Monday

Who's your Daddy?

Bab Bou Jloud, Fes Medina by travelwayoflife
For non-Arabic speakers, Arabic names can seem confusing and complicated. They can be long, and don't follow the 'First Name, Family Name' convention used in many Western countries.

Despite these differences, Arabic names have a distinct order and purpose.
Like 'First Name, Family Name', Arabic names identify their bearer by his or her genealogy. But rather than labeling people as members of families, Arabs' use names to describe how they relate to others. As a result, you can know someone's sons, daughters, fathers or mothers, just through their name.


We see this most commonly in the Arabic words bin ابن and Abu ابو. Bin means 'son' and when placed in front of a name takes on the meaning 'son of so-and-so.' For example, the name Omar bin al-Khattab, one of the Prophet Mohammed's companions, literally means 'Omar son of al-Khattab'. Abu, which means 'father', works similarly. Names like Abu Muhammad or Abu Hamza mean 'father of Mohammed' and 'father of Hamza', respectively. 

This structure, providing genealogical information, operates similarly to the family name used in many Western countries. 'Omar son of al-Khattab' differentiates that Omar from others by stating he is the son of al-Khattab, and so forth.

This structure is also used to give nicknames. The konya كنية is a type of nickname that uses the Abu construction to refer to an adult male by the name of his eldest son. For example, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority is known as Abu Mazin, after the name of his eldest son. These names can also take on more figurative meanings. 

Yasser Arafat, the former leader of the PLO, went by the konya Abu 'Ammar though he did not have a son named 'Ammar. Rather, his konya invoked the name of 'Ammar bin Yasir, a companion of the Prophet Mohammed. Further along in this vain is the konya for Adam, the first Man. He is known as Abu l-Bashr, or the Humanity's Father. 

The konya also exists in Moroccan dialect. Like the examples above, Moroccans use Bou بو, from Abu ابو , not to mean 'father' but rather 'possessor of' or 'owner of.' The Arabic name for Fes' famous Blue Gate is Bab Bou Jloud, meaning 'the Leather Owners' Gate.'

In Moroccan street talk, the konya loses it's sense of formality, and is used primarily to describe males who possess any number of outstanding physical features. My friend Said provided me with many examples that express the breadth of these types of expressions.

On the more literal end is bou la7ya بو لحية which refers to a man with a long beard, and alludes to his religiosity. If you're an Ikhwani, then you are bou la7ya. Similarly, there is bou oudhnain بو أذنين , which describes a person with large ears, and who also tends to eavesdrop on other people's conversations. Then there is bou ra2s بو رأس , which describes someone with a large head, as well as a person who doesn't listen to other people and doesn't like to change his opinions. Bou 3ainai بو عيني similarly refers to someone with large eyes and who watches other people.

The konya also highlights more specific physical traits. Bou Qddaam بو قدام describes someone whose heels are calloused and cracked from walking around in sandals all of the time.

Said shared with me a Moroccan saying: Al-Felali Bou Qddaam, which says that people from the Tafilalet, a region in South Eastern Morocco, are bou qddaam. This is for two reasons. The Tafilalet is Morocco's poorest region, so its residents are accustomed to walking long distances in lieu of paying for other forms of transportation. Additionally, life in the Tafilelt is difficult, full of hardships that are manifest in the Felali's calloused feet.

The Bou construction can be used without referring to a part of the body. The phrase Bou Zbal بو زبال , meaning 'garbage owner', refers to poor, very low class people. Said told me that once he was buying socks from a street vendor and pointed out that his prices were much higher than the vendor next to him. The man looked over and said to Said, "My socks are the real deal, that guy is just bou zbal."

I asked Said if there were any phrases that incorporated oum أم , the Arabic word for Mother, as there are for bou. But he said not really, only expressions that refer to the parts of the female body men seem to pay the most attention to.

Here's a list of more konya expressions from Moroccan Arabic:

بو قلوة Bou qalwa
Literally means "one with balls", and is used to refer to males or a group of males.
بو نويف Bou Nwif
Someone with a big nose.

 بو رجلينBou Rijlain
Someones with big feet.

بو ظفال Bou Dfal
Someone whose fingernails are long, and so unkempt that they're black with dirt.

بو سنادر Bou Snadir
Someone with big teeth that stick out of their mouth like a donkey's.

بو بط Bou Batt
Someone with hairy, smelly armpits.

بو قر Bou Qarr
Someone with a big, smelly ass.

بو نظظر Bou Ndadr
Someone who wears thick glasses.

بو بنات Bou Bnat
A boy who has many girlfriends.

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