What you didn’t know about Yemeni names

25 Nov
Cartoon be Nabel Al-QanesMalak ShaherPublished:25-11-2010
For a beautiful woman like Nae’m, the only thing that bothers her day and night is her name. In spite of the fact that it means ‘blessing’, the name is only given to boys not girls, especially in Yemen.“I am a girl, not a boy. I really hate my name and want to change it,” said 20 year-old Nae’m.

Sadly, there are many girls in a similar position to Nae’m who hate their names.

In most Yemeni families the father chooses the names of their children, not the mothers. However, women do have some chance to name their daughters. Heba Mohammad, 33, said that her husband gave her the chance to name their daughters but not their sons.

When it comes to naming a son Mohammad, parents usually don’t have any objection. Mohammad, the name of the Islamic prophet, is represented in almost every Muslim house. “My husband and I named one of our sons Mohammad because I love the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him,” said Heba Salem. “I would like my son to be as good as the prophet was.”

Yemenis have witnessed, and continue to witness, wars and tense situations. This has been reflected in the naming of children. During the revolution of 1962, the names Burkan (volcano), Thaer (revolutionary) and Sharar (spark), were common.

The names Maxim, Lenin and Alexander, all of Russian origin, were common names during the seventies and eighties when the Yemeni Socialist Party ruled the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, and had close connections with the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union.

“I have never liked my name,” said Maxim Sa’eed. “I live among people whose names are Mohammad, Ali or Ahmad, and that’s why I felt I had to change my name.” Maxim changed his name to Mohammad in 2007.

According to a study on names in the Yemeni community by Abdul Wahed Al-Zumor, the names of different weapons are commonly given to children, especially in areas that have experienced war or violent situations. In Sa’ada, where wars have raged and tribal revenge is common, names like Qunbula (grenade), Shafra (knife) and Bazooka are very common.

Most unpleasant names are given to babies because of the common belief that cute babies may be affected by the ‘evil eye’. This comes from the superstition that a curse, directed for reasons of envy, can be bestowed upon a child by a malicious look. It is believed that the ‘evil eye’ can cause bad luck, injury or even death. A bad name reflects the parents’ belief in, and their intention to prevent, the ‘evil eye’.

Some families believe unpleasant names will safeguard their young babies. Deaths shortly after birth are not uncommon. As a result, parents give their prospective babies unpleasant names believing it will protect them.

“I lost three babies when they were only six or seven months old. I gave them good names but they died,” said a middle-aged woman from Sana’a. “My last baby’s name is Sho’a (ugly), and she is now seven years old.”

The study listed names such as Kurheya and Makrooha (hated by people), and Kheibah (ugly) as names to prevent death and enhance survival. In Yemen, people also believe that if a baby keeps crying, his or her name should be changed, because it means the baby does not like its name.

“My grandmother told me that I kept crying for three months after my birth. My name was Fatima and my grandmother told my parents to change my name as she believed I did not like the name,” said Yasmeen Hossain. “They changed my name to Yasmeen and I stopped crying,” she added smilingly.

The agricultural environment also affects people’s choice of baby names, especially for girls. Names such as: Nabata (a very small plant), Qirfa (cinnamon), Hila (cardamom), Lawzah (almond), Sailah, (canal), Zaitoonah, (olive), Inabah, (grape) and Firkisah (peach), are popular.

In many parts of Yemen, but especially common in Taiz and Sa’ada, people name their children after continents, countries and famous cities. You may encounter names like Italia (Italy), Efriqia (Africa), Asia, Amrika (America) and Espania (Spain).

The majority of people in Yemen name their first child after their father or mother. In most cases, fathers are the ones who have the right to name their children unless the parents have agreed otherwise.

“I named my first son after my father, Ali, and my father named me after his father, Ahmad,” said Ahmad Ali.

It has become traditional in families that the first son names his first baby after his father. In this case, you may encounter a person whose name is Ali Ahmad Ali Ahmad, and the chain continues

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2 Responses to “What you didn’t know about Yemeni names”

  1. larissaroso April 25, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    I had no idea about that! Funny, yes, but also so sad… Thanks for sharing. Beijo 🙂

    • malaakshaher April 28, 2011 at 2:07 am #

      there are even more funny things that i had no chance to write. thanks for your comment dear. beijo 😀

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