What's in a name?

What's in a name?....Nothing!....Everything! hehehehe... I adapted that from a scene in the movie "Kingdom of heaven". Yes, so what's in a name? Well, for starters in general, a name whether given or surname is an indication of a person's heritage. A "Smith" is probably English and "Patel" probably Indian and "Khan" probably Pakistani. Closer to home, one can easily make out a Javanese name from a Malay name from a Kelantanese name or Arabic name or a Sikh name or a Tamil or Chinese name. Of course Malays have for generations taken Arabic names as their names. Names like Seri, Melati, Intan, Kencana etc have fallen out of favor recently. It's not that they don't sound nice but Malays usually name things after trees, flowers and other things from nature. Heck the state Melaka was names after a Melaka tree. Of course Malays do not have surnames. Probably because one's place of birth or when someone came from wasn't so much of a significance i guess back then. If one is Iraqi though, a name may indicate if the person's a shiite or Sunni muslim. An Iraqi named 'Ali, Hassan or Hussein may but not always be Shiite.

Although western surnames are usually, not always an indication of a forefather's occupation or skill, muslim surnames are usually an indication of a place the person came from. Arabs of antiquity had tribes/clans based on the name of the founder but out of personal observation tribal/clan names have been replaced by where the person came from. I guess this is a byproduct of the mobility of peoples during the times of the Muslim caliphates where it was useful to know where one came from.


Ahmad Afif Zamri in kufi murabba' khat (Square Kufic Calligraphy style)

Anyways, Arabic names usually have very good meanings to them but as I found out during my university years, some names are regional in both popularity and understandability. Take my own experience for example. I was friends with this Iraqi guy, 'Ali. I didn't have many classes with him so i guess he wasn't around when we went for prayers but it was only after a few weeks that he realised that I was muslim. I guess the name Afif is not popular in the gulf states. I guess Zamri also wasn't a popular arab name. It was a stark difference to a few years later when I started working for Petronas. We have alot of staff from the countries we have a presence in. The biggest country we have presence in in terms of number of staff i think is Sudan. At some point or another I was bound to bump into a Sudanese, and I did - in 2005 at one course. When I told him my name he straight away said that I had a very nice name. Ofcourse I already knew what my name meant but just to continue the conversation I asked him "what does it mean". The standard meaning for 'Afif is "the chaste one" or "the one who safeguards his dignity". As with most foreign languages, certain words cannot be directly translated as they have a certain cultural specific meaning to it. According to him, in Sudan 'afif is a "label" if you like for someone who does not do shameful acts. Someone who does not steal/accept a bribes given the opportunity is an 'Afif. Pretty similar i guess to the standard meaning. Cool. Now i had a native tongue explain the meaning it feels quite good. hehehe... How many people out there know the meaning of their names? If you don't already know go look it up! there are a few cool websites out there that have origins of names. That's what the internet is for!

Unfortunately, we cannot choose our own names. It's totally up to your parents. During my teenage years I have wondered the kind of dilemma I would be in in naming my children. I have seen so many people i know during school that got teased at school because of their parent's blindspot in how the names they give their children may be used against them is school by other kids... hehehe... so, note number 1: Name must be scrutinised such that it cannot be used against the kids. Note number two: Just give them one name. This is a trend I see in children of my generation. Most boys have Ahmad or Muhammad in front of their "proper" name and the girls have a Siti or Nurul etc in front of their "proper" name. I find this confusing esp when I need to explain why I have two names to my UK friends. "So Afif is your middle name huh?" - No it's not! Afif is MY NAME. Ahmad is a name to make me sound Muslim.. hehehehe... the latter is keep to myself. So parents or would be parents, do you kids a favour. Just one name yeah. I know that even that one name will be shortened when in use. This is more so apparent among Kelantanese people. My dad, Zamri is Ze with an Eae sound in Kelantanese. My name Afif becomes Apih. So, however nice the name means if you're gonna shorten it then it no longer has a meaning and does not become a do'a for your child... A name is a do'a for the child. Everytime you call his/her name you are praying for them to be like their name. Ok, for now I can only think of 2 notes on names. I'll leave it there for others to discuss.

So, have you guys ever thought of what names you'd give your children? A lot of won't own up but I'm cool with this. I have a few names for my first born son. Kalau girl I've not thought about it yet would probably let the wife think of a name. Oklah, I don't have a few names. I only have one name and I came up with it when I was 18 and I haven't thought about it ever since. The topic of marriage and kids has been rather taboo for me for the past few years hehehe. Oklah, back then I wanted to name my first born son "Mujahid" but then 9-11 came and I didn't think it was such a good idea anymore. Who knows when the time comes though, circumstances might change and other names would be nicer? I like names with good meanings. Some people like names of historical significance. Actually, talking of that, I quite the Azzahra name. It means "The shining one" or "The radiant". Hehehe, I think that's partly due to my visit to Madinat Az-Zahra in Cordoba last year. I was suddenly aware of the significance of the name. Well, my first born is not coming anytime in the near future anyways. Have you ever thought about names too?