I have a new name now. Call me ouah-ouah.
Last week, as you know, I spent a couple of days on Lifou island. I stayed with Ferdinand and his family (they merit an article of their own, yet to be written; so please be patient). They speak a wonderful mixture of Drehu (their local vernacular language) and French. Not that I understood a lot of it, mind you, but I always enjoyed listening to it.
I got confused after a while about the names of people, though. They were introduced to me by one name, usually French or somehow ‘Western’, anyway. But then I heard how they were also called by a different name. But since that wasn’t the only thing I didn’t understand, I didn’t bother to make further enquiries on that particular matter.
Then one morning I had breakfast with Emily, her brother-in-law Johan and the kids. A car passed by on the road, and the usual shouting, greeting, honking, whistling and waving of arms took place. Then Emily shouted „eeeh-eeeh“ really loudly, twice. That was interesting, I had never heard that before. So I asked what it meant. A particular kind of greeting perhaps?
It was explained to me that the name of the guy in the pick-up was Eaton. His Western name, anyway. He was a relative, one of many. And if you know somebody, you hardly ever say their full name, but you address them by the first syllable or perhaps first two syllables only. Hence „Eeeh-eeeh!“. Yes, in fact I had already noticed that Ferdinand mostly said ‘Se’ or ‘Seba’ to me. I liked that.
That was the first thing I learned that morning. The other thing was that usually people have two names. Not as first, second, third etc. name, but as two equivalent names which are used in different contexts. Some examples were provided. And then Emily informed me with a totally earnest expression, that my vernacular name was oisheau (sic). Because I like birds, and the French word for bird happens to be oiseau.
Then, on a sudden impulse, I added one and one together, and I replied that obviously I should be called ouah-ouah.
Now imagine the roaring laughter, excited clapping of hands and repeated banging on the breakfast table that followed.