Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kunyas: Nicknames that are Names

Catholicgauze writes in and discusses the lack of a proper naming system in the Middle East.

You may or may not know the word "kunya" but in one way or another you probably have already heard of a kunya. Educational materials on Arab culture or the Middle East will teach you that kunyas are honorific names/titles used by Arabs. What is generally taught is that someone named "Abu Umar" is the father of a child named Umar. "Umm Umar" would be the mother of Umar. Meanwhile an Ibn Thahr is the son of a Thahr.

All Catholicgauze can say is that is how the system was meant to work but no longer does (or in my sleep-deprived thinking, "Lies! Horrible Lies!). In today's modern Middle East the kunya has devolved into nicknames that can be used in place of true birth names on almost anything expect official government documents. People will take a kunya to tie themselves with popular historical figures, their profession, even favorite sports stars.

What is truly something else is one can have a kunya for certain situations. For instance, your friends may know you as "Abu Ahmad" after your son but your your co-workers may know you as "Abu Jindal" after the local soccer star. Surprisingly your family may not know you use the kunya Abu Jindal. So a co-worker could call your home, ask for an "Abu Jindal," and be told no one by that name lives there. Your co-workers may not know your true name so any attempts to reach you would end in vain right then and there.

Catholicgauze has encountered this problem already and plans on many more name searches. I can only imagine how people who live in the Middle East manage to work around this kunya problem.


Anonymous said...

I find the subtitle:
"lack of a proper naming system" to be extremely infantile.

Catholicgauze said...

"Proper" as in agreed upon systems allow a culture to grow and thrive. Proper agreements on langauge allow for communication. Where would Western Civilization if English speakers, French Speakers, and Spanish speakers could not communicate with one another if they could not agree on writing or language rules for their own respective language?

The same holds true for names. A buerarctic system such as a state needs to have proper, agreeded upon names for its citizens. Whether a culture/state conducts a census is a sign of centralization and allows for advancement. If one uses multiple names and people cannot successful communicate information concerning other people then advancement is delayed.

Anonymous said...

People do have a set naming system, as you point out, for official documents there is one official name. The kunya is just a nickname. It might be hard for you to adjust to, but for god sake could you sound any more imperialistic?
A kunya shows affection, much like the Russian diminutive.
Instead of braying for dull Western Mc-uniformity learn something about the world.

Catholicgauze said...

But my point is there are some who do not use their full birth name at all. Not only have I seen official documents use kunyas only I have met some full grown legally adults who do not know their full legal, birth name. They reverted so much on kunyas that those are their names for all practical sake. When one person uses several kunyas and never their "true legal" name then goverence, communication, and everything else is made so much more difficult. The Iraqi government itself has admitted this is a problem in the "wild" tribal areas.

I am learning much about the world and other cultures but that does not mean I have to accept everything. And before I am accused of being somesort of racist let me make the point there are things about American and global cultures I find odd to wrong with Iraqi Arabic culture being superior in reguards.