What does your nickname reveal about you?
Farid Shawqi was known as “Wahesh” (monster or ultimate villain), Soad Hosny was the “Cinderella” of Egyptian cinema and Shadia, so beloved by her public that she became known as “Maabouda Al Jamaheer”, roughly translated as fans’ idol. Like these Egyptian stars of the golden age of cinema, we all aspire to be remembered for something. Even if it is of a cartoonish nature.
“People rarely call me by my given name, they call me Captain Majid or Mowgli,” said Amal Hawijeh, the voice in two popular Arabic-dubbed Japanese anime of the 1980s. The crooner Sami Clark of Lebanon sometimes dubbed as the “Arab Frank Sinatra”, has had this nickname undermined by cartoons as well.
“I will be remembered for the cartoons I sang in, not my life work,” Sami told me in a chance meeting. He was the singing voice for Grendizer and Jazirat Al Kanz. One never knows what title will stick with an artist.
This week I had the task of finding out the nicknames of famous Arab singers and how they had come by them. No matter how many records an artist sells, unless the public gives them a nickname they haven’t actually “made it” in the entertainment industry.
While the jury is still out on how much our given names define our success and failure in life, nicknames are earned or imposed and effect our identity, popularity and self-esteem.
A nickname reflects how others view us and may come to mirror how we see ourselves.
As children, our parents and family members tend to give us “babyfied” versions of our given names, like Nour become Nunu, Abdullah becomes Abodi, and our friends and sometimes teachers call us some variations of our names like Rym (pronounced Reem) has been Ramroom, Rymboo, Rymi or Rambo.
One of the things parents often do, and it may sound strange, but they call you, ya baba or ya mama when you are in trouble or they are frustrated by you.
Baba is papa or dad, and so it is quite funny to see the real baba saying to his child “Biss ya, Baba” (Stop it, Baba). It is a term of endearment that has been around for generations.
One theory of origin goes that it is a form of protection from the evil eye by not calling out the real name. It is interesting as it is the same in some Eastern European cultures, where a nickname is given to a baby so the devil can’t find the child with the given name.
Whatever the case, your physical attributes, your personality and your life experiences all play a part in why a particular nickname is born.
Sometimes your nationality becomes part of your persona, like the singer Warda Al Jazairia (1939-2012), whose name literally meant “Warda the Algerian”, and Latifa, who is a popular singer from Tunisia often called Latifa Al Tunisia.
Sometimes Arab figures are compared to Hollywood stars, such as Hind Rostom, who was dubbed the “Marilyn Monroe of Egypt” or Roushdi Abaza, the “Arab Clark Gable” and Anwar Wagdi, the “Arabian Robert Taylor”.
For us normal people, it comes as no surprise that we prefer nicknames similar to powerful or admirable historic or religious figures, such as kings and queens or even strong animal names like Laith (lion) or Saqr (falcon).
It is interesting to contemplate the power of names and nicknames, and wonder, as Juliet did in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, whether a rose by any other name would really smell as sweet.
Updated: April 20, 2016 04:00 AM