A friend sent me a link to this page entitled “Jewish Women’s Names in an Arab Context: Names from the Geniza of Cairo”; I had known, of course, that Jews, like other people, have tended to absorb names from the society around them, but it was still startling to see a list of names like Amat al-‘Aziz, Diya, and, uh, Sitt al-Qa’ida. Not sure what Esther is doing in there, though… (Thanks, Mike!)


  1. This is kind of a side note, but if you haven’t read about other aspects of the Genizah at Cairo, I highly recommend it. I think the whole tale of the archive’s contents coming to light, as well as the substance of those contents, would be right down your alley.
    For a single-volume work, Stefan Reif’s The Cambridge Genizah Collections: Their Contents and Significance is the place to start. Several other volumes by Reif have subsequently appeared that go into more detail.
    For a far more comprehensive, and perhaps more digestible, look, there is Gotein’s five-volume A Mediterranean Society. A couple of years ago I was fortunate to find them on sale at the Harvard Book Store in brand-new paperback for $7 each.
    Goitein (in A Mediterranean Society: Vol. I, Economic Foundations, Introduction, p. 7) writes of “a business letter sent from Aden in South Arabia to a port on the west coast of India. It was addressed to a Jewish merchant from Tunisia, who ran a bronze factory and did other business south in that distant country. The recipient, after having stayed many years in India, returned to Aden in the autumn of 1149, but remained there and in the interior of Yemen for another three years. Then, he had to make the long journey through the Red Sea, the terrible desert between it and the Nile River and, finally, on the Nile from Upper Egypt to Cairo. Despite the humidity of the climate of India and of Aden and the hazards of the three journeys on sea and through the desert—and the more than eight hundred years that have elapsed since it was written—the letter is in perfect condition, with even the smallest dot and stroke clearly discernible.”

  2. …but it’s not different from seing Chinese girls in US with names like Jennifer and Lucy; or you’re startled then too??

  3. To be sure, “Jennifer” and “Lucy” are often pass names, while the given name is often preserved as a middle name on birth certificates. The Western name can be a self-adopted nickname: a Ying Ying or a Xiao Bo may insist on being called Yvonne or Roxanne. The individual may respond to different names with family, friends, and strangers, totally independent of what the birth certificate may say. That’s what makes cultural onomastics so much fun!

  4. aldiboronti says

    See also this page, Steve.
    Jewish Names in the World of Medieval Islam
    “This paper will attempt to analyze the form and function of the names of Jews in the medieval Islamic world and compare those naming practices to their Muslim neighbors. It will include an analysis of the elements of personal names, bynames, family names, and the grammar of these names.”
    He gives separate lists of merchants’ names, men’s names and women’s names.

  5. Grant: Goitein is one of those books I’ve been wanting to get around to for years.
    aldi: Thanks!
    …but it’s not different from seing Chinese girls in US with names like Jennifer and Lucy
    Of course not, as I said in the post. If you’re not a little startled by a Jewish woman named Sitt al-Qa’ida, good for you.

  6. May be I’m irrversible corrupted by reading Feihtwanger (sp?) on my school summer breaks…Spanish ballad? Jews in turbans and “turkish” slippers?…dunno

  7. The individual may respond to different names with family, friends, and strangers, totally independent of what the birth certificate may say
    But that was exactly the case with Jews living in diaspora, no matter where and no matter when (one of the Rabbis of Spain at the time of expulsion had a last name Habib, for instance-remnants from his family’ travelling thru centuries and lands)
    Except unlike the case with Chinese Roxanas and Lusys in America, living with Jewish name in hostile environment was equal to suicide.

  8. Except unlike the case with Chinese Roxanas and Lucys in America, living with Jewish name in hostile environment was equal to suicide.
    You may be surprised to learn what negative pressures exist inside and outside the Asian-American community on its members to stop looking, acting, and sounding “fresh off the boat.” Not saying anything about other immigrant communities in the US, it seems very strictly regimented and dog-eat-dog.

  9. Roxana is a Persian name and has a Chinese form, Lu-shan. It was unisex; the Chinese rebel An Lu-shan was of Persianesque descent.

  10. Wimbrel, I didn’t mean “social” suicide. Not, like, not getting invited to the hippest party in town, like, or whatever.
    It seems we speak different languages. Сыт голодного не разумеет.

  11. *grins* LH, if you haven’t seen them before, Julia’s articles are all cross posted to the Medieval Names Archive

    [Archived at — LH, 2022]

  12. Dear Tatyana: I wasn’t only talking about the young, and I sure as all get out wasn’t talking about hip social parties. Чужая беда не дает ума.

  13. Talking about lack of brains: exactly; even if this idiom sounds like something from a dictionary rather than the genuine product. Also: I guess for some a victimhood is a lucrative status. Good luck in collecting.
    Back to the subject: a recent French (deceptive term; is there any French spirit left in that country?) example of failed name mimicry, just like Rabbi Habib I mentioned earlier:
    It needs to be noted that Halimi is an Arabic-sounding surname. That’s because Halimi was a “Sephardic” Jew whose family, like many Jewish families, emigrated from an Arab Muslim countries either because they were kicked out of their homes, were escaping anti-Semitism, or both. His family emigrated from North Africa. But unfortunately, the anti-Semitism and intolerance of the “Religion of Peace” emigrated from North Africa, too. As Islam comes to dominate the West–starting with Europe–the violence and hatred, which dominates the religion, comes with it.

  14. Tatyana, don’t cite Debbie Schlussel in support of a point, at least not if you actually believe that point. Note also that the strength of modern Muslim anti-Jewish feeling is a post-1948 phenomenon; the most hostile environments for Jews have mostly been in the West.

  15. As a Sephardic Jew whose father, grandfather and so on for generations, spoke Arabic as a mother language this is not surprising at all. In my dad’s time growing up in Israel (1930’s), the only language spoken in the house was Arabic. Most Arabic speaking Jews had either Arabic names or Arabized Jewish names eg. Murduq for Mordechai or Yaqub for Yakov. I know this bothers a lot of people who find it hard to imagine such a paradox, but this is a result of the present conflict.
    I’ll finish by mentioning that in the 9th cent in Iraq the biggest rabbi of his time, Saadiah Gaon translated the Tanach into classical Arabic so that the community would be able to understand it; and that almost all the major rabbis living in the Moslem world published their works in Arabic eg Maimonides’ Guide to the perplexed is in Arabic. Sorry to say but there was such a thing as a Jewish Arab, this died in 1948!

  16. The phenomenon goes further: my name is Asseraf, a bad French transcription of the arab “achraf” meaning the money-changer. However my mother’s name, Jablonski, comes from the Polish jablko, meaning apple. Therefore people tend to assume that I am either Polish or Moroccan, or both.
    I’m neither. I am a French Jew, and nobody in my surroundings seems to have an issue with that.
    As for Tatyana’s comment, are you saying that France isn’t French anymore ? Does that even mean anything ?
    Additionally, just because a minority of people find it amusing to burn cars or people does not mean that the French society as a whole is either racist or antisemitic.
    Jewish names do go very far indeed, but one shouldn’t overestimate their importance.

  17. Just wanted to let you know “zylberfajn” that money changer in Arabic is al-sarraaf or more correctly as it is pronounced as-sarraaf. So the French version is not too bad!!

  18. Some names pass over easily from one language to another so that it’s possible to say either that they’re the same name, or that they’re not. John / Jan / Johann is one example, and Yaqub / Yakov / Jacob would be another.
    If I went to France I’d keep “John” because I don’t think I’d be a convincing “Jean”, but if Y had a small child named John I’d probably switch to “Jean.”

  19. Aidan, I do believe in point and I don’t find a fault with Debbie Schlussel’s reasoning, here or mentioned in the article you linked to.
    Yes, I find it quite logical to say if it’s proven that local tribes (who are called in PC language Native Americans) originally came from Asia, most likely they’ve occupied someone else’s land. Unless you believe they were The First People, of course. Also, I find it hard to be convinced when in place of argument the blogger you linked to uses epitets “stupid” and as an explanation offers “[DS} is a Republican activist”. I’d prefer to see more filling in the blanks, you know?
    *zylberfajn, I do think that France looks more and more lacking in what we used to understand is a “French spirit”. Why, even Danes have more of it than France!
    And yes, I have reasons to believe it is an antisemitic and racist country internally, despite all PC bullsh*t prevalent externally.

  20. Also, the strength of modern “Muslim anti-Jewish feeling ” (feeling? interesting choice of word) isn’t a post-1948 phenomenon, that’s a convenient fairy tale illusion.
    To keep the comment short, I’ll just give you a link to educate yourself on the subject.

  21. I’d just advise you to turn off your TV and come to France, for a change, Tatyana.
    It is ever so easy to listen to the news we hear and convince ourselves that the reality is as simple as that. However I believe that that’s not the case. France, like every other place on earth, is a complicated country, and just as I do not have fun reducing Americans to certain policies of the current administration, maybe you should restrain from thinking that racist, xenophobic minority is representative of all French people.
    Apparently, the pronunciation of “as-sarraaf” is different in Morocco. I guess it would be interesting to check.

  22. zylberfajn, if I watched only TV I would rather agree with you, but I tend to look at various sources before I form an opinion. In regards to French political/social climate, to list a few, I have :
    a)listened to friends/cowerkers’s personal accounts (one of them, an Israeli, was denied extension of his work contract despite getting excellent results and nobody could site a reasonable explanation for his dismissal – a pattern we were all too familiar with in former SU), etc etc.
    b)read blogs; for instance – Dissident Frogman and The bandarlog – look for the the green-colored entries by Doug, he lives in Paris.
    In any case, if that’s an invitation, I’d love to come. Always willing to check the theories on practice.

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