What’s in a Name?
George Mohammed, a world-famous linguist, is a Persian-American who has spent most of his life working with the United Nations.
Now 64, Dr. Mohammed faces the greatest challenges of his career. He is in charge of renaming various parts of Iraq to mirror the recent regime change.
Dr. Mohammed confided that his mandate was to come up with names that reflected the independence and uniqueness of Iraq. “We were careful not to Americanize anything since everything here belongs to the people of Iraq.”
He said Saddam Hussein Airport was a snap.
“We simply called it Baghdad Airport,” Dr. Mohammed explained from his living quarters, awash with dozens of maps and travel brochures. (He lives in a four-room Baghdad residence that he calls “the humble little shack.”)
Dr. Mohammed admitted he made an error when he renamed the Saddam Soccer League, Bush League. “We thought President Bush would be flattered,” he said, puffing on a hookah, as the water in its bowl gurgled.
What did they call the soccer league? Turns out they didn’t have to bother since all the kids of Iraq are now playing baseball and basketball thanks to a ten billion dollar gift of sporting goods equipment from Washington.
Dr. Mohammed said that there were over three hundred avenues, alleys, lanes, squares, malls and paths named Saddam. “Most were easy to rename. We often went back to the original use of the area — Prostitute Pinnacle, Pedophile Place, Toilet Trail — that kind of thing.”
“But you named the longest avenue Lincoln Street and Baghdad has a George Washington Bridge now,” I said.
“All wonderful Moslem names,” he said. “Many people here are called Lincoln and Washington and there’s tons of Georges. Take me, for example — George Mohammed.”
The re-namer had a problem with the Iraq Museum after it was looted by locals of over a billion dollars worth of artifacts. “I hit upon The Big Empty. It has a nice ring, don’t you think? And it reflects the free spirit of the country since it became a democracy.”
Ambush Avenue was his new title for Saddam Square. “We were thinking of Suicide Square after so many locals blew themselves up there but Ambush Avenue is a bit brighter.”
The underground network below Baghdad was renamed Lower Grand Central Station.
I had a question for the famous linguist — why had he chosen to call his own home, “The Humble Little Shack?”
“Simple enough. I only have four rooms.”
“True,” I said, “But each is the size of a baseball field and everything is covered in gold. This was one of Saddam Hussein’s most spectacular palaces.”
“I can name my house anything I want to,” he said. “It’s one of the few perks of the game.”
I agreed but I said I was concerned about rumors that Iraq was becoming too Americanized. Could that explain the recent rash of suicide bombers?
“No way! I’ll prove it to you over a distinctive Middle-Eastern meal of steak and potatoes tonight in the Chrisler Building.”
“Look out my window. You can see the Chrisler Building at the edge of Thyme Square. We named that after a spice that grows in the Fertile Crescent.”
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