Sunday 27 March 2005

Don't call me Johnson Baby Powder

Is there some sort of worldwide contest that I'm unaware of where parents are competing to see who can come up with the most ridiculous name?

Isn't David Beckham naming his son after Tom Cruise's ex-girlfriend enough?

Do we also have to endure Zoe Tay, our very own Queen of Caldecott, bestowing such an ass of a name like Brayden on her innocent newborn?

She's lucky that everyone is so distracted by Li Nanxing's divorce that the donkey name isn't a bigger scandal.

This trend of silly celebrity baby names has got to stop. I mean if there really were a contest, no-one will ever beat the late great Frank Zappa, who christened his children Moon Unit and Dweezil, still the most potent one-two punch in kooky baby names ever.

Of course, questionable name selection isn't the sole province of vacuous showbiz and sports personalities.

I was just going through this year's list of Miss Singapore hopefuls and there's a Destiny, a Blyss and a Swyn. The last two names actually contain no vowels! What are the odds of that?

Of course, it's possible that Destiny, Blyss and Swyn aren't the names chosen by their parents and the girls conjured those names for themselves.

I know, for instance, that when she was a teenager, my sister, who was never given a Christian name by our parents, opted to call herself  'Melissa'.

Recently, I was surprised and somewhat confused to learn that my sister, now in her 20s, has decided that 'Jaime' was more her and changed her name accordingly, but not legally.

Of course, if you haven't figured it out yet, Johnson isn't the name I was born with either.

Like my sister Melis... I mean Jaime - whatever! - I too felt the need to acquire a Christian name, except that I was led to believe, by my parents, that only Christians were allowed to have Christian names and we weren't Christians. I was, and still am, mildly agnostic at best.

However, being the fearless iconoclast that I was in primary school, I wasn't going to allow such an itty-bitty thing like the wrath of God prevent me from having my own cool Christian name.

But I had a dilemma. I was torn between two names: 'Peter', which I thought the coolest, probably for the same reason I thought board games and short pants were cool; and 'Johnson', which I thought was the most exotic.

Of course, being a lot younger and a little less informed than I am now, I was unaware at the time that both Peter and Johnson were common euphemisms for, well, a man's organ. I might as well have called myself Willie or Dick, coincidentally the nicknames of America's two most infamous presidents.

So with characteristic un-Solomon-like sagacity, I resolved the issue by choosing both names.

'Peter Johnson Ong,' I wrote proudly on the cover of my school exercise books.

Soon after, my teacher was returning our exercise books when she puzzled over a pupil she had never heard of. 'Who's Peter Johnson Ong?' she asked the class.

I meekly put up my hand. My classmates laughed. Someone said: 'Johnson Baby Powder!' God had His revenge.

I immediately dropped 'Peter Johnson' and reverted to my given Chinese name.

That is, until decades later, as a nostalgic homage to one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, I resurrected 'Johnson' as my pen name.

Genitalia connotation notwithstanding, I contend it's still better than Brayden.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 March 2005