Names

A reflection of our years in Egypt by Rev. Dr. Steve Gorman, PCUSA Liaison to the Synod of the Nile

I started out confused.  I knew the President of ETSC (The Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo, the largest Protestant and Presbyterian seminary in the entire Middle East) was Atef Gendy (pronounced with a hard 'g').   Gendy and Gorman are said with a "g" like gasp or gunner.   We also heard Atef Jendy, a "g" that sounded more like the French saying, "Je suis..."  This is used in Upper Egypt.  But it got worse.  We also heard Atef Mehany.

"Lord, how many Atef's are there at ETSC?!"

Riding with Anne Zaki, (professor of preaching and spiritual formation), taking some travelers to stay at Anna Fora, which is a lovely, famous Coptic retreat center, we asked her about "names."  Anne did a terrific job of explaining this, as she does with just about everything in life.

"We get a name from my family.  Our second name is our father's.  All the children have this name.  Our third name is our father's father's name.  Our fourth name is our grandfather's father's name..."

"So, I am Anne Emil Zaki.  My brother also has Emil Zaki. Everyone knows who our father and grandfather and, sometimes, great grandfather is. It's a living genealogy.  The people from Assiut know Atef well so they call him his name and his father's,  Atef Mehany.  Understand?"

"Ohhhhh."

"Another thing," Anne went on, "the woman does not change her name in marriage.  Her children follow the patriarchal line but she keeps her name as is."

"Ohhhh."

We had to try it.  Start with the wife. Cinda's name was originally Lucinda Evalyn Warner. She had been using Cinda Warner Gorman after our marriage.  But in the Middle East her name is Lucinda (Cinda) Donald George after her father and his father.

My name is Stephen Edward Gorman.  In the Middle East it would be Stephen Edward (after my father) Benjamin.  

All our kids would be Benjamin Stephen Edward or Joseph Stephen Edward or Jillian Stephen Edward.

I have had fun with this in the programs I have done on itineration throughout the US.  I suddenly break-up my talking with this little exercise done in the pews or around a table. Some of the older people giggle,  unable to remember their grandfather's first name.  "Make something up!" I shout.  But it did help them to understand why a man might be named Mohammed Mohammed Mohammed, as I have heard in train stations or airports.  Or why the head of the UN had been Boutros Boutros Gally.  It's not three Mo's.  We know the son shares the same name with his father and grandfather.

When the 21 Egyptians were beheaded by ISIS/ISIL/IS/DAESH on the beach in Libya, we could tell who was related and, to some extend, where they were all from their names.  They could quickly go to the village and find their families.Everyone would know who was related to whom.

Of course, when Egyptians move to the West they have to use consistent names. Sometimes they change them so people will understand that these two are really married to each other.  And, they have to explain "how it's done in our part of the world," rather than the quirky boxer, George Forman, naming all his sons - George! This is more about ego than culture.

I kind of like it: Stephen Edward Benjamin.  At least here in the Middle East people can say your "middle name" without making you feel your mother is calling - and you're in big trouble.