Origin and meaning of my name

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I bear the name of ibn-Khaldun, whose biography appears below. ``Haldun'' has no recognized meaning in modern Turkish. Khaldun comes from the Arabic root ``khalada'' (kh-l-d), meaning to remain or last forever, be everlasting; to be immortal, deathless, undying; to abide forever; to remain, stay. The noun "khald" means infinite duration, endless time, perpetuity, eternity (dar el-khald: paradise). Khaldi makes this noun an adjective. Khaldun makes the adjective khaldi plural. Ibn Khaldun is a last name which means son of immortals. This is a typical way of forming a last name where the adjective refers to a place, an origin or an attribute; in this case, immortality. The given male name derived from this root is Khalid, which also means everlasting. It is also interesting to note that form IV of the Arabic verb also means ``to dwell on an idea, an image''. Halit and Haldun are both used as male names and Halide is used as a female name in Turkish. So essentially ``Haldun'' means ``of permanence'' or ``eternal,'' not a modest pseudonym!

My middle name ``Memduh'' was the name of my grandfather; this way of assigning middle names being of common practice. As for its meaning, I am informed that Memduh comes from the Arabic root ``medh'' or the verb ``medeha'' which essentially means to praise someone (``methetmek'' is recognized in Turkish as to mean the same), and memduh is the person being praised.

I used to think (now I believe wrongly), that ``Memduh'' was a variety of Mehmet, Mehmed, Mahmut, and so on, all based on the Islamic prophet Mohammed's name. These are common names in countries with an Islamic heritage, just as varieties of Christ's and other prophets names are common in countries with other monotheistic heritages. (Incidentally, almost all such names, including Jesus, Joseph, Joshua, Solomon, Mary and what not are also common names in Islamic countries.) I was also told that in deriving words from Arabic roots, the order of the letters are never interchanged: Memduh which comes from the root m-d-h and Mehmed which comes from the root h-m-d are not derivatives of each other. [I am grateful to Tijani Chahed (Tunisia) for informing me of the Arabic meanings of Halid, Memduh, and Mohammed and to Hatice Orun Ozturk for correcting several mistakes in an earlier version and making many suggestions which greatly improved this note.]

My last name is a compound. ``Tas'' means ``stone.'' ``Ak'' means ``white.'' There are many people named ``Aktas,'' meaning ``Whitestone.'' My name has the additional ``Oz'' in front which has no direct correspondence in English, neither as a word nor as a concept. As an adjective it may mean ``pure,'' ``real,'' or ``essence of.'' As a noun it refers to the inner essence of something, that which gives it meaning or life or animation. If you pick up a phone book anywhere in the world and look at the names starting with ``Oz,'' most will likely be of Turkish origin. [Abdurrahman Aktas has pointed out that his last name has a different meaning than ``Whitestone.'' ``Ak'' also means ``flow'' and ``tas'' also means ``overflow,'' so ``Aktas'' also means ``Flow-and-overflow,'' in the sense of a restless and energetic spirit. With this interpretation, Ozaktas might be taken to refer to the flowing and overflowing of the inner essence or spirit.]

Ibn-Khaldun (1332-1406), Arabian historian and sociologist, whose full name was Abu Zayd `Abd-al-Rahman ibn-Muhammad, was born in Tunis. Scion of a family of high officials at the courts of the sultans of North Africa, he served under the sovereigns of his country who ruled during his lifetime, as well as under the kings of Granada in Spain, as an adviser, a minister, and an ambassador, shifting from one master to the other with great ease, in spite of their rivalry or enmity. He finally retired in 1374, and in 1382 moved to Egypt, where until his death he occupied, with interruptions, the position of a supreme judge of the Malikite School, one of the four systems of law officially admitted in Islam.

From his long experience in political affairs ibn-Khaldun conceived the plan of writing a universal history arranged according to the different dynasties of sovereigns in Muslim and foreign countries. His work, The Book of Examples (Kitab al-`Ibar), which bears the full title Book of Good Advice Concerning the Epochs of the Arabs, the Persians and the Berbers, and the Sovereigns Who Were Their Contemporaries, and occupies seven thick volumes, is a remarkable achievement in itself, although its author does not always succeed in sifting his sources critically. Ibn- Khaldun was, however, the only Arabian historian aware of the existence of the Roman Republic (all other Arabian historians, depending upon Byzantine sources, began the history of Rome with Caesar) and one of the few who ever made use of Latin and Hebrew authors, as they appeared in Arabic translations.

Ibn-Khaldun's amazing penetration and originality appear, however, in the Introduction, or prolegomena (The Muqaddimah), to his history, which is both a summary of Islamic sciences and a theoretical approach to history. Antedating the European philosophers of history by several centuries, ibn-Khaldun considered the succession of human events from a purely sociological viewpoint, emphasizing the contrast between nomadic and sedentary life; tracing the origin and development of social and political organization to the need for food, shelter, and security; analyzing the racial and national motives that underlie the birth and growth of states; carefully defining the various kinds of political establishments; and elucidating the reasons for their success, decline, and fall. Although attempts to study the principles of politics had been made in Islam before him, ibn- Khaldun's approach was entirely new: without denying God's intervention in the deeds and acts of mankind, he ignored it while dealing with his subject and proceeded on purely rational assumptions.

The greatness of ibn-Khaldun's thought was recognized in Europe only at the beginning of the 19th century; since then much has been written about his philosophy of history, but the subject is far from exhausted. His historical work has been translated, the history of the Berbers being available in French, and in 1958 an English translation of the Muqaddimah was published in three volumes in the Bollingen Series.

G. L. Della Vida

Copyright 1996 by P.F. Collier, a division of Newfield Publications Inc.

Source: Collier's Encyclopedia, Item Number: IB01087400

Also see the Wikipedia article on Ibn Khaldun