Friday, May 19, 2006

Culture: Hirsi Ali/Magan

There has been a lot of commotion in the Netherlands around Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I don't want to describe all the ins- and outs of the case, but I do like to point out to an intercultural aspect of the whole affair. For the Dutch people, it was a shocking detail to see that she had changed her name (from Hirsi Magan to Hirsi Ali). In Somalia, there is no such thing as a family name, but there is a long line of names going back to your descendency. As she explained in a press conference "I am Ayaan, the daughter of Hirsi, who is the son of Magan, son of Isse, son of Guleid, etc." So there the use of names is much more fluid; and using a different name may feel less of a 'crime'. (I actually think the timing of the news and her general position played a much bigger role than this -minor- intercultural element).

Naming conventions differ alot. This weekend my friend could not check in because they had booked her on her first name (booking done in China) rather than her second name. I had many problems in Ethiopia where they could not understand that my passport has two Christian names (Gerberig Johanna) rather than my 'roepnaam' Joitske. So I became very careful in using my Christian names in all official communications.

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