My first day on the job out bush started with a local asking me what my name was. I replied with “Andrew” at which a look of horror appeared over the face of the aboriginal health worker.
I had not considered that Andrew might be a truly horrible name before this day.
“We can’t call you that, that’s a Kunmarnarra name.”
My name is Kunmarnarra. Kunmarnanya is the term for someone who had a similar name to someone who died. That name, and words similar in sound to it cannot be used and you are called “Kunmarnarra” or “Mr Roberts”. No, not everyone is called Mr Roberts, but I could have been.
I was the first pharmacist working in this part of Australia. Our remote indigenous population had no idea what a pharmacist did. They knew I wasn’t a doctor, so was initially called “Sister” because if I am not a doctor then I must be a nurse!
Not wanting the formality, and with this new role, wishing to be recognised as something other than as a generic Kunmarnarra I used my nickname. Robbo. Being an Aussie many names are shortened. Stevens to Stevo, Johnson to Johnno etc. But out here in aboriginal Australia few christan names end in “O” and I have been spared a name change since then.
I am called that right through the health service and beyond. I used to explain the reasons why I was called Robbo but now just say “G’day, I’m Robbo” and throw out my hand. I get a few quizzical looks I let slide by. It is a bit different, and quite good to be introduced by your only nickname in official meetings.
And so now I am known by my nickname through hospital staff, consultants, government bureaucrats and all others that I meet.
It is a nice way to be.