By ‘Aulola Silua To’omeilangi ‘Ake Tongilava
I find the English language unfabulous at times. Yes, ironic that I have to write in English but it always pales in comparison to our mother tongue. Last week, International Mother Language Day was celebrated with an emphasis on indigenous languages. 2019 is marked as the Year of Indigenous languages, the importance of recognizing our mother tongue, and the roles it plays in our society today.
In English, we often ask “What is your name?” using “what” as if a name is an object, completely detached from the person. As if the name precedes the human soul and is used as a means of identifying a person when needed. So, I tend to enjoy the way Tongans would rather say, “Ko hai ho hingoa”, a literal translation of WHO is your name? Because your name represents who you are. It was not chosen simply for the sake of having you answer to it, or having others call you as such; but it remains a significant brush stroke on the canvas of your beautiful life.
Your name is a name passed down from generations of familial ties. Your name may also have been borne out of important milestones; the construction of Saione centenary church, when you were born while your father or aunt was overseas on military duty or study. You were named for being a New Year baby, you were named after a city, a country so important to your mother or father – because of family connections.
Your name may be quite common, Sione or Mele, ‘Ana or Tevita but common does not equate ordinary. For even behind such a name, you know there is a reason. You were named after someone and that someone was named after someone else who was also named after someone who was a martyr, a warrior, a chief, a child who ran away with his sibling to Houma, escaping the great battle at Kolotau ko Hule.
A name is not an object – at least not to us. It is a means of history sharing and encasing stories so that they will be told from one generation to the next.
My name is ‘Aulola Silua To’omeilangi ‘Ake Tongilava. I was named after my grandmother ‘Aulola Polealisi Fuka. ‘Aulola is Tongan for Aurorae Borealis, Goddess of the Dawn, famously what we call the northern lights. Supposedly my grandmother told my father to name me after her as I was smaller than my older siblings and my nena had a feeling I would be my parents’ last child.
When I first left home to live in another country, I had to shorten my name to Lola because ‘Aulola was hard for many others to pronounce. I even pursed my lips to say ‘Loula’. It is very hard unlearning this.
While many of my family and friends call me Lola anyway, I do cringe sometimes at my automatic dismissal of ‘Aulola for the sake of expediency for others. I am slowly learning to embrace my name in its entirety and continue to take fascination in relating that to our identity.