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Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity$

Otto F. A. Meinardus

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9789774247576

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774247576.001.0001

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(p.265) Appendix A Marks of Identification: Tattoo and Name

(p.265) Appendix A Marks of Identification: Tattoo and Name

Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity
American University in Cairo Press

Whereas at certain periods in the early Middle Ages Egyptian Christians were forced to identify themselves as believers in Jesus Christ by wearing heavy wooden crosses around their necks, the Copts of today carry less obvious and less burdensome labels to mark their identity. Now many Copts still point with pride to the crosses tattooed on the insides of their right wrists. Similarly, their names still often carry a testimony to their apostolic faith. This means that to this day, tattoo and name are the two distinguishing marks of the Coptic minority in the Nile Valley, whether they happen to be Orthodox, Catholic, or Evangelical Copts.

The use of tattoos by Copts principally serves their religious and ethnic identification in a predominantly Muslim and Arab society. In addition, however, we must recognize that the Coptic fellahin in particular also consider the sign of the cross a kind of phylactery, a protective device against evil spirits, the jinni, and diseases. “Where the seal of the cross is, the wickedness of Satan hath no power to do harm,” said one of the early fathers. When Saint Antony made the sign of the cross, the devil trembled. At the same time, the tattoo of the cross is often thought of as a permanent reminder of certain blessings received or certain vows which have been made. And in some instances, the Coptic tattoo may serve purely decorative purposes.

Many Copts visit a tattooer at a Coptic mulid (the annual feasts in honor of the Holy Virgin or a saint) or while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. At the occasion of every Coptic mulid, one notices at least one tattooer's booth, with numerous cross and other designs hung all around it, set up near the church of the patron saint.

In Egypt, the tattooer either copies the design of the cross by eye or composes and draws the design directly on the skin. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, the tattooer uses designs carved on blocks to transfer the design to the skin. Nowadays, almost all tattooers employ an electric needle by which the design is pricked into the skin. In Upper Egypt, however, I have seen the old method still used, which consists of a set of needles, generally seven, tied together, with which the skin is pricked in the desired pattern; the pigment is a mixture of lampblack and oil or water.

In the past few years, however, there has been a noticeable decrease in the practice of tattooing among the Copts, especially among the educated classes. In some instances, especially in the cities, Copts tend to camouflage their religious identity. Others dismiss the custom as belonging to a superstitious past. In Upper Egyptian villages, however, Christians are still deeply conscious (p.266) of their religious heritage and show the tattooed cross with pride.

In addition to the cross tattooed on the inside of the right wrist, the name is still a distinctive mark by which Copts can be identified. Indeed, the majority of Copts are easily recognizable on account of their names, for in Egypt, more than in any of the other Middle Eastern countries, the name of a person betrays his religious and ethnic identity.

Coptic names are inclusive rather than exclusive, and in addition to the ancient pharaonic names, the Copts have borrowed and transformed Greek, Latin, Hebrew-Aramaic, Ethiopian, Arabic, Syrian, French, and English names. The names used by the Copts show traces of all the nations that have successively dominated Egypt. After the introduction of Christianity into Egypt, Egyptians who had accepted the Christian faith selected Christian names, that is, names of biblical personages, church fathers, saints, monks, and hermits, with the idea that these distinguished personages would serve as protectors for the newly baptized. Thus many Hebrew-Aramaic, Greek, and Latin names were introduced into Egypt. At the same time, many pre-Christian names were preserved because their bearers, who were martyrs, saints, or monks, had been canonized.

During the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras, Greek and Latin names were so widely adopted by the Copts that many of the Coptic saints and monks from this period bear purely Greek and Latin names.

After the Arab conquest, Coptic and Greek names were often translated into Arabic, such as Christodoulus into ʻAbd al-Masih. During the French and particularly the English occupations, numerous Copts gave their children western names like Cromer, Kitchener, Henry, William, etc. In recent years, the trend toward religiously neutral names has become more and more pronounced. In order to avoid immediate identification as Christians, some Copts have given their children Arabic names, which do not necessarily reveal their faith. This means that nowadays there are many Copts known by names that could be used by Christians and Muslims alike.

The following list of Coptic names represents the most widely used names in the twentieth century. The names are divided into two groups, those used only by Copts and those used by both Copts and Muslims. The letters following the names indicate the linguistic origin of the word:

A=Arabic; C=Coptic; E=English; F=French; G=Greek; H=Hebrew-Aramaic; L=Latin, P=Pharaonic; S=Syriac. Synchretistic names are given two letters: CA=Coptic—Arabic; CG=Coptic—Greek; CL=Coptic—Latin; CP=Coptic—Pharaonic.

Names Used by the Copts

  • Abadir (CA)—Apater

  • ʻAbd al-Malak (A)—‘servant of the angel’

  • ʻAbd al-Masih (A)—‘servant of Christ’

  • ʻAbd al-Nur (A)—‘servant of the light’

  • ʻAbd al-Sayyid (A)—‘servant of the master’

  • ʻAbd al-Shahid (A)—‘servant of the martyr’

  • (p.267) ʻAbd al-Thuluth (A)—‘servant of the Trinity’

  • Abiskhayrun (CA)—Apa Iskhiron

  • ʻAmmanuwil (H)—Immanuel, ‘God with us’

  • Amun (CP)—Amon

  • Andarawus (CG)—Andrew, ‘manhood’

  • Antonius (CL)—Antonius

  • Anubis (P)—Anubis

  • Armaniyus (CL)—Armenius

  • Arsaniyus (CL)—Arsenius

  • ʻAryan (A)—‘the naked one’

  • Athanasiyus (G)—‘immortal’

  • ʻAwni (A)—‘my help’

  • ʻAzir (H)—Eleazer, ‘court of my God’

  • Bakhum (CP)—Pachomius

  • Banyamin (H)—Benjamin, ‘son of the right hand’

  • Barnaba (H)—Barnabas, ‘son of consolation’

  • Barsum (S)—‘son of the flesh’

  • Basali, Basili (G)—‘king’

  • Bisada (C)—Pisada

  • Bishai, Bishoi (C)—Pishoi

  • Bishara (A)— ‘annunciation’

  • Bistawrus (CG)— ‘belonging to the cross (stauros)’

  • Bulus (CG)—Paul

  • Buqtur (CA)—‘victorious’

  • Bushra (A)—‘good news’

  • Butrus (CG)—Peter

  • Dimitri (G)—Demetrius

  • Dimyan, Dimyanus (G)—Damian

  • Diyusqurus (G)—Dioscorus

  • Doss (CG)—Theodore, ‘gift of God’

  • Fakhuri (A)—‘the potter’

  • Faltas (CG)—Philotheus, ‘friend of God’

  • Fanus (CG)—Epiphanius, ‘lantern’

  • Faraʻun (CA)—Pharaoh

  • Farah (A)—‘pleasure’

  • Farangi (CL)—Frank

  • Fiktur (L)—‘victorious’

  • Filistin (HA)—Palestinian

  • Filubus (CG)—Philip, ‘lover of horses’

  • Gabra (H)—‘strong man’

  • Garas (A)—‘bell’

  • Garays (CG)—‘grace’

  • Gayyid (A)—‘good,’ ‘generous’

  • Ghali (A)—‘dear,’ ‘costly’

  • Gharghuri (G)—‘wakeful man’

  • Ghattas (A)—‘diver,’ ‘baptized one’

  • Ghubriyal (H)—Gabriel, ‘man of God’

  • (p.268) Girgis, Gawrgis, Gurgi (G)—George

  • Habashi (A)—Ethiopian

  • Hakim (A)—‘physician,’ ‘wise man’

  • Ham (H)—Ham

  • Hanna (H)—John, ‘mercy of the Lord’

  • Hazkiyal (H)—Ezekiel, ‘strength of God’

  • Hinayn (HC)—John

  • Ilya (H)—Elijah, ‘the strong Lord’

  • Iqladiyus (CL)—Claudius

  • Ishaʻiya (H)—Isaiah, ‘salvation of the Lord’

  • Iskandar (GA)—Alexander

  • Istafanus (GA)—Stephen, ‘crown’

  • Istafarus (CG)—Christophorus, ‘Christbearer’

  • Istawrus (G)—‘cross’

  • Kirillus (GA)—Cyril

  • Lawandi (CL)—Laurentius

  • Luqa (CL)—Luke, ‘luminous’

  • Malak (A)—‘angel’

  • Manassa (H)—Manasseh, ‘he who is forgotten’

  • Manqariyus (CP)—Menkure

  • Mansi (A)—‘forgotten’

  • Maqar, Maqariyus (G)—‘blessed’

  • Mashriqi (A)—‘my dayspring’

  • Masih (HA)—Christ, ‘anointed one’

  • Matta (H)—Matthew, ‘given,’ ‘reward’

  • Mikhaʼil (H)—Michael

  • Milad (A)—‘nativity’

  • Mina (CP)—Menas

  • Misaʼil (H)—Misael, ‘he who is asked for’

  • Mitri (G)—Demetrius

  • Muftah (A)—‘key’

  • Murqus (L)—Mark

  • Nakhla (A)—‘palm tree’

  • Nasif (A)—‘veil or equitable’

  • Nasri (A)—‘my vow,’ ‘my victory’

  • Niqula (G)—Nicholas, ‘conquerer of people’

  • Qaldas (CL)—Claudius

  • Qassis (A)—‘priest’

  • Qaysar (CL)—Caesar, ‘cut out of the womb’

  • Qibti (A)—‘Egyptian’

  • Qiddis (A)—‘saint’

  • Qilada (CL)—Claudius; (A)—‘necklace’

  • Qiryaqus (GA)—Cyriacus

  • Qudsi (A)—‘holy’

  • Qulta (CA)—Colluthus

  • Qustus, Qustandi, Qustandinus (GA)—Constantine

  • Quzman (GA)—Cosmas

  • (p.269) Rahib (A)—‘monk’

  • Ramsis (CP)—Ramses

  • Rizq Allah (A)—‘fortune bestowed by God’

  • Rufayil (H)—Raphael

  • Sahyun (H)—Zion, ‘monument’

  • Salib (A)—‘cross’

  • Sam (H)—Shem

  • Samuel (H)—Samuel, ‘asked of God’

  • Sarabamun (CP)—Serapis Amon

  • Sawirus (CL)—Severas

  • Shanuda (CP)—Shenute

  • Sharubim (H)—Seraphim, ‘fiery serpent’

  • Shuhdi (A)—‘martyr’

  • Sidarus (CG)—‘gift of Isis’

  • Sidrak (H)—Shadrach, ‘tender,’ ‘nipple’

  • Simʻan (H)—Simeon, ‘he who obeys’

  • Sulwanis (CL)—Silvanus

  • Suryal (H)—Suriel

  • Tadrus, Tawadrus (CG)—Theodore, God's gift

  • Tubiya (H)—Tobias, ‘the Lord is good’

  • Tuma (H)—Thomas, Didymus, ‘twin’

  • Wadiʻ (A)—‘decent’

  • Wahba (A)—‘gift’

  • Wahib (A)—‘one who is given’

  • Wanis (H)—John

  • Wisa (CP)—Besa

  • Yaʻqub (H)—Jacob, James, ‘that which supplants’

  • Yafith (H)—Japheth

  • Yanni (H)—John

  • Yassa (H)—Jesse

  • Yuhanna (H)—John

  • Yunan (H)—Jonah

  • Yustus (L)—‘righteous’

  • Yuwaqim (H)—Joachim

Names Used by Copts and Muslims

  • ʻAbd al-Malik (A)—‘servant of the king’

  • ʻAbd al-Quddus (A)—‘servant of the Holy One’

  • ʻAbd Allah (A)—‘servant of God’

  • ʻAbduh (A)—‘his servant’

  • ʻAdil (A)—‘just’

  • Amin (A)—‘faithful’

  • Anwar (A)—‘most illuminated’

  • Asʻad (A)—‘the happier one’

  • ʻAta Allah (A)—‘gift of God’

  • (p.270) ‘Atiya (A)—‘gift’

  • ʻAwad (A)—‘gift’

  • ʻAwad Allah (A)—‘gift of God’

  • ʻAyyad (A)—‘the feasting one’

  • Ayyub (H)—Job, ‘the assailed one’

  • ʻAziz (A)—‘dear’

  • ʻAzmi (A)—‘my determination’

  • Badiʻ (A)—‘excellent’

  • Bahig (A)—‘delightful’

  • Bitar (A)—‘farrier,’ ‘veterinarian’

  • Dawud (H)—David, ‘well-beloved’

  • Faʼiz (A)—‘the winning one’

  • Fahim (A)—‘the intelligent one’

  • Fakhri (A)—‘my pride’

  • Farag (A)—‘release,’ ‘relief’

  • Farhat (A)—‘gay,’ ‘happy’

  • Farid (A)—‘unique’

  • Fath Allah (A)—‘triumph of God’

  • Fathi (A)—‘my triumph’

  • Fawzi (A)—‘my victory’

  • Fayiz (A)—‘triumphant’

  • Fikri (A)—‘my mind’

  • Fuʼad (A)—‘essence,’ ‘heart’

  • Gad (A)—‘generous’

  • Gamal (A)—‘beauty’

  • Gamil (A)—‘beautiful’

  • Habib (A)—‘friend’

  • Hafiz (A)—‘keeping,’ ‘maintaining’

  • Halim (A)—‘clement,’ ‘patient’

  • Hani (A)—‘the happy one’

  • Hazim (A)—‘strict,’ ‘resolute’

  • Hilal (A)—‘crescent’

  • Hilmi (A)—‘my patience’

  • Ibrahim (H)—Abraham, ‘father of a great multitude’

  • ʻId (A)—‘feast’

  • Ishaq (H)—Isaac, ‘laughter’

  • Kahil (A)—‘horse of noble breed’

  • Kamal (A)—‘completeness’

  • Kamil (A)—‘complete’

  • Karam (A)—‘generosity’

  • Karim (A)—‘generous’

  • Labib (A)—‘intelligent’

  • Latif (A)—‘pleasant,’ ‘nice’

  • Lutfi (A)—‘my pleasantness’

  • Magdi (A)—‘my glory’

  • Magid (A)—‘the one who advances’

  • Mahanni (A)—‘the pleasing one’

  • (p.271) Mahir (A)—‘the competent one’

  • Makram (A)—‘generous’

  • Mansur (A)—‘the victorious one’

  • Masʻud (A)—‘the happy one’

  • Mufid (A)—‘the useful one’

  • Murad (A)—‘the desired one’

  • Naʻim (A)—‘delight’

  • Nabih (A)—‘discerning,’ ‘eminent’

  • Nabil (A)—‘noble’

  • Nadir (A)—‘rare,’ ‘seldom’

  • Nagi (A)—‘the saved one’

  • Nagib (A)—‘intelligent’

  • Nashʼat (A)—‘beginning’

  • Nasim (A)—‘breath’

  • Nasr (A)—‘victory’

  • Nasri (A)—‘my victory’

  • Nazih (A)—‘pure,’ ‘blameless’

  • Nazim (A)—‘one who is orderly’

  • Nazir (A)—‘equal’

  • Nimr (A)—‘tiger’

  • Raʼfat (A)—‘compassion’

  • Raʼuf(A)—‘kind’

  • Radi (A)—‘satisfied one’

  • Rafiq (A)—‘the kind one,’ ‘companion’

  • Raghib (A)—‘one who desires’

  • Ramzi (A)—‘my symbol’

  • Rashad (A)—‘integrity’

  • Rasmi (A)— ‘my plan,’ ‘my design’

  • Ratib (A)—‘regularizer’

  • Rifat (A)—‘high rank’

  • Riyad (A)—‘garden’

  • Rizq (A)—‘fortune’

  • Rushdi (A)—‘my maturity’

  • Saʻd (A)—‘happiness’

  • Saʻid (A)—‘the fortunate one’

  • Sabri (A)—‘my patience’

  • Sadiq (A)—‘the truthful one’

  • Salama (H)—‘peace’

  • Salim (A)—‘correct,’ ‘sound’

  • Sami (A)—‘growing superior’

  • Samir (A)—‘companion’

  • Shafiq (A)—‘kind’

  • Shakir (A)—‘thanking’

  • Sharif (A)—‘honorable’

  • Shawqi (A)—‘my strong desire’

  • Shukri (A)—‘my thanks’

  • Sidqi (A)—‘my truth’

  • (p.272) Subhi (A)—‘my sunrise’

  • Sulaiman (H)—Solomon, ‘peaceable’

  • Talʻat (A)—‘appearance’

  • Tawfiq (A)—‘reconciliation,’ ‘prosperity’

  • Thabit (A)—‘steady’

  • Wagdi (A)—‘my passion’

  • Wagih (A)—‘handsome,’ ‘distinguished’

  • Wahid (A)—‘lonely’

  • Yusri (A)—‘my fortune’

  • Yusuf (H)—Joseph, ‘increase’

  • Zachariah (H)—‘the Lord remembereth’

  • Zaki (A)—‘intelligent’