May 27, 2007

Karon Beach (Phuket), Thailand

New label, same great taste.

It's part of the culture here Thailand to have three names—a first name, a family name, and a nickname. Many Thais, especially those who deal regularly with farang, select a nickname that's familiar for them or easy to pronounce. The use of western names is common.

I'm very well acquainted with the difficult name game—the sword cuts both directions. I hear names that I simply can't repeat properly, and the majority of (non-western) folks can't say mine. Factor in the last name, and I'm astounded when someone (of any nationality) says it properly.

This is why almost all of Latin America (from Guatemala to Argentina) simply knows me as Sergio—a nickname given in Antigua by an elderly hotel owner that believed it was the Spanish equivalent for Craig.

I didn't really care if it was or not, I used it at introductions often, and watched a wave of joy washed over faces, as they're all familiar with it. This took stress out of the initial contact, and allowed people to remember me by name the majority of the time.

Here in SE Asia I'm again facing the same problem. Craig is a tongue-twister for Thais, and if it's a part of their culture to use a nickname, I don't see why I shouldn't do the same.

Sergio is common in Latin America, but doesn't have the same impact here. I like the idea of keeping a name that starts with the letter S, as my actual middle name does, as well.

Then, it came to me. My friend Babak (who has been known to use the "difficulty" of his name to manipulate first encounters), recently likened me to a guy with a name I could use: Samson, the Biblical/Herculean fellow who was empowered by his hair.

I tried it out today when I met the owner of my hotel; it worked perfectly. As we exchanged names I asked if him Samson was easy to pronounce, which he said it was, adding that he'd heard it before in a movie ("a very strong man I see at cinema").

That'll do. Samson in SE Asia, it is.

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