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Chapter 4 Acquired Identities: Titles Tell me once more what title thou dost bear. —Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice In the twentieth century, in an “enlightened” nation [USA] where all females are “equally” educated, a professional woman is still a rarity or an oddity. —Key 1975:45 1. TITLES AND OCCUPATIONS AS ACQUIRED IDENTITIES People often refer to themselves and others using nouns that describe an occupation or the performance of an activity, such as author, actor, professor, plumber, or blacksmith. The relationship between such descriptors and one’s identity is strong, so much so that the name of a person’s occupation often evolves into a family name. When a person and his/her family or clan come to be known by the name of their profession, occupation, or trade, the boundaries between personal and occupational identity disappear, allowing for the merger of the two identities into one. Thus individual identity as reflected in personal, but specifically family, names is often derived from occupation, profession, or trade. Examples have already been provided in chapter 3 as part of our discussion of naming practices in these three cultures, and the literature provides more from other languages as well.1 Thus occupation affects the identification of people by providing a source from which names, viewed here as representations of individual identities, may be drawn. But such names, unlike those given to children at birth, constitute what may be called “acquired identities.” They are negotiated, so to speak, between the individual who performs the activity and others who ascribe the label. Thus they are acquired by an individual through performance but given by others who participate in this behavior. 156 Titles 157 Occupation affects the identification of people in yet another way. It provides a source from which to derive additional descriptors or labels that are attached to an individual’s basic identity as represented in their personal names. These descriptors or labels are called titles, and I have divided them into two types: professional and social. The relationship between professional titles and occupation is relatively transparent: they are labels or descriptors directly derived from an individual’s occupation or profession, often reflecting the individual’s rank or status within that profession. But the relationship between social titles and occupation is not as clear. Social titles, by definition, represent aspects of one’s identity that are not necessarily job dependent. Some social titles are inherited, others bestowed. On the whole they are considered to be honorific, and are related to an individual’s social “status” as defined within specific cultural contexts. For example, in the Middle East, specifically Egypt and Iran, the performance of religious obligations such as the pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims and to Jerusalem for Christians ascribes a degree of status or respect to a person. As a symbol for this attained status, members of the community address and refer to the person using appropriate forms of the term hajj or muqaddis. In doing so, members of the community can be said to have conferred upon the individual a social title in recognition of the individual’s performance—a case of negotiated identity perhaps. The performance of religious obligations of this sort is generally not socially recognized in the United States, although it may be individually recognized. As a result the activity does not carry a social meaning and is not encoded in English social titles. Exceptions may exist, however, within local communities. Social titles, then, encode information, or values, considered within a community to be worthy of recognition. This information reflects the overall cultural values of the time, and is often defined on a strictly localcommunity basis. Values encoded in social titles may have an economic base, thus reflecting the individual’s worth, which in many societies translates into power. In societies where social organization is based on a feudal system, as was the case in Egypt during the first part of the century, land ownership becomes a measure of status. But land ownership can in such a case be considered a form of occupation as well, particularly when it is also associated with power and authority. (See Ansari’s 1986 discussion of the rural elite in Egypt.) Some of the Arabic social titles, particularly those of Turkish origin such as basha, beh, and effendi, would belong to this group. 158 Chapter 4 Social titles reflect yet another aspect of social status that is...


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