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#4395: Odd names in Haiti : Delimon comments
From: Florence Delimon <email@example.com>
Maybe somebody has already replied to Chamberlain on his question of June 8,
2000: "Can anyone explain why people from northern Haiti (or is it more NW
Haiti?) with surnames ending in -eus and -ius are laughed at by people in
the capital? What are they reading into such names?"
My answer might not be satisfactory, but may give an idea of why "surnames
(from all parts of Haiti actually) ending in -eus and -ius are laughed at by
people in the capital": somehow, in the collective consciousness (I'd say),
there is the idea that surnames ending with these -eus, or -ius, are of
people that are not too bright, or too knowledgeable of the "right" way of
being (read: smart, urbanized, refined, etc..).
Actually, in Haitian literature, one example being an author like Fernand
Hibbert (from the 19th century), the characters whose last name would end
with -eus, or -ius, will most likely be that ambitious, or simpleton, man
from the provinces who "goes up" to Port-au-Prince (li monte Pòtoprins),
searching for a better life, then when ambitious or simpleton fellow arrives
in Port-au-Prince, tries to fool people into "showing off" his knowledge,
craft, or whatever skill he thinks he is good at (one of them often trying
to speak French - which most of the time doesn't work), makes one blunder
after another, and ends up back in the provinces, or at the lowest level of
the social ladder with all dreams shattered. (My explanation here is pretty
caricatural, but that is rouhgly how these characters were presented, as a
mean to pinpoint or poke fun at individuals with misplaced/overblown views
of themselves - one way to emphasize some traits among our society members -
social satire, if you will)
Somehow it has come to pass in our collective memory that surnames with -eus
or -ius are funny - a bit like the African-American characters Mrs
Butterbean Brown, Mrs Wideload Wallis in Tom Joyner's radio talk show. In
many Haitian comedies, up to today, you will have names ending with -eus and
-ius, and as a reader, listener, you will automatically smile because you
know that this character is representative of the social trait which is
going to be satirized, so-to-speak.
This being said, there are many families in Haiti whose last names end up in
-eus and -ius, and people will not think about laughing at them for any
reason, except probably thinking that this is an improbable name, maybe not
to be believed (except in the frame of a comical situation), until of course
they realize the name is no joke...
And then there are people who will find faults with all kinds of manes
anyway, and we can nothing against that...
My two cents worth on this question, if that helps a bit.