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Post Arabic Names and Surnames
Created by John Eipper on 07/17/19 5:33 AM

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Arabic Names and Surnames (Edward Jajko, USA, 07/17/19 5:33 am)

A comment on JE's comment on my posting about That Man in Tapachula (July 13th):

John wrote, "I'm not 100% certain on the correct order of Sabah's name, but from the above, I'd guess his paternal surname is Sabah, with Jerges his maternal surname and his given names José Daddah."

This is probably wrong. His name appears in several forms online: "Sabah Jerges José Daddah," "Sabah Jerges, José Daddah," and "José Daddah Sabah Jerges." I think the last is the most likely correct name, with "José" added to fit in in Mexico.

As for JE's surmises about the significance of the names, paternal and maternal surnames, no. Arab names don't work like that. In Arab countries in which family names, surnames, or tribal names are not common, the pattern of naming is child-father's given name-grandfather's given name. So, Muhammad Ahmad Mahmud, Muhammad son of Ahmad son of Mahmud. Muhammad has a son, whom he calls ‘Arafah, so that son becomes ‘Arafah Muhammad Ahmad. All given or first names. In countries or areas where surnames are uncommon, this rotating pattern is what is found. The mother's family name is not used.

I am reminded of a time many years ago when our founder telephoned me with some questions, among them a query about how Arabic verbs work. He was incredulous that the verb in Arabic does not work like the verb in Spanish--I do not recall the specifics of his question--and it took the longest time to convince him that he was wrong.

JE comments:  I believe that immigrants in Mexico are legally required to use a maternal surname, even if they weren't born with one.  The standard tourist form for visitors to Mexico even asks for surnames.  The following is only a blog entry, but it's what I found in a two-minute search:


This must result in a lot of improvising for people from the Arabic-speaking world.  In the case of our Mystery Man, the proof (I suspect) is in the comma:  Sabah Jerges, José Daddah.  Alphabetize him under the letter S.  

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  • Mayan Surnames...and Hyphens (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 07/19/19 4:59 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Edward Jajko's enlightening discussion of Arabic non-surnames,
    evoked by the mysteries of Our Man in Tapachula, Sabah Jerges
    José Dada (July 17), points up the remarkable completeness of the
    veil covering many people-smugglers.

    The inquirer, meeting a blank
    wall, is reduced to analyzing the only scrap appearing, incidentals
    like the structure of their names. And further, had Sabah been arrested
    in the United States, not Mexico (as various people-smugglers were
    in the 2003 swoop that got him), there is yet another naming
    convention that would have complicated things: the maddening
    US prosecutorial custom of turning Spanish inverted surnames
    into imaginary hyphenates. El Chapo becomes Joaquín Guzmán-Loera,
    as if he's so millennial that he adopted half his wife's name. Some of
    the examples grow obfuscational. I see the point, that the hyphen
    is fixing the original surname in first position for record-searching,
    but it's unsettling to think of the law itself turning into a shrugging
    tourist at the border.

    Ed might also have looked just across the Suchiate River from Tapachula,
    where a short trek into the Guatemala highlands finds many customers
    of people-smugglers in the traditionally migratory Mam and Chuj Mayan
    groups. They outdo the US prosecutors, namewise, to sound a bit Arabic,
    taking an admired first name as a child's surname. In 2000, a witch hunt for
    alleged satanists was started high in the Cuchumatanes by a woman named
    Catarina Pablo. This all leads back to Guatemala's ancient wound, the enslavement
    of its Indian majority, with the adopted surnames originally designating a hacienda
    owner--a slave name, as it were. In the hidebound traditionalism that shelters
    many besieged groups, the Mams and Chujs held onto this, though the numerous
    Kekchis, next door, somehow did not, despite being just as enslaved. The little girl
    who made headlines dying in US Border Patrol custody last December was Jakelin
    Caal, with a characteristically curt Kekchi surname. More fortunate was Leslie
    Angelia Cac Pop, who took eight days to reach El Paso on smugglers' buses.
    Worlds are to be found simply in the twisted tree-rings of Guatemalan names, if
    an Octavio Paz or Miguel Ángel Asturias--or an Ed Jajko of WAIS--can be found to
    explain the code.

    JE comments:  Gary Moore originally titled this post "Snap Crackle Cac Pop Pablo"--nobody in WAISworld sends more creative or original subject lines!  So why do I always change them for posting?  I assume it's the searchability factor.  Or am I simply boring?  Gary, what do you think?

    For non-US WAISers:  "Snap Crackle Pop" is the ancient slogan (at least since 1939) for Rice Krispies cereal.  A Mayan creation?  Ehem, with no small amount of smugness, I must put RKs in the Michigan column (Kellogg Company, Battle Creek).

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