What’s in a name?

Shhh! If you are a Saudi male please pretend that you do not know that my name is Eman daughter of Fahad Al Nafjan. I’m um Sulaiman (mother of Sulaiman) to you. Apparently it is still a huge embarrassment for the male part of our society to know each other’s female relatives’ names. Little boys get into fights at school that start because one boy informs others the name of another boy’s mother. It is so bad that a Saudi from Jeddah sued a car company this week because they sent an exhibition invitation to his wife with her full name on the outside of the envelope. He claims that they dishonored him and his wife by making her name public. All over Saudi, you can find mosques that are built in the name of mothers, since it is considered a great Islamic deed to build mosques. These women pay for these mosques to be built but have to name the mosque in their firstborn son’s name so as to not shame the family by putting their name on a sign.  In Al Waha district in Riyadh there is one of these mosques called um Khalid Al Baltan Mosque. I’ll try to get a picture of it tomorrow morning on my way to work. And here it is:

A while back, a new law was issued that stated that small businesses had to have the name of the owner on the sign. I would love to know the number of businesses that suddenly changed ownership or closed down just to avoid putting the name of a Saudi woman on a sign. I know for sure that there were rants about it for a long while in newspapers.

And just like almost everything else, we contradict ourselves. King Abdulazziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia used to esteem and revere his sister Nora. He had talked about her by name in many of his official meetings. It’s said that he used to go to her for advice and even sent his children to her when he need help in disciplinary issues. The prophet Mohammed (PBUH) too used to mention his wives and daughter by name in several of his hadeeths. You would think that Saudis would look up to these two men and try to emulate them but that is not the case.

I bet you’re asking yourself, what if a woman does not have a son, what name does she put after the um (mother prefix). If she has never been married, then nothing and it is not that big of an issue to call her by name. If she is married and does not have a son, she either uses her firstborn daughter’s name or uses her father in law’s first name, the latter being due to the Saudi convention of naming the firstborn son after the paternal grandfather.  The worst would be if she were divorced and childless, in this case, she is nameless and invisible.


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8 responses to “What’s in a name?

  1. Your blog is so nice that it entices me to have my own, keep the blog rolling.

    Presently I am working in a big institutions with thousands of Saudi Women are employed. I can read all their FULL NAME, will they sue me for that? LOL!

  2. You know in Kuwait is completely different. When I was young the first thing I ask my classmates and they asked of me was what was your mothers name. Even older we refer to our friends female relatives.

    There is no shame in it, but actually pride. That is your family and have as equal association as your males side.

    I remember Tash-ma-Tash had an episode on that. How the guy actually left the country when people found out his mother name. Then when he came back many years later and was lost he was asking about his old him and they referred to that area as his mothers name.

  3. ممارس صحي

    The way I see it sister Eman that the society is changing slowly .. You may remember that before the 1st Gulf war and now .. lots of things have been changed I just pray to God that we Change to the good manner to to the bad one! and we sing you are a Saudi keep your head up 🙂
    2nd time reading in your blog .. “Mashaalah” …May God bless you Eman..

  4. Hi !
    nice blog you’ve here.
    there are 3 mosques near my house with women’s name.
    I think the problem is from the old Saudi culture , and some people stuck with it. Allah Bless you , kept up the good work =]

  5. mashaAllah sister, you are clarifying much to me..about saudi culture. ive learned alot since ive lived in madinah for about a year and a1/2 but i still have lots to learn..jazakAllah kheir..

  6. Umm Latifa

    salam alaykum,

    I am a foreigner married to Saudi, and personally I like the custom of kunya. I do believe it is a nice thing to approach especially older people in this way or those my age I am not familiar with enough to call them by their first names. For example I cannot imagine calling my mother in law “mother or aunt”, as she is not, nor by her first name.. So calling her “Umm Raid” is a perfect solution for me and I feel v. comfortable about it, as well as she does.
    Also I would like to say, that although I have a son and a daughter, I decided to honor my first born daughter, and keep my kunya as: “Umm Latifa”.
    I think that if a first child is a daughter and then comes a boy, choosing a name of a boy for kunya just because he is male, is not a just thing. The oldest is the oldest.
    Worth to add, kunya helps me to create a bit of distance with the people who I do not know. It is v. useful as a means of respect.
    I believe every culture has a ways to show respect to others, in my culture for example calling another person by the first name is considered as not polite, especially if this person is older nor you are not familiar with each other.

  7. Muslima

    Huh? Isn’t this just supposed to be a respectful thing to do? The men did it more than the women if I’m not mistaken. The Prophet (p.b.u.h.)’ patronymic was Abal Qasim, his best friend was Abu Bakr, his other friend was Abu Hurayra, his other friend was Ibn Um al Maktum (son of the mother of al-Maktum), etc etc but only one of his wives was known as ‘Um’ and that was Um Salama, who had gotten the name before she married him. (radiya Allahu anhum)

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