What's in a name?

Much has been made by those on the right who love to stir up racial and religious fear of the name Barack Hussein Obama.

Yesterday, in a salute to Paul Newman, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) aired “Exodus,” based on Leon Uris’ great novel about the events leading up to the founding of Israel as a Jewish state.

An explanation of his father’s name by the Jewish hero Ari Ben Canaan (played by Newman) caught my ear. His father – Barak Ben Canaan - he explained was named for the Biblical hero who aided the Jewess warrior Deborah in defeat Sisera in Judges, chapter 4. LINK TO SCRIPTURE

Barak, pronounced Barack.

Barack is Semitic in origin and means “to bless” or “blessed.” In the original Hebrew, Barak, or blessed, is found throughout the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis, chapter 1.

Hussein is from the Semitic word Hasan, meaning both “handsome” and “good.”

Casting aspersion upon a person’s name is just a technique used to rile those not versed in history. The same uninformed persons could be made to go ballistic against World War II General Omar Bradley, our faithful ally the late King Hussein of Jordan, or, for that matter, my personal hero Benjamin Franklin, all of whom have names of Semitic origin.

So many American names are of such origin, you know.

Here’s what Juan Cole, president of the Global American Institute, has to say about that (LINK):

“Let us take Benjamin Franklin. His first name is from the Hebrew Bin Yamin, the son of the Right (hand), or son of strength, or the son of the South (yamin, or right, has lots of connotations). The ‘Bin’ means ‘son of,’ just as in modern colloquial Arabic. Bin Yamin Franklin is not a dishonorable name because of its Semitic root. By the way, there are lots of Muslims named Bin Yamin.

“As for an American president bearing a name derived from a Semitic language, that is hardly unprecedented.

“John Adams really only had Semitic names. His first name is from the Hebrew Yochanan, or gift of God, which became Johan and then John. … Adams is from the Biblical Adam, which also just means ‘human being.’ In Arabic, one way of saying ‘human being’ is ‘Bani Adam,’ the children of men.

“Thomas Jefferson's first name is from the Aramaic Tuma, meaning ‘twin.’ Aramaic is a Semitic language spoken by Jesus, which is related to Hebrew and Arabic. In Arabic, twin is tau'am, so you can see the similarity.

“James Madison, James Monroe and James Polk all had a Semitic first name, derived from the Hebrew Ya'aqov or Jacob, which is Ya`qub in Arabic. It became Iacobus in Latin, then was corrupted to Iacomus, and from there became James in English.

“Zachary Taylor's first name is from the Hebrew Zachariah, which means ‘the Lord has remembered.’

“Abraham Lincoln, of course, is named for the patriarch Abraham, from the Semitic word for father, Ab, and the word for ‘multitude,’ raham. Abu, ‘father of,’ is a common element in Arab names today.”

Sure, we have immediate responses to certain names – Jack the Ripper, Quisling, Adolph Hitler, Caligula, Attila the Hun, Marquis de Sade – but our reactions are based on actions.

Barack Hussein Obama II, age 47, is both an American, born in Hawaii, and a Christian. Of these facts, only the last is not a qualification for president, according to the Constitution of the United States of America.

He was named for his daddy and his granddaddy. I was named for my mother’s pet goat. Please don’t hold it against us.

As a candidate for president, he represents the hopes and ideals of millions of good Americans who understand our country must move in new directions to restore its status in the world – and the confidence of its citizens.

If he can accomplish this, his name will go down in history – as a modern-day Founding Father.


Anonymous said...

If memory serves, Winston Churchill deliberately mispronounced the word "Nazi." Churchill made it sound like "nauseous," only with a "z" at the end. The "Nause-zees."

Frodo Confuseus said...

If the implication from Mr. A. Nonny Mouse (above) is that the intentional mispronunciation of a name somehow gives credence to the alligator, then he need only rember that the infamous homophobe named Newt (no longer from Georgia, Thank God) pronounces his own name differently from that of his lesbian sister.