Out of Turkey: We name this child . . . Volcano Hit-and-Grab

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The Independent Online
ISTANBUL - The Turks make few claims to being madly creative. Only this week the newspapers were lamenting the pitiful number of international patents registered by this nation of 60 million people.

But when it comes to children's names, and names in general, there is no limit to Turkish inventiveness. The most recently published list counted 15,000 Turkish first names, hundreds of which invoke the moon, the sun and the planets. And those are just the simple ones.

For some Turks, collecting names has become a passion. My friend Ayse, for instance, writes down her favourites in a notebook. She watches out for new shop signs, scans the newspapers and hunts through telephone directories.

Gems on her list translate as Conqueror With-lambs'- teeth and Standard-bearer Rotten-rope. There is Mr With-Wire, Mr Without- Wire, Mr Rock-hard, Mr Crooked-neck, Mr Lung, Mr He-does-not-come-empty- handed, and most extraordinary of all, Pink Pig.

Curious names are always cropping up. A lady who sold me a bathroom tap called herself Ms Big-golden-boot. A new radio station has a Mr Censorship as its news editor. The Turkish ambassador to Croatia goes by the diplomatic name of Mr He- will-not-say.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Mrs Ciller, has an appropriately pretty name - Mrs Freckles. But woe betide anyone who thinks that she is a push-over, like one of her predecessors, Thunderbolt White-cloud (Yildirm Akbulut). Headstrong Mrs Ciller even broke tradition by forcing her husband, Mr He-who-flies-things, to adopt her maiden name.

Mrs Ciller's steely qualities perhaps explain why Volcano Hit-and-grab caught her eye and became one of her top advisers.

Such names certainly liven up dull politics. The dour main opposition chief is called Happy He-will-not- be-daunted. The leader of the 1980 military coup and later president is General Universe, while the chief of Turkey's Marxist Kurdish rebels gets his own back with a name meaning Mr He-who- avenges.

'When you translate them they sound ridiculous, like Red Indians or something. But to us they sound beautiful,' Ayse said.

And there are some real tongue-twisters, like the legendary longest family name of Uzunkavakaltindayataruyuroglu, otherwise Son- of-he-who-lies-and-sleeps-beneath-the-tall-poplar-tree.

Like many things in Turkey, Western-style surnames are a recent innovation. The republic's founder, Kemal Ataturk, ordered everyone to get one in 1934 to match the flat caps that replaced the fez. Officials fanned out to towns and villages, set up tables and ordered everyone to choose how their descendants would be known.

During the process, the Turks often revealed their macho side. Beside Smiths and Saddlemakers, many became Lions, Mountains and Son-of-Champions. But surnames still do not rate as very important. Few fans know footballers' surnames. Mafia bosses prefer honorifics, like Tall Ali, and even in polite society the first name is more commonly used.

'There are many more and more varied names in Turkish than in other countries', said Adviye Aysan, a senior official of the Turkish Language Board, who compiled the new book of names

The Language Board sticks to the worn-out fiction that there are no ethnic Kurds, and only a few Kurdish names have slipped through the net. In revenge, many Kurds choose Arabic names picked at random from the Koran.

Turkish Muslims cannot call themselves by European Christian names, although the popular Greek name Melissa was recently granted official blessing.

Historically, Ms Aysan said, Turks usually earned names from a heroic deed. Others were named after the first thing or person their mothers saw. Nowadays they are more likely to be victims of their parents' whims.

Some parents combine syllables from each of their names. More radical types go for names like Freedom or Revolution. The literary- minded may choose the popular combination for two brothers, War and Peace. A new fashion is for ecological names: some friends recently called their baby girls Rain and Stream.

One family of mathematicians brought up children named Limit and Derivative. On the whole, the Turks tend towards a tough, militaristic tradition. Young mothers chase after toddlers called Atilla, Genghiz and Timur, and even the most timid of men can find themselves with a first name like Fire, Steel or Iron-blood.

Not everybody has such brazen ideas, however. Peasant farmers suffering from high infant mortality call on God by bestowing on infants names like He-who-lives or She-who-stays. The same principle applies to the more fertile. Naming a child Enough is a message to the heavens from an oversized family. After that, the plea can become more strident: Imdat, or simply, Help.