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Blast Chicago Bureau

The name on my birth certificate is: Barbra Ann Lingat Natividad. Most Filipinos will recognize that Lingat is my mom's maiden name, and that Natividad, is my dad's last name. So, what's in a name? More than you might think.

Some of my non-Filipino friends recently discovered my very un-American nickname: Chic-Chic. I have no idea how they found out, but I do remember the explanation I gave of my appellations, which I'm sure many Filipinos can relate to.

Let's start with Barbra. Well, my mom loves Barbra Streisand's music. Needless to say, my name is misspelled ALL THE TIME. It doesn't matter if I spell my name out for people (at the doctor's office, the bank, wherever). Nine times out of 10 they will write B-A-R-B-A-R-A anyway, so I'm forced to respell my name a second, or even a third, time. This usually elicits two things: 1) a condescending look from people who have to write my name down 'til they realize they've written not B-A-R-B-R-A, but the more common Barbara; and 2) a comment on its unusual spelling.

Here's a real-life example: at a job interview last year, the interviewer entered the room, casually waving my resume, which I had faxed to him. After greeting me, he suddenly, and with an authoritative tone, barked, "Spell your name!" Though it had been nearly 20 years since I won the third grade spelling bee, I hadn't lost my touch: "Barbra. B-A-R-B-R-A. Barbra," I replied. Aghast, I realized that he thought I misspelled my own name on my resume!

I wondered how many jobs I applied for, and was never asked for an interview because Human Resources thought, "What an idiot -- she misspells her own name on her resume. She didn't even use spell check!" Anyhow, as usual, the interviewer commented on its unusual spelling. I related the Barbra Streisand anecdote. And no, I don't share my mother's musical taste. And yes, I got the job.

As far as Ann goes, it's actually part of my first name, as in, Barbra Ann, or the more common, Barbara Ann, as in the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" (my dad's a Beach Boys fan). But this is curious: no one in my entire life has ever called me Barbra Ann. Some people, though I always introduce myself as Barb, insist on calling me Barbra. That's no big deal, because I know they're talking to me (but if I'm feeling bitchy that day, I may correct their pronunciation: "It's Bar-BRA, not Bar-ba-RA."). Besides, I was called Barbra from pre-school through sixth grade. Then, the summer before seventh grade, the instructors at a music camp I went to started calling me Barb, which stuck. I can't imagine introducing myself as Barbra Ann, let alone being called that.

The solution to all this, I felt, could be carried out when I became a naturalized citizen at age 14. I had it all worked out -- on my naturalization certificate, I requested that they spell my name B-A-R-B-A-R-A and that they drop Lingat. Then, my name would be Barbara Ann Natividad. Barbara would then be my first name, and Ann, my middle name. That was the plan, anyway. As it turns out, the name typed on that piece of paper is: Barbara Ann Lingat Natividad, which is what I signed on the signature line - except I signed it Barbra out of habit. At that point, I decided to continue spelling B-A-R-B-R-A and to discontinue using Lingat even if, according to my naturalization certificate, it's part of my name.

Here's another curiosity: no one in my family calls me Barb, Barbra, Barbara, Barbra Ann, Barbara Ann or any of that. They call me Chic-Chic. I've heard three versions of how I got this nickname. Unfortunately, I don't know which of them is true. One grandmother told me that one of the grandfathers called me his little chickadee, which somehow evolved into Chic-Chic. My mom insists that actually, he called me chikating (I think it's spelled that way) which means "little girl." I asked her to spell it, and she couldn't. Well, no wonder -- there's no letter "c" in Tagalog!

My sister once said that our paternal grandmother told her it was because, as a toddler, I killed a chick. This explanation brought me to tears because I'm an advocate of anti-cruelty laws and couldn't believe I was a chick killer! My sister tried to comfort me, saying that I was a baby at the time and that out of affection, I squeezed the chick a little too tightly, blah blah blah, this and that. This made me more upset, because all I could think about was Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. So, not only was I a chick killer, I was a simpleton too! Needless to say, I like the first explanation -- that I was grandpa's little chickadee.

And even my nickname isn't so simple. No one in my family calls me Chic-Chic. They refer to me as Chic-Chic, but they address me as Chic and occasionally, Chiqui. The only time I'm ever called Chic-Chic is when one or both parents are mad at me. However, my brother and sister use Chic-Chic both in reference and address, but only when preceded by Ate (pronounced AH-teh). Ate is a Tagalog honorific meaning "older sister," and curiously, is the Greek goddess of delusion.

Though I'm used to being called Barb by English-speaking people without traces of a Filipino accent, it would be strange to hear "Barb" coming from my siblings' mouths. I've been Ate Chic-Chic all their lives and will continue to be, so why would they start calling me Barb now? Once, I heard my sister talking to a non-Filipino friend, and she referred to me Barb. I had know idea who she was talking about, at first. At any rate, I suppose I could have a stranger Filipino nickname, like Bong-Bong (even though that's a guy's name). Luckily, I don't have to explain that.

Unfortunately, this name business isn't over for me yet. Several years ago, I was married, and took my husband's name: Blum. When Filipino women marry, they drop their middle name which is their mother's maiden name, their former last name becomes their middle name, and they take their husband's name. Theoretically, my legal name would change from Barb(a)ra Ann Lingat Natividad to Barb(a)ra Ann Natividad Blum. As I mentioned earlier, I dropped the Lingat, and consider Ann as my middle name. So, after marriage, I became Barbra Ann Blum.

Though I've been separated for more than a year with the divorce papers pending, my legal name, I think, is Barbra Ann Blum. Once the divorce is final, I resolve to become Barbra Ann Natividad. In the meantime, I've had my work published under the name, Barb Natividad. Although I'm listed with my school's registrar and on class rosters as Barbra A. Blum or Barbra Ann Blum, I don't know which, the name I use when submitting assignments is Barb Natividad-Blum.

As you can see, a name isn't always just a name. Though I sometimes wonder what my legal name really is, I always know who I am: Barb(a)ra Ann (Ate) Chic-Chic Lingat Natividad Blum. Subject to change without notice