A.J. Walker


A Woman Called Malaria

A Woman Called Malaria: What's In A Name?

I met Malaria working in a trendy bar in the city. She was a nice young woman. Confident, bubbly & attentive and efficient at her job - which largely comprised getting me drinks from the bar. In the quieter moments we had the opportunity to talk a little, which is how I discovered her name was Malaria - her colleagues at the bar called her Mel, apparently under the instruction of the manager who thought periodically shouting out “malaria” across the busy bar would not necessarily be a good thing for the customers.

She's actually in the second year of her medical degree at the university, and her job was need to help her through her studies as the grant she gets from her country is very small and he parents are not wealthy enough to help her much. She said she was enjoying being in a foreign country and loved the chance to meet very different people. She had never been abroad before gaining the chance to study here.

I asked how her parents had come to name her Malaria. And it turned out it wasn’t her given name. I found this slightly comforting if a little confusing. The name was apparently the last one in a long line of English language names she had used. Malaria had previously gone under the name Joy, and before that there was Sapphire, Crystal and Ruby. She was from a small country in the Far East which had a tonal language and she explained that Westerners usually had great difficulty in saying even one short word correctly - let alone learn the language - so it was common practice amongst people who worked with Westerners at all that they would adopt English names. She told me her given name and after several minutes of trying to repeat it she confirmed that I didn’t get very close at all. Commonly those with their short term Anglicised names would also rotate them over time. She'd had a few lasting less than a week before being jettisoned.

Right now she was a medical student named after a disease which kills millions world wide. Did she not consider the irony, I asked, and had she not considered changing it to something less lethal? She laughed coyly at this point and her eyes suggested that she enjoyed the question. It was her longest held name, she said. She’d chosen it at 18 and had it for two and a half years now. It had been a word she’d read and liked the sound of. It was purely on the sound as she hadn’t known then what it was when she’d first read it years previously. Her previous names had been based on beauty, colours, and maybe even; like Ruby, Sapphire, and Crystal. But Malaria was all about the sound. She shrugged, sometimes words changed meanings over time, maybe she was ahead of the curve.

Perhaps she is. Now I’m wondering what I’d call myself this week if I could change my name at will. Perhaps I’ll be Stout, or Porter, then again maybe I should follow Malaria’s path and pick a disease name or maybe a treatment? Yes, for this week anyway, call me Benzo. Benzo Diazapan.