"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Farouk Lawan: What’s in a Name?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Farouk Lawan: What’s in a Name?

Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The other day in Abuja I interacted with a respected gentleman who immediately took a liking to me. As we ended our conversation and about to go our separate ways, he remembered that he didn’t ask of my name. “Sorry, by the way, what’s your name?” he asked. “Farooq,” I said.

“Ha, Farooq? You’re a good man with a bad name! Have you heard of Farouk Lawan?” he said jokingly. I shot back immediately: “No, Farouk Lawan is the bad man with a good name!” And we both laughed hysterically.

But the encounter got me thinking about so many things: the meaning of the name “Farooq,” memories of my childhood, the associative power of names, etc.

First, it appears that there is an irresistibly melodic harmony about the name Farooq (if you would excuse my vanity!) that causes Nigerians to cling to it sometimes unfairly. In journalistic writing, for example, people are identified in headlines and in subsequent references in news narratives by their last names.

That is why we know Goodluck Jonathan as “Jonathan,” Olusegun Obasanjo as “Obasanjo,” Muhammadu Buhari as “Buhari,” etc. But where “Farouks” are involved, this convention is often flouted. Would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was habitually identified as “Farouk” in the Nigerian media, although Farouk is his middle name. And Farouk Lawan of the “dollar sting operation” infamy is regularly identified as “Farouk,” although Lawan is his last name.

Soon enough, humorous contortions of “Farouk” became a wildly popular Internet meme in Nigerian cyberspace in the wake of the Lawan/Otedola bribery scandal. See, for instance, the following creatively hilarious but nonetheless unfortunate semantic distortions of “Farouk” that circulated widely on Nigerian sites:

1. FAROUK: To collect bribe and deny it at the same time.

2. FAROUKED: Past tense of 'farouk'

3. FAROUKER: A person who farouks.

4. FAROUKEE: A person who is farouked.

5. FAROUKISH: Having the appearance of, or relating to, bribery and denial.

6. FAROUKOLOGY: The scientific study of bribe collection and denial of evidence.

7. FAROUKISM: The political ideology/concept of bribery and cover-ups.

8. FAROUKIOSIS: A chronic disorder of bribe taking and denial.

9. FAROUKMENT: A system of farouking.

10. FAROUKISTICALLY: Carried out or done in a way that suggests a farouk.

11. FAROUKICIDE: An act exhibited by a farouker that is capable of causing someone to farouk.

12. FAROUKXY: Being in the mood or setting out strategies to farouk.

13. FAROUKOUTANCY: Identification and analysis of a farouked person(s) for decision making.

14. FAROUKIOLYSIS: The act of destroying or conceiving bribery evidence so as to frustrate prosecution.

15. FAROUKOMA; A sudden growth of greed that leads to an aborisation and an endless desire to demand and collect bribe without a pre-thought to realize the consequences thereof.

16. FAROUKECTOMY: A surgical procedure for the removal of faroukoma.

But what does “Farooq” or “Farouk”—or however you choose to spell it—really mean and why do I care? Well, obviously, I care because Farooq is my first name, the name by which more than 80 percent of people who know me call me. So this is a self-confessedly narcissistic write-up. Nevertheless the name “Farooq” has an interesting etymology and history that I think people should know.

Although most of us know Farooq as an Arabic/Muslim name, its roots are actually located in Aramaic (sometimes called Syriac), which is the language Jesus spoke. It’s a close linguistic cousin of Hebrew and Arabic. In Aramaic, Farooq is rendered as Poruk or Porooq. Experts say the term Poruk first appeared in the Aramaic Bible, also known as the Peshitta or the Syriac Bible, and it meant “the Savior” or “the Liberator.” 

When “Porooq” came to Arabic, the “p” sound was dropped and was replaced with an “f” sound. The vowel “o” was replaced with the vowel “a.” (Arabic neither has a “p” consonant nor an “o” vowel in its sound system; “f” and “a” are the closest phonological equivalents to “p” and “o”). So “Porooq” not only became “Farooq,” it also acquired a slightly different but related meaning. 

Once “Porooq” was integrated into Arabic as “Farooq,” the name assumed an added significance. In Arabic, “f-r-q” means to cut, to separate. When you add the Arabic “separation” to the original meaning of “Savior” in Aramaic, you get “the Savior who cuts (separates) the truth from falsehood.” 

In other words, in its contemporary Arabic usage, “Farooq” means the savior who distinguishes the truth from falsehood. Umar bn Khattab, one of the companions of the Prophet of Islam, was nicknamed “Farooq” on account of his brutal honesty and fierce distaste for lies and deceit. From then on, every male Muslim who is named Umar automatically takes on the nickname Farooq.

 I have been familiar with the meaning and history of my name from age 5—or perhaps earlier. My dad, an 87-year-old retired Arabic teacher, let me know this from my very impressionable ages. Umar bn Khattab is obviously his favorite of the Prophet’s companions. He found many similarities between himself and Umar bn Khattab. Since he couldn’t rename himself after the man, he chose to name me, his favorite child, after his hero.

From my formative years, I learned and internalized the idea that telling lies, or knowingly concealing the truth, or deceiving people, etc represented a betrayal of my name. So, as a child, I was something of a snitch; if my siblings did any wrongdoing in my presence and my father wanted to know the truth, I never saved them even if I could. My older brother would often tease me that I was a sucker for my father’s cheap flattery. “Get it into your head that you’re no Umar bn Khattab and you can never be one. Daddy is just using you!” he would say.

Maybe he was right. I wouldn’t dare say I have half as much the honesty and frankness of Umar bn Khattab, but I do know that I have always strived to be honest, straightforward, and forthright. My decision to study and practice journalism is a consequence of my desire to live up to the demands of my name. If I occasionally fail to live up to the demands of a “Farooq” it is, well, because I am no Umar bn Khattab and can never be one, to paraphrase my older brother.

But I would hope that I would never descend to the moral nadir of Farouk Lawan, supposing the allegations against him are true. I have no idea if Farouk Lawan knows the meaning and weight of his name, but he sure has mired a beautiful name in the mud. This is my vain attempt to rescue it.

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