Thursday, February 28, 2008

What’s In a Name?

Juan Cole at Informed Comment names names.

I want to say something about Barack Hussein Obama’s name. It is a name to be proud of. It is an American name. It is a blessed name. It is a heroic name, as heroic and American in its own way as the name of General Omar Nelson Bradley or the name of Benjamin Franklin. And denigrating that name is a form of racial and religious bigotry of the most vile and debased sort. It is a prejudice against names deriving from Semitic languages!

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Barack and Hussein are Semitic words. Americans have been named with Semitic names since the founding of the Republic. Fourteen of our 43 presidents have had Semitic names (see below). And, American English contains many Arabic-derived words that we use every day and without which we would be much impoverished. America is a world civilization with a world heritage, something Cunninghamism will never understand.

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Let us take Benjamin Franklin. His first name is from the Hebrew Bin Yamin, the son of the Right (hand), or son of strength, or the son of the South (yamin or right has lots of connotations). The “Bin” means “son of,” just as in modern colloquial Arabic. Bin Yamin Franklin is not a dishonorable name because of its Semitic root. By the way, there are lots of Muslims named Bin Yamin.

As for an American president bearing a name derived from a Semitic language, that is hardly unprecedented.

John Adams really only had Semitic names. His first name is from the Hebrew Yochanan, or gift of God, which became Johan and then John. (In German and in medieval English, “y” is represented by “j” but was originally pronounced “y”.) Adams is from the biblical Adam, which also just means “human being.” In Arabic, one way of saying “human being” is “Bani Adam,” the children of men.

Thomas Jefferson’s first name is from the Aramaic Tuma, meaning “twin.” Aramaic is a Semitic language spoken by Jesus, which is related to Hebrew and Arabic. In Arabic twin is tau’am, so you can see the similarity.

James Madison, James Monroe and James Polk all had a Semitic first name, derived from the Hebrew Ya’aqov or Jacob, which is Ya`qub in Arabic. It became Iacobus in Latin, then was corrupted to Iacomus, and from there became James in English.

Zachary Taylor’s first name is from the Hebrew Zachariah, which means “the Lord has remembered.”

Abraham Lincoln, of course is, named for the patriarch Abraham, from the Semitic word for father, Ab, and the word for “multitude,” raham,. Abu, “father of,” is a common element in Arab names today.

So, Mr. Cunningham, Barack Hussein Obama fits right in this list of presidents with Semitic names. In fact, we haven’t had one for a while. We are due for another one.