still go back to their first guardian and keep their silly names. “Better than before” was her answer when I finally informed her of the name change and adoption.

Bangsiri was called Bangsiri at Ms. Jung’s shelter, where she spent three years of her life. I assume Ms. Jung must have named her. I remember the day I took Bangsiri out of the shelter and asked Ms. Jung her name. I traced it in the snow to make sure I’d heard correctly, and Ms. Jung corrected my spelling. I found out later that Bangsiri’s name means something like “a warm smile,” and it’s the name of a famous singer.

Most people who meet Bangsiri on the street smile when they hear her name. I thought about changing it, but I’m glad I didn’t.

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