52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 3: Namesake

Greetings, marhaba & welcome!  I am back with week three of Amy Johnson Crow challenge #52Ancestors.

2021 Week 3 Prompt: Namesake  

My name, Reem, means deer or gazelle in Arabic. It is well known in Arabic literature and poetry, often used to describe beauty and grace. 

The prominent Egyptian poet, Ahmed Shawqi (1870-1932), started one of his most coveted poems with “Reem.”  In “Nahj Al-Burda” (Way of the Mantel), Shawqi led by describing the beauty of a deer on a plain. [1]

نهج البردة֍ احمد شوقي
ريـمٌ عـلى القـاعِ بيـن البـانِ والعلَمِ               أَحَـلّ سـفْكَ دمـي فـي الأَشهر الحُرُمِ

This poem was sung by the famous Arabic singer, Umm Kulthum. In fact, in many Arabic popular songs, the word Reem (deer/gazelle) is combined with the colloquial Arabic word for open plains (al-fala) to describe the beauty of a gazelle in the wild.  I can’t tell you how many times I am greeted with “Ah, Reem Al-fala (gazelle of the wild),” when meeting others in the Arab Community.

While I was not named after anyone in my family, I do have namesakes – two of my cousins named their daughter’s after me. One was named only a few years after I was born, so I can’t take any credit for the interest in the name. The other, however, was named specifically after me. They are both treasured by me. What an honor to be thought of dear enough to be the inspiration for the naming of a child. 

Sometimes, however, the name is not bestowed due to any fondness for the person, but rather due to naming practices of a community. In the Arab world, there are many naming practices. The eldest son in the family is traditionally named after his paternal grandfather. A birth certificate in an Arab country lists the child’s given name, their father’s name, their paternal grandfather’s name, their mother’s name, and their surname. The child is usually referred to in all legal document with the names of their paternal line. Ali, son of Mohammed, son of Tawfeek from the Taweel family, would be listed as Ali Mohammed Tawfeek Taweel.  

Other common names in Arabic come from sources similar to other cultures, such as: names from religious books (Quran & Bible) such as Mohammed, Issa (Jesus), Ibrahim (Abraham), Miriam (Mary), or Musa (Moses); names from occupations such as Haddad (blacksmith), Bahar (spicer) or Hakeem (healer); and names describing beauty (Jamila), hope (Amal) and love (Habeeb) are but a few. 

Some names were derived to mean devotion to God, such as the various forms that are translated to mean “servant of God.”  The word for servant is Abd (pronounced Abed, or commonly mispronounced as Abdul) is the prefix to an appellation of God, giving us, for example, Abdallah, AbdelFattah, and AbdelRahim. The “el” (or “the”) in the middle of the word is always written in Arabic but only sometimes transliterated in English depending on whether or not the “el” is silent.  These just a few ways children are named in Arab countries. 

Many times, people are not referred to not by their given name, but rather by relationship to their parent or eldest son.  For example, the father or mother of Khaled would be referred to as “Abu Khaled” or “Im Khaled,” or the son of Zakaria, would be “Ibn Zakaria.” If the relationship name is listed as the given name, this can be confusing when documenting family histories. If the relationship is known, it could, alternatively, help in figuring out who someone’s relative may be. 

Some names have been confused by family members tracing Arab-American ancestors because a title or nickname was so often used that the alternative name becomes ascribed to them in the family history. For example, a family reading a letter to their grandfather who was a priest, referred to as “Sido Khoury,” which literally means Grandfather Priest, should be careful because Khoury is probably not his given name. (There are families with the surname of Khoury, but it is not necessarily in this case.) 

Another problem Arab-American’s face in using names to trace their ancestors is that immigrants to the United States were commonly misnamed not only by using Westernized or misspelled names, as we see done to many other cultures, but also by the limiting of names to a first, middle and last name. For example, if Ali Mohammed Tawfeek Taweel immigrated to the United States in the 1960’s, the name the immigration officer listed was probably Ali Mohammed Tawfeek. So Tawfeek, his grandfather’s name, became his surname on all his U.S. documents. Therefore, although his children may know this, they probably wouldn’t change the name. Then his grandchildren, never hearing the immigrant story, may wonder where did their family name Tawfeek come from, when in truth it is not their original family name at all. 

To keep to the intent of this ancestor challenge, I will note that my husband’s family has for several generations not broken the tradition of naming a son (not always the eldest) after their paternal grandfather. With that, his great-grandfather’s name, Abdallah Elias, and his father’s name, Abdallah Elias, are the same; as is his name, Elias Abdallah, and his namesake, his grandfather, Elias Abdallah, who is also fondly known as “Sido Khoury”. 

[1] Ahmed Shawqi, Nahj Al-Burdah, Cairo, 1910.

Published by Reem Awad-Rashmawi

Photographs & Memories by Reem

One thought on “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 3: Namesake

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: