What's the name of Saddam Hussein?

November 20, 1998|By Bruce Gottlieb

THERE IS some confusion over whom the United States didn't bomb last weekend. We spared "Mr. Hussein" says the New York Times; actually, it was "Saddam Hussein" says the Washington Post; no, it was just "Saddam" say USA Today and the Times' columnist William Safire. Who's right?

The name Saddam Hussein isn't like Bill Clinton or Jiang Zemin, which are both composed of a given name and a family name. Bill and Zemin are the given names.

Saddam Hussein has no family name. Rather Hussein is the name his parents gave the nascent dictator, and Saddam is an epithet he adopted before he grabbed power and is derived from the Persian word meaning crush. Saddam Hussein is best translated as Hussein-Who-Crushes-Obstacles or Hussein-the-Destroyer.

In other words, the Washington Post gets it right by consistently using Saddam Hussein. References to Mr. Hussein or Saddam are as syntactically absurd as referring to a certain late wrestler by Mr. Andre or the Giant.

Nor is it uncommon for Near Easterners to have only a given name and no family name. In this century, regional governments have encouraged citizens to adopt place names as surnames -- by this system, the Iraqi dictator would be Hussein Tikriti, because he comes from an area known as Tikrit.

Oh yeah, it's pronounced Sad-DAHM.

Bruce Gottlieb writes The Explainer column for Slate magazine.

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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