Monday, November 12, 2007

The politics of personal names

First published online 19th May 2006

The case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Ayaan Hirsi Magan, raises interesting points about ignorance about, and the politics of, personal names. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was an outspoken member of the Dutch parliament. Originating in Somalia, she was naturalised as a Dutch citizen. Though it had been known for a long while that she has been born Ayaan Hirsi Magan, a sudden move by one of her colleagues resulted in the removal of her Dutch passport because she had lied about certain things on her application, including about her name.

Leaving aside the creeping structuralisation of racism within Dutch politics, this brings out some interesting points about personal names. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's name is Islamic. Moslim names have a greater flexibility that Western names, and they can change and flux as a person changes their personal situation - if they change jobs, for example, or have children. This is clearly not reflected in the decision taken against Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Her case has also highlighted a number of others. In one case, for example, a Kurdish Iraqi by birth had his Dutch passport removed because he gave his Kurdish name whereas the Kurdophobe regime of Saddam (or Saddam Hussein, or Saddam Hussein al Tikriti or ..... - another flexible Moslim name) has registered the man with an Arabised first name.

Is this ignorance? Time to understand how personal names are created differently in different cultures.

(c) 2006 Graham Rhind. Reproduction only allowed with permission. Comment and dialogue welcome.

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