>What is in a Name?

>I read the recent Time Magazine article relating Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s news conference. He basically said that he was too young (19) to take over the PPP party’s reigns (a sign of maturity) at this point in his life. His father would run the show until he was of age (25, in Pakistan) to be able to run for office. Until then, he would remain a college student. Good choice, in my book.

But his name got me thinking about ethnic names. How do they work? Why is his mother’s name Benazir Bhutto and his name Bilawal Bhutto Zardari? What is his father’s name?

All things good and inerrant can be found within Wikipedia, so I checked there. I am not sure this is common knowledge, but outside the Western world, names follow considerable different rules.

In Pakistan, names can be drawn from a number of different influences, Arab, Turkish, Afghan, Persian, etc. They can relate to tribal names or pre-Islamic family names. And, there is no single way in which one may write a name. But, there are some general guidelines:

  1. Males usually have 2-3 names, a given name or two, with the father’s given name tacked on the end.
  2. Male names may begin with a title, such as one conveyed by a tribe or a caste.
  3. Females generally have 1-2 names, a given name and perhaps the father’s name appended at the end.

Now let’s look at Bilawal’s name. His mother has two names: Benazir Bhutto; a given name plus her father’s given name. His father’s name is Asif Ali Zardari; three names, and I am guessing his given name was Zardari. Bilawal is a first given name, followed by another given name, Bhutto (from his mother’s father, probably), followed by his father’s given name, Zardari. Please correct me if I am wrong.

In Pakistan, to establish your identity, one would need to provide all of your names, plus all of your father’s names.

Now, let’s look around the world a bit.

Arab/Islamic Names:
These can be confusing. Names can consist of a given name, include lineage, and home region or tribe.

  1. abd means “servant or slave of”. If you know an Abdallah or Abdullah, his name means “servant of God”.
  2. abu means “father of”. Abu Nidal means “father of Nidal”.
  3. ibn/bin means “son of”. So, Usama bin Laden means, “Usama, son of Laden”.
  4. al- arabic names may further consist of an adjective that describes the character of the person.
  5. al- arabic names may also have a reference to the person’s home region or tribe.

Chinese Names, and most East Asian Names:
The surname comes first, followed by the given name. For example, Mao Zedong, in Western terms is Zedong Mao, or Mr. Mao, or Chairman Mao. Mao is his surname, Zedong is his given name. Very old names may have a hyphenation, like Sun-Yat Sen; “Sen” is his given name, “Sun-Yat” is his surname.

Thai Names
Thai names have always thrown me. I’m glad that Thais have nicknames. They are long. The reason they are long is that Thai people have tried to translate their Chinese names into their language (Thai). In so doing, they end up with long names. Additionally, in 1920, the Thai government passed a law stating that there can be only one surname per family. One will never see the Thai equivalent of Jones or Smith, in other words. Each surname must be unique. Thankfully, every Thai person has a one or two syllable nickname that is used for greetings. For example, the former Prime Minister’s nickname was “Meow,” which in Thai, means “cat.”


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