If you have spent time with a toddler you will know that much of their developing speech manifests in their dedication to naming things: cat, shoe, fish, ball, star, sky, mama. Every time the child says a word, a kaleidoscope of discoveries explodes and delights him. The tangible sense of the word in the mouth, the connection of the sound with a thing or an idea, the realization that that thing or idea belongs in his own world, the way he can point to the object or the person with his hand.
Naming the members of his family creates a sense of connection to, and belonging with, those people. Later, when the child is older and can spell or read his own name, he learns that his family members, too, have whole names that can be spelled, and read, and spoken aloud. Just as he was given a name that belongs to him, his parents have their own monikers that carry an individual identity.
In contemporary Egypt it is considered shameful for Egyptian men and boys to say their mothers’ names in public. This taboo, purported to promote respect for Egyptian mothers, is currently being challenged via social media through a United Nations Women Egypt’s campaign entitled #MyMothersNameIs.
Fadi Yaish, Regional Executive Creative Director of the ad agency behind the UN’s moving campaign video, responds in an interview on BBC radio, “[Egyptian men] are very much confusing respect with disrespect. Why? Because simply it is the man who is denying to say the mother’s name, so they don’t feel the disrespect, while women, they are the one[s] [who have been] compromised.”
As former American football pro-turned-actor and feminist Terry Crews said in a DAME magazine article, “The smartest, most wonderful people in my life have been women. They’ve always shown me things that I never saw before…”
At a What Makes a Man White Ribbon Campaign event Crews said, “What it is that we’re talking about is gender equality, true gender equality… but the problem is that men have always felt like they’re more valuable… I have been that guy where I felt I was more valuable than my wife and kids.”
The damage done to men’s psyches and souls by denying the autonomy and humanity of the person who perhaps gave them the greatest care and love they’ve ever known is too awful to fathom.
What could be more devastating than erasing a person’s value by simply refusing to acknowledge that she has a name? And what could be simpler and more restorative than speaking that name out loud? #MyMothersNameIs is fostering this healing right now. And now. And this second, too. You can hear it… my name is Rachel, and my mother’s name is Evangeline, and her mother’s name is also Evangeline, and her mother’s name was Florinda, and her mother’s name was Feliciana, which means good fortune, happiness.