Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's in a Name?

As you may or may not be aware, names in the Arab world have slightly more meaning than they do in the West. Now, I apologize if you were named for your grandparents or something, but the name itself doesn't really hold any meaning. Take my name for instance. Tyler literally means "maker of tiles". That's right. Another delightful occupational name from the Anglo-Saxon tradition. My last name, through some tough googling, I discovered means "church"...(it's a long explanation and I don't want my wife and her siblings to give me the eye for going on about it). Anyway...the names that we possess don't really have meanings the way that they do here. Especially nicknames.

So here's the thing. For Muslims, your name means something. It's an attribute or a wish that your parents hope you will turn out with that value or something like that. It's not quite as simple as, "oh, Skyler sounds neat!" (seriously, who came up with that name!?) For instance, Omar means "long lived"...Abdullah means "servant of God"...and Faisal means "strong & handsome" or "decisive" (depending on the spelling). Because some names are more desirable than others, there are LOTS of kids with the same names. For instance, I have 4 Mohammeds in one of my classes (all spelled totally differently, by the way). This was actually one of the biggest struggles I had when I first got makes it almost impossible to know their names. Although it did help to know that if you don't know someone's name, you can actually say "ya Mohammed!" and it's like saying "hey you!".

There is also a kind of significance to your name. Like you are kind of expected to give your first son your dad's name. So my oldest son (when we have one) would be named Bryan. This tradition is also built into your nickname. The guys over here affectionately refer to each other with a pretty standard nickname. It's Abu (meaning father of) or Um (meaning mother of) and then either your oldest son's name or if you don't have a son, your father's name. So I would be Abu Bryan and my dad would be Abu Tyler (since I'm the oldest). Honestly, I think that tradition is pretty cool. My nickname growing up was techols...which just sounds goofy. Don't get me wrong, it's totally mine and I love it, but I'm really proud of my dad, and having his name as my nickname...I kind of wear it like a badge of honor. (That's right, some of the 10th graders have started to call me Abu Bryan). This works with the parents I call too..."excuse me, is this Abu (insert student name)?" It's strange, but it's a kind of efficient system that I've grown kind of fond of.

I'm not sure if the girls have the same kind of thing. I've heard some of the guys in phone meetings with the girls's side call the girl teachers Um (insert son's name). So I guess they do...but I'll have to check with Amber and get back to you. In the meantime, I think my siblings and I should all start referring to our father as Abu would be hilarious and also kind of awesome.

Vicariously yours,

Author's note: For our actual Muslim/Saudi/Arab readers, please feel free to correct me on the meaning of these names...I did actually ask, but some people gave me different answers! Sorry in advance!

1 comment:

  1. Bryan is kinda right. the "ibn/bin" part is used in the name itself, not the nickname.
    Sometimes people who don't have a son are called by their dad instead.

    Arabs don't necessarily name it on the meaning. It's just that most Arab names have clear meanings because Arabic has been kept as it is for centuries (go find out why). Other languages changed over time and haven't been kept. No one uses old English anymore.
    A lot of common names are religious (Muhammed,Ahmed, Abdullah, Abdulaziz, all the other abd names)
    I'm not sure about Omar's name. Faisal means the guy who separates between right and wrong.