What’s In An Igoa?

‘O ai lou igoa? What’s your name?

It’s one of the first questions we are taught in PST and has been one of my most repeated phrases since I arrived here 10 months (WHAT?!) ago.

With all of my downtime, I’ve been reflecting on the question, What’s in a name?

(But don’t worry, unlike Juliet, and against my very traditional Syrian grandmother’s wishes, I am confidently single. Despite the constant pestering and matchmaking by my host family and practically any Samoan I meet, I’m determined that no sole will be my Romeo. No Tama (boy), no drama.)

Upon arrival, the PC/Samoa language and cultural staff assigned us Samoan names —usually pretty close to or the exact Samoan equivalent of our names— as a first step of integration. Luckily, my name, Lena, is a common name here in Samoa. The difference is that according to vowel usage and pronunciation they spell it Lina.

Samoa –and Peace Corps service– is like the tide: there are moments of peaceful serenity, but then there’s always a time where you feel as if you’re being pushed, pulled, and tested. It’s then that you get to a point where you may question components of your identity: Am I Lena or Lina? What part(s) of me am I sacrificing or hiding? Why doesn’t anyone from home *get* me or understand this experience? Am I the same person I was a day/week/month/year ago?

But through self-reflection (a nicer way of saying “identity crisis”), I’ve now grown to accept that I am both Lena and Lina, as the E and I are not mutually exclusive. I am constantly being challenged and coming to terms with my constant growth has been reassuring and a way I’ve formed my own personal concept of resiliency.

~Back to names.~

A fellow PCV, and good friend, Sarah, wrote a blog post detailing the concept behind naming rituals in Samoan culture. You can read it here.

What I do find interesting is when I ask a Samoan ‘O ai lou igoa? (or ‘O ai lou suafa? for older people to show my respect) and I translate their response to English, if possible, I will usually have a good chuckle. 

Here are a few Samoan names of my students and other people that I, or another PCV, have met— with their English translations:

  • Pisitoa: Busy Rooster (the colloquial name for us PCVs)
  • Palagi: White person
  • Niu Zila: New Zealand
  • Falema’i: Hospital
  • Falesa: Church
  • Ofisa: Office
  • Ta’avale: Car
  • Va’alele: Airplane
  • Tui: Fork
  • Ma’a: Rock
  • Lima: Hand or five
  • Luaiva: Twenty-nine
  • Tasi: One (twins)
  • Lua: Two (twins)
  • Kirisimasi: Christmas
  • Sefulutasikirisimasi: Eleven Christmas
  • Pasefika: Pacific
  • Galo: Forgot
  • Ata: Smile
  • Aso: Day
  • Tau: Weather
  • ‘Aifa’i: Eat Banana
  • ‘Aialaisa: Eat Rice
  • Manaia: Nice
  • Fa’afetai: Thank You
  • Aiga: Family
  • Tautala: Talk
  • Tala: Samoan currency
  • Fu’a: Flag
  • Lopa: Red Seeds

Here are some names I didn’t expect: Albert, Olive, Trevor, Ben, Jerry, Jack, Derek, Fiesssta (with three S’s), and Cherish.

Of course this is not to diminish their names within this cultural context. They are common names, but it just makes me thankful that my name is Lina.


Life Updates:

I celebrated my birthday earlier this month (lua valu!) and let’s just say I was happy crying the whole day. Birthdays are not usually celebrated here in Samoa and so I went into the day with low expectations. I had previously arranged with my principal to have a “Zumba” (my interpretation of Zumba) party with Years 4-8 after school for my “party.” However, this being Samoa, it quickly morphed (on the day of) to it being a Zumba party for the WHOLE school (Years 1 through 8) right after lunch. I rolled with the punches and was very sore the next day.

I’m so thankful for the tremendous outpouring of love that I received from the kids at my school (and from my village) with handmade cards and gifts that I was silently sobbing while they sang “Happy Birthday.” It’s been nearly two weeks and they are STILL talking about the Zumba. I guess we’ll have to do it again… Yikes.

My little heart and stomach were also so warm and fuzzy when Sarah and I had DELICIOUS dinner at the resort in my village the night of. I’m still dreaming of that chicken. The following weekend was a long weekend because of the Father’s Day holiday so a few friends and I had a birthday hangout to celebrate the Leo Ladies (Stefani and I) at the beach.

With such a great start to my twenty-eighth rotation around the sun, I’m eternally grateful for everything this opportunity has enriched my life with thus far. Here’s to my late 20’s on the island! 🤙🏼🌺

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