There is no shortage of humor on the mission field. Recently I was writing an email update of our ministry here in Cambodia, and the thought occurred to me that some of these names must sound a little bit funny to someone who doesn’t live in Cambodia. In one update I talked about a man named Hee and a man named Vee, and then in the next update I talked about a woman named Ree. For the record, besides Hee, Vee, and Ree, other common names in Cambodia include Lee, Tee, Dee, and Nee.
It’s pretty common among Cambodians to name their kids in a series of very similar-sounding names, oftentimes one letter of difference between them. I think they do it on purpose to mess with the minds of friendly pastors who try to remember their kids’ names. My favorite family of names was the siblings of a man I led to Christ 7 years ago. His name was Lang. He invited me to his house one day, and when I arrived, he introduced me to his brother, Hang. When I asked how many other siblings he had, he informed me that besides Lang and Hang, there were 4 more: Sang, Mang, Chang, and (are you ready for this?) ...Tuen! OK, I’ll admit it. I was kind of disappointed when I heard that last name. I mean…it’s not like they were all out of rhyming names. There was still Fang, Gang, Rang, Tang, and Bang. I don’t know. I just felt kind of sorry for the kid.
Here are some other classics:
*Our landlord’s sons are named Toluch and Tolene.
*Our landlord’s daughters are named Sopa and Sopee.
*A woman with 4 daughters named Suah, Sung, Sueng, and Sigh.
*The same woman’s twin boy and girl are named Chamron and Chamran.
*A woman with three children named Leeka, Leena, and Leeda.
*A couple in our church with two boys named Ponlue and Ponlok.
Sometimes it’s not the sibling combinations that crack me up, but rather it is the coincidences. I once met a man named Nut (a true name here, fairly common). His wife’s name was Tee. I never forgot their names. On their own they were common enough names. But put together…I just couldn’t forget Nut and Tee (Nutty) no matter how hard I tried. Another interesting coincidence was the guy who made off with a keyboard and various other items from a friend’s church. His name was Run.
And there are other names which have caught my attention all by themselves with no help from other names or extenuating circumstances. For instance, there is the little boy named Rambo who comes to our church. We also have two people named Pich (means diamond). There is a young man in our church named Dollar (yes, he is named after the United States’ currency). At one time or another we have had three different pronouns attend our church: He, My, and You. Trust me, when you have an English conversation about one of these three, it can start to sound like “Who’s On First”.
In our church we have a Rachana, a Roetana, and a Roetenak. In our church we also have 2 Sopieps, 1 Sopee, 1 Sreypee, 1 Soupiep, 1 Soupia, and 1 Soupoan. We also have 1 Ra, 1 Ta, 2 Da’s, 1 Sok Teung and 1 Sok Leung.
Some people are named after the month in which they were born. Therefore you have both men and women named Makara (January), Kakada (July), Sayha (August), etc. Some boys are just named Proh (means boy). Some girls are named Srey (girl), but they never say just Srey by itself. It is always attached to another name, as in Srey Laek, Srey Chan, Srey Line, Srey Mom, Srey Oun, Srey Dot, Srey Pie, and my three all time favorites, Srey Toich (little girl), Srey Tom (big girl), and Srey Neung (woman girl). Some people are named after a desirable quality. There are lots of people (boys and girls alike) named Sopiep (means gentle). It is also not uncommon for people to wait several months to name their child. They want to get to know him a bit to see what name would be appropriate. What I don’t understand is how after observing the first 3 months of a newborn baby you could name him or her anything other than Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, or Stinky. Oh well. Maybe that’s why nobody ever asks me for baby-naming advice.
Nicknames in Cambodia are particularly brutal. Basically, they just call it like they see it. For example, a young man in our church told me his sister’s name was Chen (that means Chinese in Khmer). I asked him why she was named that. He answered, “Because ever since she was little, she has had real squinty eyes.” When I met her…lo and behold, he was right! Nevertheless, I didn’t feel comfortable saying, “Hey, Chinese girl…”, so I went with her real name. Other popular nicknames are Kmau (means black, used for real dark-skinned Cambodians), Mop-mop (means chubby, used for…well…chubby Cambodians), and Chrook (means pig, used for people who have pig-like noses). Like I said, brutal.
A few years ago I lead a man to Christ. The man’s name was Toe (yes, it sounds just like it looks). Toe had a friend named Nee (like knee) who was led to Christ by another missionary. Every time I saw those two guys together, I was dying to say, “Hey Nee and Toe, ask me what kind of shampoo I use”. I wanted to say, “Head and shoulders, Nee and Toe.”
But as hard as it is to keep some of these names straight, I am thankful that Cambodian names are short. I met a guy recently who was from Laos. His name was Sairuu Bongthainunosai. Seriously.