What’s in a Name?

One very important aspect of one’s identity is your name.  This is especially true in Arab countries where your family name can tell the most about you before you even open your mouth.  A family name signals your tribe, your nationality, your socioeconomic class, and your family relations. Many assumptions follow hearing a family name.  It is amazing to see the pride people have for their heritage and history, but there is a dark side to this narrative.  There are many tribal conflicts and most of the time you only associate with members of your own tribe or family.  Think about how important the family unit is in the Arab world.  If you can’t afford something or you need protection you have a giant network of family members to assist you.  Being alone is practically taboo in the Middle East.  People will think you are weird or upset at them.  You don’t move out of your house until you are married.  You spend most of your down time with your family unit and you will likely marry your cousin.  This creates exclusive groups that have conflicts with each other.  I have heard several horror stories from friends.  For instance, a few years ago a boy at the university insulted another boy from a different tribe.  The second boy pulled out a handgun and shot the insulter point blank.  These tribal cliques are evolving to the stature of gangs in my opinion.  Luckily the boy didn’t die from the gun wounds, but the university is still haunted by that event.

Is it just human nature to seek classification and ordering systems?  During our orientation we did an activity about what our names signified to us and to others.  Upon hearing my name you would assume Irish Catholic girl. Bingo!  It was through this activity that we learned the importance and assumptions that stem from family names in the Arab world.  All I could think about was the classification system that exists within St. Louis.  When you meet someone and find out they are from St. Louis the following question is always the same: Where did you go to high school?  From this high school name stereotypes immediately follow.  Oh you went there?  That means you’re a dumb jock; that means mommy and daddy pay for everything; that means you are a crazy feminist who believes god is a woman *wink*.  But why do we care so much about these names?  Why are these systems in place that limit our opportunities to reach out to the other?  I’m not going to stand up on a soapbox and preach that we should get rid of stereotypes.  That’s just not realistic.  As humans we are constantly interpreting and being interpreted by others. We interpret and evaluate immediately.  With that in mind, we should recognize that we are being prejudice and that we should continue to look pass the stereotypes in order to know one another more clearly.

From my perspective, high school becomes sort of your second home and in St. Louis where many single-sex schools exist brothers and sisters surround you.  Your “family” name is precious and you would defend it against a rival school.  St. Louis or Amman, it doesn’t matter, people are going to be presumptuous upon hearing your “family” name.  In the Middle East I just hope to see more bridges being crossed than burn.

“What’s in a Name? That by which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– Romeo and Juliet by Bill Shakespeare


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