Nicknames and Alternative Careers
Haiti is a country of many greetings and salutations. There are many different ways of addressing people from teasing to endearing. I have been called many things since I’ve been here, some that I don’t particularly like but most of them are really nice. I made a bit of a list of them, which is not an exhaustive list but it is a good start. So, to get the not-so-nice ones out of the way, I’ll begin with those although tone has a huge impact on how any of these are received.
Blan – a classic meaning white, usually used to call out to foreigners although Haitians with lighter skin are often nicknamed with this name too. The guardian at Grepen, Brunel, is often called blan by his coworkers. It’s a term of endearment and not used to make fun of him. I personally don’t like being called it because I hear it too much by people I don’t know who say it obnoxiously on the street or passing by on a moto.
Blanco – Spanish for white, used in the same way as blan.
Blanca – feminine version of white in Spanish although I hear blanco a lot more. Perhaps when they say blanco they aren’t really talking to me because I’m not a dude? Just wishful thinking…
“Hey You!” – People like trying out their English on me. I think they are just trying to get my attention. I usually try not to take too much notice.
And that ends my short list of names I do not particularly care for. The next two are ones I like but don’t appreciate when strangers call me these.
Mi Amor – Spanish for “my love”. It’s cute but I’m am currently not looking for a relatioship.
Chouchou (shoo-shoo) – This one cracks me up. In a B&B in Port-au-Prince, there was a dog named Chouchou. I was confused because chou means cabbage. So I asked why the dog was named Cabbage-Cabbage. The owner laughed and said that it came from French for sweetheart. It was a good laugh and it still makes me laugh. Once again though, I am not in a relationship... only my mom and dad can use it right now.
Moving on, there are many cases of mistaken identity or just not total comprehension when it comes to who I am.
Teacher – a common phrase I hear from kids is “Good morning Teacher!”. The correct response is “Good morning class!”. But I am not a teacher and I don’t know if the kids realize the “teacher” is a way to address their teacher and not randos on the street. Oh well, it can be cute. And many just say “good morning” anyways.
Geri – Geri is a wonderful young woman who has lived and worked in Gros Morne for a while now. Everyone knows her. Her Kreyòl is incredible. We both have blonde hair but otherwise Geri is much more stylish than I am and doesn’t wrap her hair up like I do. Many people call me Geri. I try to correct them and say I’m Jill, but due to the Haitian accent, they repeat back “Geri?”, “No, Jill”, “Geri?”, “Jill”, “Geri.”. My neighbor calls me Geri. I have started to just say “Jillian” if the people I meet don’t get “Jill” right away. Then my name naturally transforms to “Julien”. Oh well. My friends and coworkers know my name.
Abby – Abby is no longer in Haiti but the younger kids from Lekòl Jezi Mari (the school where Abby worked) occasionally call me Abby.
Djouley – The local church sent out letters to ask for donations and there was one sent to Sami, Abby, and me. The letter was addressed to Samy, Amy, and Djouley. It was a good try. I’m honestly surprised they could even get that close to my name because I don’t know the organizers in church at all.
Now let’s get to some general and widely-used names, whether I really know the person or not. Most of these have an “m” after them, which is the short form for mwen. In this sense it is the possessive “my” although mwen can also mean “I”.
Zanmi m – This means my friend. It is commonly used between friends or even strangers in friendly greetings. Possibly unfriendly greetings as well. I use this one a lot when talking with or calling out to my own friends.
Sè m / Frè m – While I am only ever called sè m, I use these names often as well. They are my sister and my brother respectively. I usually hear it mostly from women I know well and not too much older than me.
Komè m / Makomè m – In all honestly, I don’t hear these ones too much but they are commonly used. They are two variations of how parents and their child’s godparents would call each other (if they are women). For men, it’s konpè m. It is also a polite thing to call older people when greeting them or for two older people to call each other regardless of godparent status. I call my tutor, Lamaj, konpè m and he calls me komè m.
Madam / Mesyè – These are for ma’am and sir. Madam is usually for married or older women but it doesn’t bother me if someone calls me madam.
Cheri / Monchè / Machè - Cheri means dear, or some variation of that. Usually for young women or young boys and girls. Monchè (boys) and machè (girls) are just more specific versions of cheri.
While I am sure I missed some names in there, I would like to move on to our last section. These are more specific nicknames I’ve heard people call me that pertain to job titles. While I don’t quite feel qualified enough to actually be called any of these, I am nonetheless a little touched by them. Perhaps I have a future in one of these! That or they are amusing inside jokes.
Sè Jill – As we have addressed before, sè means sister, but in this sense it’s calling me a religious sister. This is mostly a joke at Maison Bon Samaritain. There is a Sister of Mercy who often visits and her name is Sr. Jill, so when she is not there, a few people decide to call me Sè Jill in her stead. In a recent project as well, I have been working with a group of people (via text) through the Religious of Jesus and Mary so everyone assumes I am also a sister. I have explained I am not but some people did not see the message I guess because they still call me Sè Jill.
Agwo – There is a woman I run into on my street who has seen me working at the agronomist center in Grepen and calls me Agwo because of my work in agronomy. I am not officially an agronomist, but sometimes I take the title of Agwo Jill when we have visiting university students.
Mis / Mislan – Mis might actually just mean Miss but I always took it as a short for of mislan, which is how the nurses at MBS are called. A couple of residents call me mis or mislan and at least one person on my street calls me this. So I guess I’m a nurse?
Chausseur… Chasseur…? – I am not sure of the spelling for this one or even the correct pronunciation. It’s kind of French or derived from French and the way it is used is an older way to address a religious sister. Although according to my spelling and the French dictionary it can mean footwear, footman, light infantry, huntsman, or something to do with food (although I’m not sure how or what exactly).
Baz / Bòs – These pretty much mean boss and used for someone who is skilled in their trade, in charge, and well respected. Baz is the female version. Only a handful of people call me these but it’s usually if I’m organizing something.
Atis – Only one person calls me this but since I regularly aid residents at MBS with drawing or other little crafts, I’m called atis for artist.
And this concludes my list of nicknames in Haiti. I hope it was a little fun and informative. Being in Haiti has really helped me loosen up and become a chiller person in general and these nicknames are a factor to that. I’m not sure how well they will translate over to English, but these common ways of addressing friends and strangers in polite yet lighthearted and casual ways has allowed me to get closer to people more easily. It’s fun to give people you are close to nicknames! I usually stick to the names people give me it’s always nice to play around and tease the people you love.
Remember to love and appreciate the people in your life!