On Pashto Names, “Ruining proper Islamic” Names, and Self-Hatred

Pashto meme 1On refusing to give your kids names in your language and instead giving them Arabic ones (nothing against this – I’ve a point; read on, please) because of the way your language is structured and your “pagan/haram/backward” language turns “proper, beautiful Islamic” (read: Arabic) names into wrong ones. Because ignorance and self-hatred and politics and minority statuses and so on.

There’s a complicated history of the status of Pashto (and other minority languages) in Pakistan and the reasons why Pukhto names aren’t very popular among certain generations of Pukhtuns, but I currently don’t have the time to get into the political side of things. I will soon, I promise! (Unless someone else gets to it, first … which I hope they do!)

the (basic) grammar of why your “beautiful” name gets “ruined”
– e.g., why “Ahmad” becomes “Ahmada“!

You see, in Pashto, when you address a person directly, you (often but not always) add an “a” to their name if male; “ey” or “o” if female (often but not always).

There’s some rules about this that I don’t know – and haven’t thought about it extensively enough yet – cuz I haven’t studied Pashto formally. But here’s what I know.

So for example, when someone’s addressing me in Pashto directly, they’d say: “Shainazo, Pashto meme 2girl, get this!” (the “ai” replacing the “eh” in my name is another linguistic matter). For a girl named Sajida, it’d be, “Hey, Sajidey!” Maria becomes Mariye. Farkhanda becomes Farkhandey; Jalwa becomes Jalwey; Camila becomes Camiley; Nahida becomes Nahidey. All of these names are foreign to Pashto. BUT! Malala becomes Malalai, Zarghuna becomes Zarghunai (these are Pashto names). Oh, and of course, Kashmala becomes Kashmaley – and this is a Pashto name/word ❤

Exceptions to the rule include: Kulsoom becomes Kalsumo (no elongations in spoken Pukhto, so no “Kalsooooomo”).

Names to which the rules don’t apply (ie, they remain the same) are Lailah, Sara, among others.

For male names:
Someone named Sajid becomes: “Hello, Sajida! How you doing, bruh?”
(Note the suffix, which denotes a feminine construction in many languages, including Arabic, Spanish.)

Someone named Omar becomes “Omara, sup?”
(Again note the -a ending in the address.)
For the name Shaukat: “Shaukata, pa khaaaair!” (Pashto greeting)
Similarly, Zahoor becomes Zahoora, Khan becomes Khana, Muhammad becomes Muhammada, a Michael would become Michaela, and so on.

Male names that break the rule include Ali, Hamza, Ziaullah, Mustafa. (A James, too, would remain James…. I think?)

My friend M. added to this discussion some important points about the role of tense in the construction of a name in Pashto, saying–and I quote:

[The name Malali] is formally Malalai and you say it exactly the same when calling someone by this name and Malala is the shortened form of Malalai used when you call any Malalai more lovingly (da naaz nom). When you are talking about any Malalai ملالۍ with your friend, you say, Malalai ملالۍ did this and Malalai says this (Malalai ملالۍ in both present and past tenses). But if someone’s own name is Malala ملاله and not Malalai, you address her Malaaley ملالې and when you are talking about Malaala with someone (eg: Malaley said this ملالې ویل) (notice how the yay ې here is the same as when addressing her) but for present tense you say (Malala says this ملاله وایی) notice the yays and its all clear smile emoticon the same rule applies to name Zarghuna for example. Zarghuna زرغونه, Hi Zarghuney سلام زرغونې، Zarghuney said this زرغونې ویل, zarghuna says زرغونه وایی.

my point

pashto meme 3So many Western Pukhtuns with little access to their language are so troubled by this “transformation” of a male name into a “female” name (like for Sajid, Amjad, etc.) that they get frustrated enough to 1) spiritually blackmail you, threatening that its HARAAM to “ruin” a proper “Islamic” (Arabic) name in cases where you follow these rules like required in Pashto, and/or 2) use specific Arabic names where those rules don’t apply, and they tell you while introducing their kid that now no one can “ruin” her/his name.

Dude! That’s not “ruining” a name! That’s called language. That’s how languages work. If you’re gonna borrow a name or word from another language, then accept that it’ll be doing some weird language things you won’t be happy with – like when the Arabic name “Thamina” (meaning “beautiful”) becomes “Samina” in South Asian languages; in Persian too. And there’s nothing wrong with that – except “Samina” is also an Arabic word that means “fat” (I’ve a close and dear friend named Samina, and each time I use this example, I feel terrible that this might come off wrongly…. I say this with infinite love for this friend.)

Back to the Pashto thing: stop it, Pukhtano!!! People with at least a little bit of respect for their language would appreciate its “embarrassing” quiddities – like when your mom calls you “Sajida” when your name is Sajid, and your friends are like “Hahahaha!!?!?”

Just… just constantly feeling hurt cuz Pukhto keeps being treated like crap left and right and ppl don’t wanna give their kids Pashto names cuz ignorance is more common than my sensitive Pukhtun heart can tolerate. Remember when I said last year that I was gonna speak fus7a (standard Arabic) with my kids when I grow up? Yeah, totally rethinking that now . . . It’s a real dilemma because I would *love* to do just that, speak in Arabic with them, but where Arabic is my jaan, my dil/jigar/heart/liver, Pukhto is my parent tongue, the most important layer of my identity. If the language enjoyed any respect, I’d convert entirely to all things Arabic. But … ‪#‎tears‬ Whatever the case, the future mini-mes (mini-me’s?) are gonna have hardcore Pukhto names, and everyone will be expected to pronounce them correctly, and Pukhto grammar rules will be followed when addressing them ❤ InshaAllah. I’ll worry about what language(s) they’ll speak when the time comes, iA.

4 thoughts on “On Pashto Names, “Ruining proper Islamic” Names, and Self-Hatred

  1. The arab superiority regarding names in general though, I even see it in Khutbahs where they said it’s unlawful to make a consented nickname from an Arabic name. It’s literally following the Arabic language > every other language follow up. This is the kind of attitude that drives people away, not bring them in


  2. Wow… I had no idea we had such ignorant people! What the heck?! In Afghanistan and even the place I lived in Pakistan, people never did that. We all have Pashto names and Arabic and Persian and others AND we say them exactly how you would say them in Pashto, otherwise it sounds totally weird! I’m in the US, but I have never thought of that lolll I guess my family is just too traditional and strict so we never really had those stuff going on

    I would never ever in a million years be ashamed of my origins as a Pashtun! I boost about it every single day; every change I get 😐

    I literally have this big list of Pashto names that I love and I don’t want to share them because… I don’t want others to copy =_= lollll now i feel super duper lame


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