A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 1, 2012

What's in a Name? In Parts of Iraq, Your Name Might Get You Shot

Here's an interesting recent piece from the Iraqi news site Niqash, called "What's in a Name? Iraqis at Risk for Having 'Dangerous' First Names." At least in Mosul and Ninawa province, parents of newborns are increasingly giving their newborns names that don't reveal their sectarian affiliation since Sunni-Shi‘ite violence is a continuing threat. And it's not just newborns:
Thamer also points out that in Ninawa a lot of people have two identity cards – one with their real name and another with a fake name, depending on where they live or work or which areas they need to pass through. This is because some neighbourhoods or localities in Ninawa are inhabited by mostly Sunni Muslims and others are populated by mostly Shiite Muslims.

Most of the people with two identity cards are truck or taxi drivers, Thamer notes. Every day Sunni Shiite drivers must pass through Shiite Muslim dominated areas and vice versa.

Take Siddiq for example. He is a Sunni Muslim and his real first name is Abu Bakr – in scripture, the latter was a close companion of the Prophet Mohammed but whether he was a meritorius individual is something that Shiite and Sunni Muslims disagree on.

Siddiq’s younger brother was a taxi driver like him; he was killed by extremists while driving the road between Mosul and Baghdad. “He was just a taxi driver and he was only murdered because his name was Umar,” Siddiq tells sadly.
 And there was a post-2003 rush to change names for another reason:
“People were obsessed with changing their names,” the employee remembers. “And especially those who were named after Saddam or those who had very Baath names.” And by this, he means names that were particularly Arabist or nationalist in nature. At the time, the rush for name changes caused his department to put more restrictions on the practice in an attempt to maintain some order and their records correctly.

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