Another trivial pursuit for a chilled March afternoon. What would you be called if you lived in Veggiestan?
Actually, if you lived in Turkey, Iran or Central Asia, the answer would be fairly simple. You’d have a forename and a surname (or family name). And sometimes a middle name too (although in modern Iran this latter practice is rare as it is regarded as being too imperialistic). Names are quite often a good indicator of your family’s beliefs: those who are very devout will be sure to include one Islamic moniker such as Maryam, or Ali, or Mohammad, or Aisha. More secular families will look to pre-Islamic names which may connect with nature or the elements or ancient mythology.
Ah, but it is with Arabic nomenclature that the complicated stuff begins. Let’s work backwards. If I wanted to lose myself in Arabia, I could call myself:
Om-Chombol Sally al-Sakheef bint Thomas ibn Douglas al-Ingleesi
What fun! Literally this means:
Mother of Chombol (that’s my cat by the way), Sally the silly, daughter of Thomas, son of Douglas, the Englishman
If you are a chap then you will be ‘abu’ (father of) instead of ‘om’. Oh, and it is always the name of your eldest child that gets slotted in there, regardless of gender. You will have to find your own descriptive Arabic word, because otherwise this would turn into a dictionary instead of a food-themed meander. But al-gameel/a (male/female) means ‘the beautiful’, if that helps…. Go on – have a little play.
This practice of stringing names together in Arabic is very common, and as you can see tells you a lot about the person in question. There are further complications, quite apart from children and parents, wishful epithets and adjectives of place. There are dozens of other respectful pronouns and forms of address which can be applied: two of the commonest are sayyed, which implies that the person in question is a descendant of the Prophet, and haji, which denotes that someone has been on a haj (pilgrimage).
John Smith just doesn’t have the same ring to it, now does it?