From the Archives: What’s in a name?

The Daily Hookah Feed

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

What’s in a name?
In the Middle East, people really get riled up over names
By Ray Hanania
Originally Published: 04.17.07, 16:25 Israel Opinion

Names mean a lot to some people. In Sweden, a couple recently wanted to call their new born daughter “Metallica,” which is the name of a popular heavy metal rock group, but the government said no.

I know that people in the Middle East really get riled up over names, too. The whole Arab-Israeli conflict boils down to whether or not the strip of land along the Mediterranean coast should be called Palestine or Israel.

For a long time, Israelis wouldn’t allow anyone to call Palestinians “Palestinians.” They were just “Arabs,” and still are according to some government practices. I once wrote that Assyrians are “Arab” and received more than 300 e-mails complaining that I had committed a mortal sin.

Assyrians may live in the Middle East, speak Arabic and eat Arabian food, but they are NOT Arab, they protested. I argued they should let it be, pointing out that “Hanania” is the name of a famous Assyrian, Shadrach, a friend of Daniel’s, who was tossed into the lion’s den. They wrote back, Assyrians are not Chaldeans.

A few years ago, the National Geographic Magazine labeled the gulf waters that begin at the intersection of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran as “The Arabian Gulf.” That upset the Iranians who have been calling the waters the Persian Gulf for years.

Americans love Persian food, but most don’t even know that Persia is another word for “Iranians.” Americans hate Iranians. Always have and always will, because Americans are a proud people and never “run.””These colors don’t run,” is the popular American bumper sticker that pictures the red, white and blue of the American flag in defending the war in Iraq.

‘The Zionist entity’

Of course, The Iranians blamed the controversy on the “Jewish controlled media,” on “Zionism” and especially on the “Zionist Entity,” which is the term they use to refer to a word that is practically illegal to say in Iran, “Israel.” I never understood that whole thing about not calling Israel “Israel” and calling it the Zionist Entity instead.

“Entity” is a powerful word. I mean, when you are an entity, you are basically an official corporate structure with many benefits. If the Arabs wanted to undermine Israel, they would call it by its name, Israel. “Down with the Zionist Entity” doesn’t have the same impact as saying “Down with Israel.”

Names also have an important weight in terms of conflicts, especially the names of leaders. For example, look at the names of the Israeli leaders. Howard Squadron. Abraham Foxman. Chaim “the Wiseman” Weisman. All the names suggest power. Perspicuity. Intelligence. Strength. Jeez. Squadron is the word you use for a military unit that assaults a target.

Now look at the Arab leaders’ names. Hose-me Mubarak. That’s been done. Bash-my-ass Assad. (I just thought he was an “Ass”-Syrian.) And, Momar Ga-Daffy. No wonder the Arabs keep losing wars with Israel.

Even our missiles are goofy. The Israelis have a missile called “Jericho,” which is supposed to carry weapons that are nuclear, a name that doesn’t exist in official Israeli lexicon. The Iraqi missile fired by Saddam Hussein was called a “Scud,” which rhymed with “dud!”

The Hamas missiles, which are not really missiles at all but pop-bottle rockets fired for absolutely no purpose but homage to Allah,

are called “Qassam Rockets.” No creativity at all. At least not like the Iranians, who are not even Arab either. The Iranians even named the missile they fired at Israel “Khaibar,” which has a dual meaning. Khaibar was the name of an ancient town inhabited by Jews that the Prophet Mohammed tried to convert to Islam. Mohammed ordered the Khaibar Jews to leave or be massacred. We know the story.

My name is Raymond. People who meet me say, “You look like an Arab. Talk like an Arab. Eat like an Arab. But you don’t sound like an Arab.”Well, my mom is from Bethlehem and when she came to this country, she couldn’t speak any English at all. After delivering me in the hospital, all she could hear were the words coming out of the intercom system above her head, “Dr. Raymond. Dr. Raymond.”

Fortunately, my dad could speak English. He was from Jerusalem. He had the word “Doctor” dropped from my birth certificate. You know Arab moms. They want their sons to grow up to be doctors or grocery store owners.

Of course, my dad was tough. He never called me by my name. When he wanted to say something to me, he’d turn to my mom and yell, “Shu hadtha, ihbal?” (What’s that, idiot?) For the first 15 years of my life, I thought my name was Ihbal. And my brother, who was older and was always out driving the family car late, was called, “Jesus Christ.”

Of course, I have a sister, too. Her name growing up was “Habeela.”We even thought we had another brother. Maybe dad was married to a second wife? Dad would always yell to the heavens, “Wannick ya Rubbeee?” (Where are you Ya Rubbee?) “Who’s Ya Rubbee?” I asked my brother. “You?” … “No,” my brother said. “I’m Jesus Christ. How about you?” “Not me,” I said. “I’m Ihbal. Linda?” Nah, we both nodded, “She’s Habeela. “We never did meet “Ya Rubbee.”

Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at

Facebook Comments


Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

Click here to send Ray Hanania and email.

His Facebook Page is

Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com
Ray Hanania