Thursday, November 17, 2011

What's in a name?

So, what does your name mean? That's a really good question. And it's one I'm asked quite frequently, actually. Well, I don't actually know, so here's a brief array of meanings for 'Emma,' as warranted by Google.

  • Universal
  • Whole
  • All-containing
  • To imitate
  • To rival
  • Nurse
  • Serious

So, as you can see, there are a lot of things that my name could mean! But the truth of the matter is that 'Emma' doesn't really mean anything. Perhaps it is derived from a word initially, but Google seems to have several different languages listed as the "original," from German to Teutonic to Swedish. In a nutshell, my name is just a name. 

So, to quote my lovely title (and Shakespeare): What's in name? 

In English, maybe not much. But in the Arab world, a name is not just a name. A name means something. Generally, there are religious aspects to a name or at least names tie back into the Arabic language. 

For example, take the name 'Noor.' Noor is the Arabic word for "light." This is a fairly common name for girls in the Arab world. 

Or take the name 'Abdullah.' This combines both Arabic words and Islamic cultures. Abdul means "servant" and Allah means "God," therefore making Abdullah mean "servant of God."*

Then, take the most common name in the world: Mohammed. Yes, there are more Mohammeds than people of any other name in the world, and I definitely believe it after living here. Mohammed, the Prophet, is seen by Muslims as the last word from God. There are so many people named Mohammed. 

Middle names and last names, in the Arab world, also mean something. Every Omani child's middle name is their father's name. The fact that my middle name is not William also causes some shock to people, sometimes. Last names, at least in Oman, represent your tribe. Tribal loyalty is very important, and belonging to a tribe is incredibly vital. Tribes are family to Omanis. 

So, I hope this explains a little bit about a cultural concept seen commonly. I actually like that, here, in Oman, names mean something. A name has a history behind it greater than being named after a cow (yes, that is where my name came from. You can ask my mother). A name has meaning on many levels--linguistic, religious, family, and tribal. My opinion is that naming a child through this system, incorporating vital aspects of this child's future life, means that Arab names tend to have a lot more to them than Western names. 

*It should be noted that 'Abdul' is not an acceptable name for a child (despite what the common Western media sometimes says), because it literally means "servant" or "slave," although Abdullah (or "abdul" combined with one of the other 99 names for God) is perfectly acceptable. 

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