Saturday, August 14, 2004

Kunyas, etc.

Ralph Luker wants to know what a kunya is. In the Arabic naming system, a kunya is an honorific which takes the form "father of," though it need not refer to a literal son. "Father" in Arabic is "Ab," which with the nominative case ending gives you "Abu." In addition to Abu Aardvark, famoud kunyas today include Abu Ala for Ahmed Qurei, Abu Mazen for Mahmud Abbas, and the "Abu Musab" of Abu Musab Zarqawi. This means that, contrary to popular perception, "Abu" is not a first name, and should never be used in isolation. In fact, in Arabic, the "u" would change according to case. "I love Abu Aardvark" would be "Uhibb Aba Aardvark," while "Son of Abu Aardvark" would be "Ibn Abi Aardvark."You can find more here.

As I may have mentioned before, the other common error people make regarding the Arabic onomasticon is their understand of compound names involving "Abd." "Abd" in Arabic means slave or servant. "Abdullah" is technically written "Abd Allah" and means "Servant of God." Because God has 99 names, there are a lot of ways to say that, such as "Abd al-Haqq" (Servant of Truth) or "Abd al-Rahman" (Servant of the Merciful). With the nominative case ending, you get "Abdu 'l-Rahman," which people hear as "Abdul Rahman," thus giving rise to the belief that "Abdul" is a common Arabic name. It isn't, being merely the word for servant followed by the definite article, a really odd thing to call someone.

UPDATE: Abu Aardvark recommends pronouncing his name in Jordanian dialect.


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