What's In A Name?

For a 7th or 8th grade assignment we were asked to write about the etymology of our last names. We didn't have the Internet back then, nor did anything in the public library in the suburbs of Philadelphia have references on Filipino last names, so I asked my dad. Of course he had some answers.

In pre-Spanish Philippines, people didn't have last names. It wasn't until Spanish colonization and (coerced) Catholicism that the adoption of "Christian" names became custom. Like many cultures around the world, families took names that were somehow reflective of a family occupation or trait. This is obvious in the English surnames of Baker, Carpenter, Taylor, or Smith. Sometimes the names were due to a physical trait, as in the English Small, Armstrong, or Swift. 

My last name, Malabuyo, had two potential meanings. One combined the Spanish "mala" meaning bad and Tagalog/Bicol "buyo" as in betel, a plant whose leaves are used in combination with a paste and nut as a chewable narcotic common in many parts of Asia. Frequent chewers of this combo, commonly called betel nut, have red discolored mouths and the same charm we commonly attribute to tobacco chewers. 

Another translation is to take the Tagalog "ma-", a prefix for "many", and "labuyo", a small, native, belligerent chicken. I romantically imagined that my ancestors were given this last name because they were small and belligerent people. Just like the namesake chicken, instead of backing down from a fight, they'd puff themselves up and attack. 

I think it's more likely that we were chicken farmers. 


After college, I started playing multiplayer games online, and these games required players to have a unique name or handle to identify themselves. I was playing a lot of Quake back then, and game kills were announced onscreen with a line of text: <Handle> fragged <victim's handle>. I thought it was funny to have a silly or weak-sounding name, so I tried various handles on for size. 

Peter Pan fragged Satanspawn666. This was just to add insult to injury. 

GodOfAwesome fragged Tinkerbell. It must take away just a tiny bit from that frag. 

I then remembered that paper I wrote many years back and thought it would be funny if I tried using variations of "chicken" as my handle. I got to trying "Wildchicken" and it seemed to stick. 

When I worked at Microsoft, I became rather obsessed with Age of Empires and its sequel, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. After work hours, a group of players across the company would play 8-player games, first-come, first-served. We would hash out the details of the game, balance out the teams, get teammates on a conference call, and have at it. When I joined Microsoft Game Studios, playing with the team was part of the job. While working on Mechwarrior IV we played a lot of Counterstrike and Unreal Tournament. Not only did this help the team bond, but it was good research as we played various games and figured out their strengths and weaknesses. Wildchicken was often present. 

While working on Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, we played a lot of Halo. Some of my favorite gaming memories involved having four Xbox consoles on the local network with four player splitscreen on each one - sixteen players on teams or free-for-all was incredibly fun. When Xbox Live launched I made sure to grab the gamertag "Wildchicken" since the name had become my de facto nickname; people who I played with on a regular basis would actually find it easier to call me "chicken" as in, "Hey, Chicken, take a look at this..." without it sounding like an insult. 

As multiplayer design lead, I was responsible for designing the game types and maps for the game. I wanted to create a unique game aside from the to-be-expected team and free-for-all dogfights and capture the flag. Inspired by quidditch from Harry Potter, I created a team-based game that gave points both for kills as well as scoring a goal. 

Quidditch has a quaffle, the ball you would use to score points, and a golden snitch, the winged object that played hard-to-get but would give you an automatic win if caught. Since shooting others down was a key mechanic of Crimson Skies, we wanted to keep that as an obvious scoring mechanism. By combining the concept of the quaffle and golden snitch, we created a "ball" that was somewhat difficult to catch but would give you significantly more points if you flew it into the other team's goal.

For some reason, the team agreed to make this ball a large, clucking chicken. It would fly somewhat erratically around the environment when free, but latch onto a plane when touched. To make the chicken visible it had to be quite large; it also constantly shed feathers and clucked loudly. When caught, it would hold onto the plane while leaving behind a stream of feathers. This wasn't just for comedic effect. The size of the chicken made it easy to spot, and the feathers made it easy to track. As a placeholder name, I called this gametype "Wild Chicken" but, as we continued developing the game, no other name seemed to make sense so it stuck. 

I'm still quite proud of this dubious achievement, and I wonder how well the game will have aged by the time it gets rereleased on the upcoming Xbox One backwards-compatibility program.


This online name continues to be my go-to alias in other domains like Twitter, partially out of habit and stubbornness, but also because it's easy to remember. I don't have to spell it out for people, which is a benefit when you have a name like mine. I would have never thought that a paper I wrote as a kid would have become the foundation of something I continue to use decades later.