Sunday, May 01, 2005

What's in a Name?

The confusion over the name of the lady in the codeine case (Tracy Lewis / Tracy Wilkinson) raises an interesting point. Cultures around the world have different ideas on how to construct a person's name. In Arab countries your name would follow this pattern - Abdullah bin Ahmed al Abdulaziz. The first bit is your given name. 'Bin' (or 'bint' in the case of a female) means 'son of' (or 'daughter of'). The next word is your father's given name. 'Al' in this context means 'of'. And the final word is your family name. Wives generally do not change their names on marriage. Once you get your head round it, it's a pretty neat system.

The Western naming system confuses Easterners. I used to visit one of my buddies when he was in jail. When you do this you have to give the name of the person you want to see to the guard at the gate. He will then announce it over the public address system, and the person will emerge into the visiting area. The first time I went, I gave my friend's first name and last name. The guard insisted that there was no-one there of that name, and refused to announce it. Fortunately one of this guy's other buddies arrived, and he knew the drill. You tell them his first name and his middle name, and that works.

Some subcontinentals seem to call each other by their last name (a la public school or military practice). Remember that my blogname is 'Keef E. Boy'. I would feel pretty upset if someone addressed me as 'Boy'. But it happens all the time. But there are also people who call me 'Mr Keef', and that's charming. And there's one Philippino who calls me 'Sir Keef', which is a practice that I am trying to encourage others to follow.