Hyphenated Names– for Women Only?

I’ve wanted to write this rant for months, and now I’ve succumbed to the urge.


Hyphenated names for non-Muslim  women make no sense to me.  They are long, phonetically awkward, and cumersome to write. They suggest that the poor woman didn’t know what name to call herself after marriage, so she simply tacked the married name on to the maiden name, much like one would add blond extensions to a full head of auburn hair.


I work in a hospital. Hyphenated names cause no end of confusion. They don’t fit on forms, they don’t get entered correctly in certain computer programs, they get mixed up, reversed,  exchanged with first names, and ulitmately abbreviated when expedient.


Some women hyphenate their names because both names consist of one syllable, and the two together sound better. Why don’t they finish combining the two into one,  forming a new name altogether, similar to the way in which John’s Son became Johnson? 


Why don’t they ask their husband to take the second name, as well? It seems ridiculous that a man has a single name, and his wife sticks  his name behind her maiden name, and what about the children? If the hyphenated name is given to the children, what names will their spouses use when they grow up and get married? 


Some women use a hyphenated name because one of the names has social recognition, but why not simply drop the obscure name and use the name that carries social weight?


Some women want to keep the maiden name, in a salute to feminism and the maintainance of identity, an awkward attempt  to exert themselves as equals, but it doesn’t work. When was the last time you heard that a husband tacked his wife’s maiden name onto his own, because he wanted to preserve his identity?


Ah, but we still live in a somewhat patriarchal society, feminism and working women notwithstanding. All family members should use the same name, the father’s name, no? In the olden days of my childhood, fathers were the “heads of family”, working outside the home,  carrying the entire financial responsibility for the well-being of the family, making all the important decisions. They were also the disciplinarians. Most people as old as I am remember their mother’s chilling words, “Wait til your father gets home!”


Now, however, most mothers work outside the home, too, many full-time, just like the father, and therefore feel entitled to share in the decision-making as well as  the  financial responsibility. Hyphenating their names may point to women’s desires to fully participate in the two major life roles most people embrace– working and having a family.


In Islam, women do not stick their husband’s names behind their own. The children carry the father’s last name. While this might suggest gender inequality, it recognizes the father as the head of the family.  Gender inequality, if you could call it that, does exist in Islam, in the sense that the father is supposed to work and bring home money, while the mother works inside the home, providing the kind of nurturing and domestic organization that is never paid its worth in currency. The deal for women is that they give up their earning power to gain financial security from the husband, and the right to stay home and raise their own children (rather then having to take them to day care).  The fact always remains, however, that he who pays the piper calls the tune.


Naming customs reflect the social, economic, and religious realities of families.  If hyphenated names for  non-Muslim women are meant to suggest  gender equality, then all family members must carry the hypenated names. Multiple  names are awkward, however, and suggest nothing but indecision or equivocation on the part of the woman. I don’t know how women are going to evolve in the future, with respect to “balancing” major life roles such as working and child-bearing.  


While I’m at it, let me add that I hate the word, “balance.” It suggests that two or more quantities can be manipulated so that their weights become equal. This is not the reality with regard to women who work and bear children during a twelve week maternity leave. Instead of  talking about balancing, let’s talk about  dividing. How does a woman divide herself so that both work and family get an equal share? Why must work and family get equal shares, anyway? In reality, they don’t, yet women keep trying,  whether they want to or not.  Hyphenated names are the objective correlative to the reality of Western women’s lives– cumbersome, awkward, and suggestive of division rather than unity.

More to the Kingdom and to Me

Monday, September 13, 2010
There is More to the Kingdom, and More to Me

Judging from many comments made on English language blogs about Saudi Arabia, one might conclude that the Kingdom is nothing but a hell-hole– a prison for women, a women’s prison in a cage that confines men, too, men who beat the women but do not beat the keepers of the cage. A prison in a cage, surrounded by the nourishing waters of freedom, but never cranking open sealed doors…

I’m not going to deny the social problems relating to women, the political danger to those who speak against the established regime, or the academic weakness of the educational curriculum. Real as they are, these issues coexist with other qualities. There is more to the Kingdom than female oppression, etc.

I am also not going to make lists of everything good and desirable in the Kingdom; I am not an apologist.

However, I do wonder of those who live there, or have lived there, is there anything right about this place? Have the Saudis any decent thing to offer each other or the rest of the world? If not, what are you doing there, or what are you doing spouting off on the blogs about the lack of freedom and Western-style choice in a country that doesn’t claim to offer it?

Emotional diatribes do not enrich my understanding of Saudi Arabia, Islam, the world, or my enthusiasm for participation, therefore I need to rein in my energies.  I started this blog mainly to collect my Riyadh memories, and to explore my relationship with Saudi Arabia and Islam as the years have passed.

I’m satisfied with my efforts so far, but I feel the urge to expand my purpose. I’ll be revising my blogroll on a continuous basis. Certain blogs have been informative, entertaining, and enriching, but the abundance of bitching and bashing in the comments sections have blunted my interest in those blogs. I’ll be adding blogs to the list, blogs that I read and that reflect my interest in diverse subjects— Italian language, Depth Psychology, Digital Imaging, Journal and Memoir Writing. If I lose readers, I’ll attract others.  I don’t have many I haven’t already lost, anyway. Though I write this blog primarily for myself, I do want readers; they inspire me and connect me in a way that writing cannot. Writing is completed by reading.

This blog is different from the essays I write  for publication elsewhere. It’s not more personal, but more spontaneous, of the moment, perhaps.

Future posts will bring more of the rest of my life into my blog.  I look forward to sharing aspects of my life that blossomed before I ever boarded my first flight to Riyadh, or my last flight out.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

I allowed myself to get embroiled in a blog conversation with someone whose objective was only to inflame, ridicule, provoke, and insult. See:
I bent over backwards to accommodate A’idah’s points, give weight to her accusations, and maintain objectivity at the same time. In the end, I had to extricate myself, and I’ve been agitated for two days.

Why? What sort of emotional complex gets activated, not only in me but in many people, when religion is on the table?  This question seems more important than the conversation we’d had in the first place. The topic was Islam, of course. What other topic, these days, inflames to the extent that Islam inflames?

Islam is the third largest monotheistic religion in the world. It’s been around for centuries. Something is right with it. The best way to address troublesome issues regarding Islam and the West is to admit that something, indeed, is right with it. That “rightness” underlies all else, and needs to be acknowledged before any of us– Muslim or non-Muslim– will be able to purge Islam and cultures of the deviations have taken hold and drawn us all under the rubble.

A’idah and I were at cross purposes, and I knew it from the start, but why did I yield to the bait? The answer lies not with the conversation, but  with me. It goes all the way back to my conversion to Islam in 1987. No, it goes back further, to my rejection of certain aspects of Christianity. No, it goes back further than that, even. Maybe it goes all the way back to birth, when my cozy world spit me out into cold, noisy air and assaulted me with tactile irritations, blinding brightness and speed-of-light motion that induced a most terrifying vertigo, followed by prodding and rubbing and the shock of my own first breaths.

Then I heard my mother’s voice.

Religion is a response to birth trauma?

Does that sound far-fetched, or atheistic?

Even as a believer in Allah, I can accommodate the idea that religion could be a response to birth trauma.

Well, be that as it may, I remain agitated, angry even, at how Islam has been kicked and slugged and stabbed and blasted by people who take pleasure in the attack, who do not ask the hard questions, do not even pretend to dig into the substance of the matter, but condemn with sweeping verbosity, and polish their skills at sarcastic dialogue with bitter, lip-licking delight.

Ya Mamma, Ya Babba

Ya Mamma, Ya Babba

When I read Bedu’s recent post, Saudi Arabia- Understanding Umm’s and Abu’s, I became inspired for this post. I suppose I should say it is a rant, but I am genuinely curious about how the following custom got started and what it means.

I’ve noticed that many Arab parents address their very young children as ya Mamma and ya Babba. Both parents will address their daughter as ya Mama and their son as ya Babba, but I’ve also heard mothers saying ya Mamma to both sons and daughters, and fathers addressing both sons and daughters as ya Babba.

I understand the “ya” part, as a sort of a polite equivalent to, “Hey, so-and-so”, for people of any age,  I’ve picked up that custom myself, but the Mamma and Babba part still stumps me when I hear it addressed to children.

In fact, it grates my ears, and I was mortified to hear one of my daughters begin addressing both her kids as ya Mamma and ya Babba, right from the cradle. The poor little girl still thinks her name is Mamma, and the boy is too small to know his own name, much less anyone else’s.

I would never criticize my daughter or anyone for following a harmless cultural custom, but I wish she would realize how ridiculous it sounds when she says it here in the States, especially in public.  I’ve asked various Arabs about this custom, and I’ve heard various answers, none of which make sense.

One Arab father said, “Because I want my kids to know that their babba is talking to them.”

An Arab mother said, “Because my kids will grow up and becomes mammas and babbas.”

Can anyone enlighten me further, or agree with me or disagree that the expressions sound silly? Has anyone addressed a child as ya Mamma and ya Babba? If so, why, and what does it mean to you?

Fantasy Reigns

One of the interesting tourist attractions in the United States is the Renaissance Faire:


Last weekend I joined my daughter and her family at the Bristol Renaissance Faire on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. It is a remarkable event, with re-creations of Renaissance events, costumes, music and activities, The actors recreate various activities of the period, maintaining the accent and vocabulary of the Renaissance.  They mingle freely with the guests, invite them to participate, address them as, “My lord,” and My lady.” They enjoy having their photos taken:

Labor Day Weekend 058

We spent a wonderful afternoon, meandering throughout the wooded grounds, watching the games, admiring the costumes, listening to the music, examining the clothes and jewelry for sale, smelling the roasted meat and fried everything else, deciding and deciding again what we’d eat. A musician played an instrument called a spinet, answered our questions graciously, and even allowed my son-in-law to sit and press a few keys.  

Then we ate tempura shrimp and vegetables, which wasn’t very medieval, but we were not tempted by turkey legs. Not long after Maghrib, we headed back to the entrance, because the Faire would close before dark.  A harpist sat at her instrument on the dirt path, plucking the strings and making beautiful music, so we stopped, along with other people. My son-in-law admired her instrument, and stroked its frame.

She jumped up and inserted herself between him and the harp, shouting, “NEVER, EVER touch my instrument without permission!” She glared up at my tall son-in-law, and he glared back, not sure whether her outburst was part of the medieval act, as was her costume and music. We stood there, uneasy, and she continued, “THIS is a FIVE THOUSAND DOLLAR instrument! You DO NOT touch it without permission!”

My daughter said, “She’s acting.”

Indeed, her harsh voice had drawn an audience, and she seemed as though she were acting, especially since my son-in-law did nothing except stroke the frame. He might have left  a fingerprint, but probably not.

Her eyes flamed, and she growled in a low voice, “I am SERIOUS!”

“What’s going on here?” I said. My son-in-law did not speak, but my daughter said, “Are you supposed to be a witch?” My son-in-law remained speechless, but his facial expression showed his confusion and disappointment.

The musician raised her arm and pointed over his shoulder, saying. “Now GO! I will NOT play for you,” and turned her back on us.

We slunk off, grumbling, the light mood of the day broken, but I felt anger rising. How dare she embarrass my son-in-law, and speak to him with such contempt!? I turned back to get her name, thinking I’d write her a nasty letter if I stayed angry long enough. She saw me reading her CD labels, and said, “COMPLAIN AWAY! Just don’t touch my instrument.”

I might have let the incident go, had she not gilded the lily with that last remark.  I turned to confront her.

She sat down and started playing energetically, smiling at the guests who tossed dollar bills into her box. I looked at her instrument, at her tip box, at her CDs, and back at her. She was not about to stop playing, as long as I was standing there, so I said to the male with her, “There are ways, and there are ways to ask someone not to touch the instrument.  Perhaps she could pull it out of the path of the people, or erect a gate, or at least a sign. We were very offended at her behavior. Will you tell her that for me?” No immediate response. “WILL YOU TELL HER FOR ME? OK?” He said, “OK”, and I left.

Half an hour later, at the exit gate, I was approached by a woman who identified herself as the “Head of Guest Relations” and asked if I were the woman who gave the musician a hard time.

“SHE gave US a hard time!” I shouted, realizing that the harpist had reported me. After a few heated words between us, the Head of Guest Relations listened to the whole story, and thanked me for telling it. She said, “I’m going to address this issue right now,” and took leave of us, and we took leave of the Faire.

I was angry all the way home, so angry that I missed my exit, thus delaying my return by at least twenty minutes. I forgot about fasting,  Ramadan, good intentions, peace, love, patience, and everything good.

Finally home, I went straight to the computer and looked up the musician’s name. I will not mention it here, since bad publicity is better than none, but I noted that she came with impeccable credentials and accomplishments.  I read everything I could find on her, and found that she had a good reputation, and many fans. Why had she attacked my son-in-law?

Three days later, needing all that time to get over the anger, I felt sorry for her. An accomplished musician, she was beautiful, but so full of herself that she didn’t mind lording it over three admirers who could have walked away blessed by her music instead of soured by her mean-spirited arrogance. 

The incident drove home a reality that must not be forgotten when attending these Ren-Faires (as they are so called):  fantasy reigns. The embroidered gowns and lilting language can charm a guest. The gentle sounds of musical strings and breeze through the trees can lull a lady into a smile, and charm a gentleman into fascination with the facade.

Take delight in the images, let the music pull your imagination along, snap some photos, enjoy the show, but don’t peek behind the veil of illusion, lest a lovely harpist rise up and roar. 

 Copy of Labor Day Weekend 058