What’s in a name? Re-revisited

What’s in a name? Re-revisited

So, you, Honorable Prime Minister, say you hate the “invasion of our language by foreign words”? And you complain of too many “foreign words” on commercial displays, as, for example, “‘mall,’ ‘computer,’ ‘tower’ and ‘check-up’”? But what exactly do you mean when you say “foreign”?

Wikipedia describes a foreign language as “a language indigenous to another county.” By that definition, you are correct that “mall,” “computer,” “tower” and “check-up” are foreign words, because they are not Turkish and are “indigenous to another country” (or other countries). Just the same way that “Tayeb” [from which the prime minister’s name, Tayyip is derived] means “good” or “kind” in Arabic. But that’s not all.

In my previous column titled “What’s in a name?” I wrote the following: 

“My grandfather came from Georgia, and settled first in Rhizios. My mother was a proud Chalcedonian. Sadly, my parents died two and a half years ago, and were laid to rest in Aivali.”

“I was born in Ancyra, but spent part of my childhood in Smyrna [İzmir]. I took my military training as a conscript in Amaseia, but then I was transferred to Cevlik via El-Azez.”

“Our prime minister is from Potamia, and our president is from Caesarea. The president’s three predecessors, chronologically, came from Akroenos, Sparta and Maldiye.”

“Our proud nation owes its independence largely to a successful war at Gallipoli. … Every year [we also] commemorate Ataturk’s landing at Sampsus to launch our War of Independence. But the first capital of the Ottomans was Prousa, anyway.

“I hope the generous Turkish hearts that can now restore Kurdish [town] names will no longer be agitated each time Greeks call Constantinople by its original name -- Konstantinopolis. And, by the way, Turks who proudly insist that Istanbul is Istanbul should be reminded that even that presumably Turkish name is a cognate of the Greek ‘Eis tin Polin’ meaning ‘to the city.’”

“The name controversy may be more complex than one could imagine. The Kurds may be rightfully happy to get the names of their villages back, but they might be equally embarrassed in some other cases. For instance, where does the name of the Kurdish homeland, Mesopotamia, come from?

Kurdish? No, just Greek, meaning ‘between the rivers,’ the Euphrates and Tigris.” (“What’s in a name?” Hurriyet Daily News, Sept. 9, 2009).

I apologize for the long but necessary reminder. But here is another passage from “What’s in a name? -- Revisited,” Hürriyet Daily News, July 19, 2011:

“In another appearance of what this columnist calls ‘the official Turkish humor machine,’ the president of the supreme court that ruled in favor of [a] ban on foreign names is named Haşim Kılıç. ‘Hashim’ or ‘Hasheem’ is a common Arabic male name (the ‘unofficial’ humor of the story is that this columnist’s name is also Arabic). The official humor machine keeps on rolling when we look at the men who rule this country in which names representing foreign races and nations are banned. For fun’s sake let’s narrow our sample to the first names of the president, the prime minister and the Cabinet ministers. Of those 27 names, 20 are common Arabic names, and two are Turkish versions of common Arabic name.

Only five are Turkish names. Legally, a ban on foreign names means a ‘Richard’ is no different than a ‘Tayyip.’ An Arabic name is no different than an Icelandic name, because they are both foreign, both non-Turkish.” 

“Yes it’s the religion, but it’s also the culture. One’s automatic acceptance of a Muslim name would not extend to a Muslim Indonesian name. In other words, this is precisely why claiming someone has Armenian ancestors is deemed libel to be settled in a courtroom, but claiming someone has Arab ancestors is not.”

Unfortunately, Honorable Prime Minister, if we deprived our language of “all foreign words” -- all, i.e., including Arabic and Persian -- we might fail to communicate, and you might fail to deliver your perfect speeches. Or, you should explain why Arabic names are not foreign, but others are. Sadly, you are a couple of centuries too late to prove that the Turks are in fact Arabs.