This blog is best viewed with the latest browser and an open mind!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A rose by any other name? Hmmm ...

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
William Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet

I have had this problem for a long time. In Urdu and in English.

The English one that refers to my surname is easier to follow. Most people continue to write Kidwai … especially the Indians who remember Rafi Ahmad Kidwai. Others write Qidwai, partially because in transcribing Urdu the ق is spelt as Q. The reason our family continued writing K is that the name is Turkish and K is the way Turks write ق … Remember Koran! 

Of course, most people who speak Urdu started writing the Anglicized version of their names somewhere late in the 19th century and many decided to change the spelling of their names to deal with ways in which they pronounced it. Among Kidvais or Kidwais the majority insisted that it was a Turkish name and didn't change the spelling so it remained K. 

Well, almost! They did add a W instead of a V for the و in it. That's [mis]understandable, given the W & V mixture our populations have: I vant you to wery carefully think of it.

The Urdu misspelling of my first name is a difficult problem and one that I am not able to quite understand at all. My name is زہیر and not ظہیر as almost everyone seems to insist on writing it. They are two different words. ظہیر means 'One who makes things Visible' and comes from اظہر, where as زہیر comes from ازہر, the enlightened one, and means 'One who makes things well lit". One Urdu dictionary defines it as روشن كرنے والا.

Why we've almost abandoned the ز I really don't know ... but when I was at sea and went to Saudi Arabia,  Qatar, or UAE, the men at the gates who issue passes asked me my name and when I said Zaheer they wrote زہیر each time! (My father's name was ازہر and he had the same problem, with people writing it as اظہر ... The university is الازہر and is always spelt that way.)

In Pakistan I have had all my literary friends who've given me their books insist upon writing ظہیر. This must be catching, for even Zehra (Nigah) Apa, who has written three times in my autograph book - with زہیر every time, has just presented me her latest work inscribed as ظہیر.

There was a hilariously good one, once, when I went to get some documents made and I was asked, by the really old paan-chewing kurta & pajama clerk, for my name and my father's. Each time I had to tell him it was with ز ... So when he asked me my wife's name and I said  نزہت,  he said "Yeh to aap ظ say likhtay hoñ gay?"

The fun part also took one more turn. Someone understood my name as 'Kidwani' and then added me to a Sindhi Mahaaz list … so I got tons of rather interesting mail about how important it was for Indian and Pakistani Sindhis to join and form a separate Sindhu Desh working group, until I had to write to them and ask them to stop.

(By the way, the A in Zaheer A. Kidvai is for عالم and not Ahmad ... but that's a 'minor' error that people make, so it's not really a problem area.)

Often I have been told that proper nouns can be spelt in any way that one likes. Sure. But the first time only! After the name has become a person or thing's name, that's the way it is. Karachi is not Carachi, once the 'official spelling' has been adopted.

Before the days of computers and databases the Shakespearean lines above may have 'seemed' true. There was also the writing of your Anglicized names (allowing even further variations) which added to the problem. But now times have changed. Spelling Ahmad, in one text as Ahmed and in another as Ahmud, will give you three distinct entries in a database that treats the person as three different people.

So, be wary … and correct the people who write to you with a misspelled name and tell them what the actual name is.

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Farrukh Ahmed said...

Dear Zak, once again a beautiful post and very well put. i face similar problem with my name as people insist on writing Farukh instead of Farrukh (with double 'r'). I also have to tell everyone that Ahmed is with an 'e' and not 'a'!
The arabs have always written my name with an extra و making it فروخ instead of فرخ.

the case with your first name, to some extent i guess is because both zaheers have the same pronunciation and the one with ظ is more common (i guess).

love the example of 'Carachi' for the proper noun spelling. hope people understand!

23 March, 2010 12:20

Anonymous jz said...

Fancy spellings of common Pakistani names amuse me and often put me off with the person concerned!

When Bilqees becomes bilkiss (or bilkies), Zafar becomes Zephyr, Shakil becomes Shaquille, Rukhsana becomes Roxanna (and so on) ... it says alot about the person.. (and what it says is not so good really). My immediate reaction about the person is that s/he is a pseudo. Maybe I am wrong but keeping fancy spellings never impresses me.

24 March, 2010 18:16


Post a Comment

<< Home