Last week I went to the immigration office here in Cartagena to get my tourist visa extended with another 90 days (yes, no way I am leaving this place if I don't have to). I was asked to fill out a form which had several interesting boxes to fill out such as hair color and distinguishing physical features. My friend Marcela suggested 'freckles', but I decided to leave it blank - which in turn made the officer ask me if I had any tattoos (don't worry, mom, I still didn't get one). The best box however was SUEDONIMO/NICKNAME. I also didn't fill this one out, but it did made me think of the different names and nicknames I have. It reminded me of the book 'The Namesake' in which the main character has different names adjusted to the different stages of his life.
I love my name. Thanks, mom and dad, for giving it to me. I have loved it ever since I can remember. I have loved telling people how it means 'Sweet' in my mom's mother tongue, Sundanese, spoken on West Java, Indonesia. But how vividly do I remember the day that some annoying Indo (mixed Indonesian-Dutch), giving me ride home after a party, told me that no, it didn't mean 'sweet', it meant 'smelly of fish'. I decided to ignore his comment, but had to face the truth when I started studying Indonesian and was surrounded by non-Sundanese Indonesians all the time. Yes, in Indonesian it does really mean 'smelly of fish'.
This discovery led me to improvise with my name: In Indonesia (everywhere outside of West Java) I now go by the name Ami. It took me a while, but now I can switch gears between Amis and Ami with ease. I respond to anything that could possibly be my name, even 'Amice' (which is how frat boys address one another in Holland). Amish is a bridge too far, but a few people have made the mistake. Anne-mies or Anne-Marlies have been tried as well. Those I just pretend not to have heard.
Then there are the real nicknames. You'd think there's not a lot to do with a four-letter name like mine, but you'd be surprised! I guess I just have lots of creative people around me, because my nicknames are many. My mom, my sisters, my little brothers and my close friends call me Aam, or Aampje. My eldest sister sometimes calls me Mango after learning that Aam means mango in an Indian dialect that of high school friends speaks. My big brother calls me Plaam or something else which I will not mention here on this blog. A nephew used to always call me Misa. My first digital nickname was Amsi (firstname.lastname@example.org was my first email address), thanks to my geeky first boyfriend. In Indonesia some of my close friends got rid of the A and just call me Mi. No one calls me 'I' (as in Bee), thank god! Someone (let me add this was in the US) did think my name was 'Is' (an 'Ease'), thinking I had said "I am Is" as opposed to "I'm Amis". Yeah. A primary school teacher called me 'Bami' (when I was younger I looked more Asian, I guess). Is very that politically incorrect? Two of my friends call me 'Mies' (which is a very old fashioned Dutch name). One of my best friends calls me Mavis or Mave, but I am not actually sure how that started. I think it was supposed to be my stage name... Then there are a few people that call me by my second name 'Agung' and some other friends call me Boersma. I in turn call them by their last names too (De Vries!).
The latest nickname I obtained is 'Amistad' (Spanish for friendship). Marcela started this new trend and says it in the way that my grandmother calls my uncle by his full name 'Benno Peter Boersma' - usually when scolding him. I awarded myself the nickname Amisita while dreaming about going to South America and use it with pleasure here.
In every nickname a different part of me is represented. Some go unused for years and pop up when I meet an old friend. Some change users, depending on the people I hang out with most. I'd say the possibilities to improvise more with my name are about to be depleted, but who knows what more is to come... For now, I'll explore being Amisita