What's in a name - postscript
5 Oct 2009 by CST
We posted here last week about the efforts some people make to discern all sorts of profound insights in the former names of famous people.
The Daily Telegraph thought they had stumbled on just such a discovery, with the news that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's family had previously taken the name 'Sabourjian':
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vitriolic attacks on the Jewish world hide an astonishing secret, evidence uncovered by The Daily Telegraph shows. It shows that his family's previous name was Jewish. A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.
Except that, as Meir Javedanfar points out on Comment Is Free, it shows nothing of the sort:
Upon closer inspection, a completely different interpretation of "Sabourjian" emerges. According to Robert Tait, a Guardian correspondent who travelled to Ahmadinejad's native village in 2005, the name "derives from thread painter sabor in Farsi a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated". This is confirmed by Kasra Naji, who also wrote a biography of Ahmadinejad and met his family in his native village. Carpet weaving or colouring carpet threads are not professions associated with Jews in Iran.
According to both Naji and Tait, Ahmadinejad's father Ahmad was in fact a religious Shia, who taught the Quran before and after Ahmadinejad's birth and their move to Tehran. So religious was Ahmad Sabourjian that he bought a house near a Hosseinieh, a religious club that he frequented during the holy month of Moharram to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein.
Moreover, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's mother is a Seyyede. This is a title given to women whose family are believed to be direct bloodline descendants of Prophet Muhammad. Male members are given the title of Seyyed, and include prominent figures such as Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei. In Judaism, this is equivalent to the Cohens, who are direct descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. One has to be born into a Seyyed family: the title is never given to Muslims by birth, let alone converts. This makes it impossible for Ahmadinejad's mother to have been a Jew. In fact, she was so proud of her lineage that everyone in her native village of Aradan referred to her by her Islamic title, Seyyede.
It is not a surprise that this story turns out to be incorrect, but even if Ahmadinejad's family was originally Jewish, it would be a curiosity, nothing more. There is more than enough grounding for his messianic antisemitism in his Iranian revolutionary ideology, without having to look for 'hidden' psychological explanations. There is only one problem with Javedanfar's account: as any Jewish football fan from south of the border will sadly confirm, you can be a Cohen and still not be Jewish.