About My Middle Name

woman standing near the blue sea
What is your middle name? Does it carry any special meaning/significance?

On my birthday, in a province in Indonesia, my parents decided to give me the middle name “Septa” and to call me by that name as well. It was Saturday, September 24th, 1988 hence the name Septa. Interestingly, back in the 80s, it was quite common in Indonesia to name children after their birth month. Today, not so much.

I have friends born in November named Novi, Novia, Nova, Novin, and Novita. Then there are Febri, Feby, and Faby, who were born in February. Sometimes, February babies get names like Valen, Valentina, or Valentino because of Valentine’s Day! And for those born in July, it’s often Julia, Yuli, Julian, Julius, Yulius or Yuli. Surely this is not the rule.

When it comes to September babies, the go-to name for boys is Sapto. And there’s Septi, Septina, and Septika for girls. Septa is more of a gender-neutral option, although, in my experience, I’ve come across more boys named Septa than girls. But again, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Back in my second year of high school, I had Mr. Sapto as my economics teacher and Mrs. Septi as my accounting teacher. What a funny coincidence! They weren’t related and had different spouses. But my friends, being their usual silly selves, would tease us about being a family.

I didn’t take the joke seriously because I was too worried about my grades. These two subjects took more time and energy to comprehend, not to mention that I had science and math which I have never liked or was good at. Maybe numbers and science aren’t my forte after all.

Back in the day, whenever I introduced my name, people in my country would respond,

“Hey, you were born in September, right? What’s your birth date?”

This typically led to the inevitable question of whether I fell under the sign Virgo or Libra. If the person was into horoscopes, they’d ask more questions about traits associated with being Libra or they’d share about other Libras they knew. I always found these interactions enjoyable and effortless– a memory of my younger years.

During my curious twenties, I was wondering how people in Western countries would pronounce my name. I’ve always assumed that foreigners might find it easier to say my sister’s name (Sandra) and my brother’s (Sonny) than mine.

So, one day, I turned to Google Translate, typed in my name, and listened to how it sounded in English-speaking countries. I tried several languages too: German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Filipino. To my surprise, the closest pronunciation to mine was in Spanish.

As my curiosity deepened, I delved further into my name exploration. A quick Google search revealed the top result: a website belonging to a public transportation authority in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Founded in 1964, this company serves over 4 million people across five counties in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s fascinating how a simple curiosity about my middle name led me down such an unexpected path!

I remember telling myself once, “If I ever get the chance to visit the USA and people struggle to pronounce my name, I’ll just mention this transportation company—I’m sure they’ll get it!”

We did make it to the USA.

(Hint: The first months in the USA, I shared that fun fact about my name with an American friend, only to find out she wasn’t familiar with the transportation company. But she still managed to say my name correctly).

My husband and I lived in a small town in northern Indiana, almost a 10-hour drive to Philadelphia. During our time in the States, I found a trick to explain my name pronunciation in the easiest way possible. It goes like this:

“Hi! My name’s Septa. S-E-P-T-A. It’s like September but with an A.”

It works well, including when I’m at Starbucks ordering iced caramel macchiato. Sometimes, I share stories about my middle name with my foreign friends. Most of them, if not all, find it fascinating because they do not have such a thing in their culture.

My other girlfriends, one Chinese and the other Mexican, didn’t believe that Septa was my name the first time we met. Months later, while we were hanging out, they told me that Septa didn’t sound like a name in either of their cultures. I laughed because it was surprisingly funny.

“Your last name sounds more like a name,” they said. That day, I considered calling myself by my last name the next time I made friends. But I didn’t. I only use my last name when I’m at Starbucks. And I’m happy when people call me Septa because it has a story.

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