Jon Lee Anderson’s New Yorker article about Mali is good, but it made me grind my teeth right out of the gate. It begins:
On the spine of a hogback hill overlooking Bamako, the capital of the West African nation of Mali, is a green sliver of a park, decorated with effigies of Mali’s historic explorers. On a recent visit, I stopped one piercingly hot morning to admire a bronze bust of a turbaned, bearded man set on a plinth. The nameplate was missing, but, judging from the man’s wide brow and Arab features, it seemed likely that this was Ibn Battuta, the great Moroccan traveller, who journeyed through the Empire of Mali and visited its capital, near the River Niger, in 1352.
When Battuta arrived, […]
“Not ‘Battuta,’ Ibn Battuta!” I hollered (in the privacy of my brain, not wanting to frighten the cats). Since I have a bully pulpit, I’m going to use it: “Ibn” is not a first name, it means ‘son’ and indicates a patronymic, or nasab as it’s called in Arabic. You can no more abbreviate Ibn Battuta as Battuta than you can abbreviate O’Malley as Malley. For more on Arabic names, consult my ancient post on the topic (or Wikipedia, if you prefer, but “This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page”—you have been warned).
Addendum.. Robert Irwin, in his devastating TLS review of Robert Twigger’s Red Nile (if you’re going to write an error-riddled book on Middle Eastern history, Irwin is the very last person you want reviewing it), makes the same point: “Referring to the famous expert on optics, Ibn al-Haytham as Haytham is a solecism comparable to referring to Macpherson as Pherson, or Robinson as Robin.”