Naming Alexander

Our daughter Emma Hope Casper is six years old and in first grade in the Egyptian private school system. As a foreigner, she is different in many ways from all of her fellow students, yet shares one important commonality.

She is known as Emma Jayson.

A few days ago we invited readers to come along side us as we considered six name choices for our newborn son. Your comments were very helpful, and gave us much food for thought. We are pleased to announce today the birth of Alexander Jayson Charles Casper, born November 6, at 12:30pm, weighing 8.15 pounds.

In that post we mentioned our son’s middle name was already decided. My name is Jayson Charles Casper, and like most Americans, I have only three names. My own father, however, made the somewhat unusual choice to give his own name as my middle.

The Egyptian pattern, and that of many Arabs, is to honor family lineage in the naming of their children. For either a boy or a girl, there is often an element of choice in the first name. But then for both a boy and a girl, the second name is taken from the father, the third from the grandfather, and the fourth and final name from the great-grandfather.

Practically speaking the name is often shortened to just the first two, and this is why my daughter is now known as Emma Jayson in school.

The idea of honoring my own family lineage was attractive to us, as was the idea of honoring this Egyptian sense of family belonging. As my father included his own name in mine, I will do the same with my son. Yet we will lengthen his name to four, extending the generational heritage. The last name, of course, will remain Casper, as we have our own national, cultural – and above all familial – traditions to honor.

Alexander will be free to do as he wishes, but imagining this pattern into the future is winsome.

As for Emma, she too is free. We will have to gauge the value of the challenge in correcting administrative records to describe her as Emma Hope Casper, but as she matures, her identity will increasingly be her own. And, should future circumstances dictate, the Egyptian/Arab pattern of marriage is for the wife to retain her own name.

Of course, we are only partially free. We are shaped by the values and principles bestowed upon us – or neglected – by our families. There was no measure of compunction in the naming of Alexander, yet I am pleased to believe the roots of this choice were sown thirty-eight years ago.

Our son and daughters will surely make future choices we find suspect, and we must gauge the level of responsibility we bear at that time. Our hope, however, is that the values and principles we give them now will inform these choices, even when we disagree.

If so, we trust these disagreements will be few; not from their correspondence with our will, but from the needlessness of concern.

Their choices, God willing, will be honorable.

Related Posts:


Mirror or Myth?

As we have had opportunity to live in several different countries of the Arab World we have been able to make friendships, some of which have lasted over the years. Certainly the internet aids in this process, and allows us to discuss matters though we physically exist hundreds of miles apart. Today I would like to give you a chance to join in this conversation.

Below is the text of a friend from Mauritania who now becomes our first guest blogger. I asked him permission to use this selection from an email to present here publicly, as it expresses an important message. Here is the way that many in the Arab World see us. Is it a mirror or a myth?

This blog is about Egypt, and though I have not yet heard this perspective here during our first few months, it would not surprise me if it exists, as I have heard it everywhere we have lived, though of course not from everyone. In this case, my friend will not hold to what follows, but he puts on a convincing performance.

“Today it is not me who is talking; I am taking you from your territory to look at things from another perspective, the perspective of the conservative Muslims. With their foundations I totally disagree, but in my quest for balance and understanding of the way others may see things differently, I am plagued with this sickness, entertaining ideas from the perspective of the person I am talking with, to see the amount of merit it has.

The discussion about the West and the Muslim world is raging all the time here, with very conflicting views. People here in general tend to see the West as an example of creativity, freedom, and wealth, but at the same time they hate it — mainly for its policies and government decisions, such as taking sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict and supporting Arab dictators.

People here in this conservative Muslim country tend to look to things from the following perspective. I would like you to read it through, and to let me know your feedback. I don’t necessarily want you to defend the West as I consider myself a Westerner in many aspects.

The West is an Empire, and it is an evil empire, it has failed morally, as it looks only to its interests. Historically, it used the wealth and sweat of other nations to build its hypocritical and consumption-oriented civilization; it has usurped and stolen the wealth of other nations to build its cities and agglomerations. The civilization the West is a Greek civilization where only the master has rights, and where the slaves exist only for the pleasure of the master. In application the master here is the West, and slaves are other non-developed nations. Nations were made extinct in this process, such as the native Indians in the US and Australia. The West has used the sweat of the nations — America was built by African Americans and Latinos, Australia was built by Indonesians and Chinese, and the UK used the Indians. When all the building was done, they started preaching “human rights”, and they use it to prevent other nations from taking the same path they took. Look at Dubai: Human Rights Watch is saying Dubai skyscrapers builders don’t respect the human rights of the employees, but Human Rights Watch was not there when New York, Paris, or Sydney skyscrapers were built in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. It is not fair to not give a chance to those nations, demanding they meet the western standards of human rights during the building process. Now that the West has its stomach full, it wants the hungry others to play by new rules that it didn’t respect when it was hungry – slavery, war, colonization.

The West uses violence against other nations, and other nations use violence against the West. The only difference is that the West uses organized violence in contrast with the sporadic, unorganized violence used by other nations. For example, the US staged a war without any valid reason on Iraq, killed thousands of people, and destroyed the life of a nation, but when an oppressed and uneducated young Muslim tries to make an isolated act, it is called terror, and is labeled by the media as Islamic — what is the difference between the two? There is no difference except that one of the acts is committed by men in uniform, with their leaders in nice ties and clean offices, whereas the other is committed by isolated men with no uniform, whose leaders are ignorant clerics with big funny beards.

The bottom line is that it is about a competition in style of life, between barbarian oriental traditionalist societies with religion in the background, and barbarian western societies with democracy and conceptions of Greek freedom in the background.”

Do you have a response? My friend would be eager to read your comments. Please post freely.