When the news arrived that my wife was expecting, an electric current of anticipation surged through us, igniting an insatiable curiosity about the baby’s gender. The rhythmic cadence of the baby’s heartbeats, echoing through the ultrasound, reverberated in my ears like a rare and enchanting birdsong, a melody that seemed to harmonize with the very pulse of my own heart. At that moment, I felt as though I had stumbled upon the profound meaning of life, akin to the discovery Viktor Frankl chronicled in his seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning.
With each delicate throb of that tiny heart, I sensed the existence of a grand and sacred purpose, one so exquisitely compelling that it elevated even the tiniest, most nascent life into a force of immeasurable significance. It was as if the universe had whispered its deepest secrets to me through those minuscule heartbeats, affirming that there existed a reason so profound, so worthy, that it rendered every challenge and hardship insignificant in comparison.
On a sultry afternoon, we found ourselves in the gynecologist’s office for a routine check-up, our patience tested by an unusually protracted wait in the clinic’s stifling reception area. The doctor was concluding a heartfelt conversation with her sister, who lived in Australia, COVID-19 had prevented her annual visit to Egypt. After a while, the gynecologist ushered us in, tendering her apologies for the delay. Moments later, she delicately positioned the sonar device on my wife’s abdomen to check the well-being of our unborn child.
“It’s a boy,” she declared, her lips curling into an affectionate, almost whimsical smile.
With that revelation, my personal odyssey commenced—a journey to select a name for my son. A name that transcended mere identification, shielded him from potential bullying, yet carried an air of grandeur and served as a portal to his emerging personality. For we have a tendency to perceive people through the metaphorical lens of their names, as if each name held the power to unveil the universe within a person.
As I embarked on my journey into the realm of writing, I harbored a lingering unease with my own name. Its length posed a challenge, especially when I attempted to inscribe it neatly between the ruled lines of my composition book, as my teacher fervently instructed. I often found myself grappling with frustration, wondering why my father hadn’t christened me with a simpler moniker like Ali, Ahmed, Zaid, Hasan, or even Alaa, akin to my brother, or any of those effortlessly penned names. This perplexity nagged at me, but I lacked the courage to confront Baba with this weighty question.
When I reached the tender age of eleven, an extraordinary event transpired in our small village nestled within the tranquil embrace of Fayoum. Our neighbor, a seasoned tour guide, took me under his wing, to get acquainted with some foreign visitors. I introduced myself and extended my hand in a greeting, a mixture of pleasure and embarrassment coursing through me. It was the first time I spoke with people I had only seen on the cover of my English schoolbooks. However, my heart harbored a subtle sense of disappointment when the blue-eyed, blonde lady before me pronounced my name as “Abraham.” Although I was captivated by the lilting cadence with which she uttered my name, a part of me yearned for it to be spoken as it was, in its Arabic form. Upon returning home, I couldn’t contain my frustration and asked my mother, “Why didn’t Baba pick a name for me that sounds like a magic spell? Something that everyone can sing along to, no matter what language they speak?”
However, my perspective began to undergo a transformative shift, a metamorphosis that unfurled its wings when I typed the English version of my name in Microsoft Word. To my astonishment, there was no red, zigzagging line lurking beneath my name, unlike the fate that befell my brother, Alaa. In that singular moment, an unfamiliar sense of pride welled up within me, surging like an undiscovered river.
I couldn’t contain my elation and promptly informed my IT teacher about this extraordinary revelation. His response, however, was far from the jubilant reception I anticipated. “Has this boy lost his senses?” he exclaimed, his tone a harsh rebuke, promptly instructing me to return to my classroom.
Yet, the wellspring of joy within me remained undiminished, dwarfing his aloof reaction. When I returned home, I eagerly shared my newfound discovery with my uncle Mahmoud. His eyes sparkled with shared delight, and he handed me a piece of Arabic flash fiction to read aloud. As I recited the sentence, “Hooray for the stars,” a wave of excitement surged through me, akin to chasing a runaway star on the canvas of the American flag.
From that day onward, I was grateful that Baba had named me “Ibrahim.” I was the only one in my school with that name, a solitary guardian of its resonance. Across the sprawling expanse of our district, there existed no more than two or, at most, three souls who bore the mantle of Ibrahim. I reveled in the uniqueness of it all, never having to laboriously scroll down endless name lists to pinpoint my own. With a single, swift glance at the apex of any alphabetical roster, I could confidently claim my victory in any matter related to the order of names. It was as if destiny had etched my place in the world with the elegant, indelible strokes of my name.
One evening, under a canopy of stars, I began the search for the perfect name for my son. Armed with a pen and a piece of paper, I took my place on the balcony, a stage set for cosmic contemplation. With a few keystrokes, I summoned the vast sea of names from the digital realm, typing in the simple query, “Names for Boys.” Google, in its algorithmic wisdom, offered up a trove of options: “Islamic Names for Boys,” “New Names for Boys,” and “Unique Names.”
From this digital tapestry, I plucked names like Taim, Tamim, Yahya, Yonus, and Malik, each one a potential vessel to carry the essence of my son. I presented this list to my wife, hoping to share in the poetic resonance of each name. But she remained unimpressed with my method of name selection, which involved a meticulous evaluation of their ease of pronunciation and transcription.
My criteria, as I sifted through the possibilities, were deliberate and thoughtful:
– Did the name commence with the first letter of the alphabet?
– Was it rooted in Islamic tradition?
– Did it honor ethical principles?
– Would the name, in its very essence, bind him to a particular destiny?
With every consideration, I became increasingly drawn to the profound philosophy of the Syrian poet, Muhammad Almaghout, who sought a name unburdened by political or religious affiliations. In his evocative poem, “I Will Give Birth to a Child Named Adam,” he eloquently declared:
“I’ll give birth to a child named Adam, for names in our time carry weight.
I won’t name him Muhammad or Isa.
Or Ali or Omar.
I won’t call him Saddam or Hussain. Nor Zakariyah or Ibrahim.
Not even David or
I fear his name would render him a racist
and his name would brand him
a terrorist among Westerners,
a tyrant among fanatics,
a Sunni among Shiites,
and an Alawi or Shiite among Sunnis.
I fear his name would become his passport.”
Adam, a name that had echoed in the chambers of my thoughts, refused to relinquish its hold on me. Why did poets and dreamers alike find solace in this name? In 1969, the Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus wove a tapestry of enchantment around Adam. In his poem, “Adam’s Capital,” he beckoned:
enchant this sea
with your outstretched hands
above the shroud of death,
and make it your lover,
where your lost words
dance along its shores.
Enchant a capital,
and within your surrender and demise,
a stream of children will guide you
Ultimately, we arrived at a decision, a convergence of our hearts and hopes. We chose to name our son Adam. The name flowed with an effortless grace from the tongue, quick to find its place in memory. In Adam, we discovered a name that encapsulated the profound power of simplicity, a name destined to carry him through the boundless chapters of his life.
Yiyun Li’s words resonated deeply: “I truly believe that one should have the capacity to envision being someone else. This is a crucial skill for writers, but it extends its importance to readers and to all human beings, enabling us to inhabit the skin of another soul.” Intrigued by this notion, I brought home a collection of Arabic novels, all bearing the name Adam in their titles or featuring the name as a protagonist. My eagerness stemmed from a desire to explore how these storytellers would craft narratives for characters bearing my son’s name, and how these narratives might, in some mystical way, find an echo in his own life—a life still in its infancy, filled with coos and the unspoken hopes of those who cherish him.
I yearned for my Adam to understand that the protagonist in Muhammad Al-Mansi’s novella, Adam is Made of Clay, lost his rights because he lacked the courage to defend them. I wished for him to grasp the importance of upholding his values even in the relentless pursuit of his goals, much like the intrepid journalist in Ahmed Al-Zammam’s Adam Carves the Face of the World.
A year had elapsed since Adam’s arrival in our world, and in that time, I realized how adaptation and exploration are two of his skills. I discovered a new genre of translation, the kind I wasn’t taught at the university—the simultaneous translation of Adam’s varied cries. Each nuanced tone conveyed a distinct message, whether it was the cry of discomfort from constipation, the plea for restful slumber, or the unmistakable call for nourishment.
Nowadays, I often rise before him, tiptoeing into my office, which also houses his crib. It’s a silent ritual, a brief interlude before the day’s demands. Yet, Adam, attuned to my presence, senses me even in slumber. In a matter of seconds, he toddles his way to my desk, his tiny fingers deftly seizing the laptop’s charger cord. “Leave the cable and go back to bed,” I admonish, a futile attempt to recapture the elusive threads of my thoughts on the blank screen before me.
Adam responds with a pout, and then, his eyes welling with tears. He cries out in protest. I relent, shutting down the device, and descend to his level, crouching to enfold him in my embrace. In these moments, I’m reminded of George Eliot’s poignant words: “There is a particular kind of beauty that turns heads effortlessly. It is the beauty of kittens, of downy ducklings that make gentle, rippling sounds with their soft bills, and of babies just setting out on their toddling adventures.”
As Adam places one small hand upon my shoulder and the other moves through the air like a pantomime, his unspoken words are a dance of innocence and curiosity, a blend of emotions and desires. The sounds that escape his lips are a testament to the vast discourse that awaits him in the world, a discourse yet to be translated, let alone fully comprehended. And in this tender moment, I am reminded of the boundless journey that lies ahead, as we both embark on the adventure of understanding the language of his heart.