What’s in a name?

In Jordan the structure of a person’s name is made of of your ism (first name), then nasab (patronymic names) and then nisbah (surname).

In Arabic culture the meaning of your ism is important and if you ask anyone in Jordan they would be able to proudly tell you what their name means.

The nasab is a patronymic or a series of patronymics.  A patronym, or patronymic  is a component of a surname based on the given names of one’s father, grandfather or an even earlier male ancestor. In Jordan the common practice is to use your fathers and grandfathers name. This is a means of of conveying lineage.

The nisbah can be thought of as your surname and also is important in showing lineage or heritage and can derived from the name of the ancestors’ tribe, city, country, or any other term used to show relevance. It follows a family through several generations. Another common practice is the adoption of a family name based on what was formerly a patronymic. This is the case for Nawafleh. I’m endevouring to find out more about the history of the Nawafleh family and will hoepfully be able to write another post on this in the future.

As an example Atef’s full name is Atef (ism) Abdullah Musa (patronymic of this father’s and grandfather’s names) Al Nawafleh (from the family of Nawafleh).

Ok so why have I just given you a quick lesson on the structure of Arabic name? Because our western convention of naming does not follow the Arabic structure. We have a first name, a middle name and then our surname. Sometime our middle name might have a family connection as in our parents or grandparents name but more often than not it is chosen purely based on being a nice name that goes with the first name with no family lineage significance.

My name caused quite a bit of confusion and problems when it came to Atef and I getting married and needing all the official paper work that was required.

One particular conversation that I had with the Sheikh who is the head of the local court and the person who was in charge with giving us final permission to get married (signing the official papers) went as such:

Sheikh: What is your name? (As he is holding my passport!)

Me: Andrea Ellen Miles

Sheikh: What is your father’s name?

Me: Warren

Sheikh: What is your grandfather’s name?

Me: Hedley (knowing that he was referring to my father’s father)

Sheikh: What is Ellen?

Me: My middle name.

Sheikh: But who’s name is it?

Me: It’s my name.

Sheikh: Why is it your name? Who is Ellen?

At this point I tried to explain that it was just my middle name and happened to mention that it was the same middle name as my mother’s middle name. Well this just created a whole lot more confusion when he wanted to know what my mothers name was and then couldn’t understand why we had the same middle name but that I didn’t use my mum’s first name.

I’m not making this up when I say that this conversation went around and around in circles for about 10 minutes with the Sheikh asking me the same questions over and over again and me trying to come up with new ways to explain the concept of a middle name which had no lineage.

Finally after getting nowhere it was decided that my name on the paper work would be Andrea Ellen Warren Hedley Miles!



One response to “What’s in a name?

  1. Sorry for hijacking an old post but the exact same thing happened to me yesterday whilst sorting out my Jordanian citizenship. Despite my middle name being a feminized version lf my father’s and having been unquestioned in the family book (now amended in red ink). The confusion caused by my twin sons’ middle names in the family was even greater – adopted? (I suppose they thought they have different fathers, both not my husband?)

    I’m loving your blog and am finding so much that is familiar, even here in Westernised West Amman 😉 although I’m glad not to have encountered any scorpions yet!!! I adore your beautiful photographs too! Must make a trip south come spring.

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