One of the conceived wisdoms of my discipline holds hat it's usually women who bear the fallout of groupism.1 Women are told to uphold "traditional values", women have to be protected from honor attacks on men, in short: women are the signifier of community. I was thus surprised when I discovered last week that the rise of groupism in India seems to have an impact on male Muslim names - but not on female ones. Many of the most prominent male names among Muslims have a religious connotation, whereas female names tend not to. We also saw that female names are much more diverse, with less clear trends. Take today's picture as an example, an election hoarding in Lucknow's recent municipal polls: the woman candidate is a Saniya - no religious meaning - but her husband (included here, of course, since he runs the show even if his ward became a woman's reserved seat this time around) is a Mohammad.

Now to compound this first impression (or rather for different reasons, but with this side-effect), I tapped into local wisdom to identify "typical" (in a probabilistic sense) Shia or Sunni firstname. And it turns out that most of those names which do bear a clear sectarian connotation are to be found among men - Hasan, Husain, Jafar, Haidar on the Shia side or Abdul, Irshad, Rashid on the Sunni side, for instance. But the only prominent female name with a clear sectarian touch is Aysha (owing to her tensions with Ali over succession in leadership of the Ummah, of course).

It thus reallz seems that in naming practices, men rather than women signify commmunity! Now one can of course argue that it was always men, and women only as proxy, who were in this business: women had to upkeep "traditional values" for their men's honor, women's mobility is severely restricted for this very reason today, too, and if a women is not in the public sphere anyway, her name hardly matters - whereas a men's does. Moreover: keeping one's womens' names under wraps is an important strategy of keeping this honor - so again, they cannot be used to show of community or sectarian postering. Still: I find this whole name affair most intriguing...

  • 1. A term coined by Rogers Brubaker, which I still adore...