As gringo names are generally harder for the locals pronounce, almost all of the volunteers in my region use ngabere names during their service. Sometimes the village elders simply give you a name, but other times it can be a process.
During my initial visit to my community, it was decided that I would receive my new name during the meeting that would introduce me to my new neighbors and coworkers. However, it was soon apparent that while they all knew I would get a new name, they didn’t know HOW I would get the name. Some said that the man who had been my community guide should get to choose the name, while others argued that since it was my name, I should pick. Still others felt like it should be a community effort and put up to a vote. Like any good compromise, they finally decided that I should just draw the name out of a hat.
So, for the next two years I’ll be answering to the name Geli Quigavo. My first name is pronounced more like Ellie, and doesn’t have any particular significance. My last name, though, symbolizes the town that I’m now a part of. Interestingly, the previous volunteer also received a similar last name, so even though we’ve never actually met, some people jokingly refer to us as being brother and sister.
I’ve answered to either Abby or Abigail my entire life, so having a new name has taken some getting used to. The first few days of introductions were a little rough:
Village Member: “What’s your name?”
Me: “Abby! Uh.. I mean Gelly… er.. Ellie?”
Regardless of the initial confusion (and the fact that almost nobody actually remembers my real name), I’m happy to have my new name. Seeing the community so excited (and opinionated!) about my local name was really awesome, and using something that’s both indigenous and community-chosen has made me feel a little bit more a part of my town.