Another Quirk of Arab Names

Here’s an interesting thing. Take two Arab monarchs (one’s dead, but that doesn’t matter for our purposes). You have the late King Hasan II of Morocco and Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar.

King Hasan was the second Moroccan king of that name. What with II being unpronounceable, in speaking we call him King Hasan al-thani, meaning “the second.” In Arabic, الثاني.

Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is not the second emir of the same name. In his case, Al Thani is the royal family’s name. In Arabic, آل ثاني.

In the first case, the alif lam is the definite article. But in the second case, alif alif lam is a word that just coincidentally happens to look extrememly similar. It has a madda over the alif, and it means “family” or “the house of…”

I am very curious about at what point in time the family decided to go with Al Thani as their family name.

To recap, a normal person might have the last name al-Thani. A royal person would have the last name Al Thani.

Family and tribal names can be more interesting than you’d expect. Sometimes a man’s last name is a female ancestor’s first name, which gives me a warm fuzzy. I only regret that I can’t find the example I had in mind when I decided to write a post about it.

But if you choose your own last name, it stands to reason that you’re going to choose the name of someone prestigious who will lend you luster. If that person happens to be famous by his nickname, that nickname ends up being your proper name. It might even end up being the name of your entire tribe.

The tribe that the Al Thanis of Qatar belong to is the Al Bin Ali tribe. So the whole tribe is named after some famous guy who went by the name Bin Ali, meaning ‘Ali’s son. There are other tribes, lots of them, that are Al Bu-whatever. The So-and-So’s father’s tribe.

People have asked why some Arabs’ names are so long. It’s the same reason some whiteys’ names are so long. If you had a prestigious ancestor, whose name was a household word, wouldn’t you be a little more likely to incorporate that name into your kids’ names? Maybe instead of little Lucinda Jessica DiCaprio, you’d name your daughter Lucinda Jessica Rockefeller DiCaprio. It might help her get into college, get a home loan, get invited to a fancy party, etc.

For those of you interested, I’ve written several previous posts about Arab names. Please use the search feature right over there –> to find them.



Filed under arab, arabic, arabist, language, names, pedantry

2 responses to “Another Quirk of Arab Names

  1. Ваш сайт в опере не очень то корректо показывается, а так все отлично! спасибки вам за умные мысли!

  2. Админ, как долго такой текст писал? Очень любопытно….

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