Apolonia Humelina Fonseca of Alto Porvorim, Goa, the former Portuguese colony in India died two days ago and her notice of death appeared in a local newspaper. Apolonia was the daughter of Anunciacao Candida Desa and the relict (an old usage meaning widow) of Jose Joaquim Fonseca who worked in Basra and Abu Dhabi.  Notices of death that appear in the local papers are columns from history. They narrate stories of Goan family life, starting with portraits of the family, their migrations, changes in lifestyle and finally the people they leave behind to carry on the family traditions. One noticeable lifestyle change that is apparent in these notices is that Goan Christians are dropping their traditional names and opting for new ones. There seems to be a move away from four and five and syllable names like Apolonia, Tiburcio and Constancio to two syllable names and in some cases names with a definite Indian slant.

Apolonia Humelina Fonseca would certainly have had a pet name that was easy on the tongue and on the ear. The names of some of her grandchildren mentioned in the notice of death are of fewer syllables and easy to remember – Herman and Nigel, Chrystal and Aidan. Apolonia’s family is not alone. Hundreds of Goa families are moving away from the names that were prevalent during the Portuguese era in Goa to ones that are both current and easy to live with.

It is not out of place to enquire how a little girl born in 1929 in Goa was named Apolonia. It is certain that she was not named after the three towns in Crete of the same name or after the town in Greece. More probably she was named after Saint Apolonia of Alexandria one of the earliest of Christian martyrs and saints whose teeth were knocked out during her torture and who later became the patroness of dentistry. Jacobus de Voragine immortalised Apolonia’s life in his chronicle the Golden Legend published in the Middle Ages. Saint Apolonia was widely accepted in Portugal as well – Lisbon’s oldest railway station that was opened in 1865 was named ‘Sant Apolonia.’ Tiburcio (also spelt Tiburzio) was also possibly named after San Tiburcio, a Roman martyr.

The children of people like Apolonia, Constancio and Tiburcio continued to be named according to the trends prevailing in the fifties and sixties of the last century. They had names like Hipolito, Milagres and Deolinda. Then came the change and the discernible shift in the selection of names. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people like Apolonia are not necessarily named after saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church. The children born to Goan parents in the closing decades of the last century and the children of the new millennia are more often called Elvis, Lily, Sean, Deon or Anjali, Priya and Roshan. Their Christian names are not entirely discarded. They do stay on the record books and on certificates of birth and marriage. On the playfields and on Facebook the preference seems to be for anything like Lily, Arman or Ayesha or as mentioned earlier Elvis, Lily or Sean.

Viju James