Watch Arab Men Talk About an Unspeakable Taboo: Mom’s Name

Though moms are beloved everywhere, there’s a new effort under way to help them be more visible in Egypt and beyond.
Apr 5, 2015·
Ashley Jakubczyk is an editorial intern for and a graduate student at Harvard University. She has also written for Thought Catalog,The Daily Bruin,The Daily Breeze, and Peninsula People magazine.

Yo mama much more than just your mom. She’s her own person, too, which is why UN Women has launched a campaign, based in Egypt, encouraging people all over the globe to Give Mom Back Her Name.

In Egyptian culture it is largely considered a social taboo for a son to speak his mother’s name, grounded in fear of ridicule or shame for the family.

“Some might argue that this is done out of respect,” Mohammad Naciri, deputy regional director of UN Women Arab States, told TakePart. “But the larger question is why there is shame attached to the name to begin with.”

Instead of her proper name, which is largely forgotten, women are referred to instead as the mother of their eldest son.

“While being a mother is part of who they are, it is not the entire essence of their person, and as such, we forget women are individuals,” Naciri said from Cairo in a telephone interview.

UN Women and Impact BBDO Dubai colaunched the campaign to coincide with Mother’s Day, which was celebrated on March 21 in Egypt. The campaign video features sons being asked to break the taboo and speak their mother’s name on camera—something they all immediately hesitate to do.

“Do I really have to tell you?” one asks, while another simply keeps laughing, as though the request is a joke. “If someone knew our mother’s name, we used to sob when we were kids,” admits a third.

The video focuses on the mother-son relationship, because women do not struggle to speak their mother’s name.

“Women are not expected to fight or be aggressive, and thus will not use a mother’s name to offend. This is very much linked to the patriarchal system here in Egypt, which reinforces the notion of men protecting women, and women being voiceless figures in the background,” Naciri explained.

Using the hashtag #MyMothersNameIs, social media connoisseurs are proudly and publicly declaring the names of their mothers. Twitter users not only in Egypt but around the world have already voiced their opinions about the campaign, including praise for its positive intent.

Some noted that the tradition bears a likeness to other cultural norms and customs in the Arab region.

Others weren’t as quick to accept the custom, which isn’t commonplace in Western cultures.

The campaign hit a little too close to home for this Twitter user.

And still others questioned not the taboo but the campaign itself.

The Arab region is rich in traditions that have remained an integral part of the culture for hundreds of years. The Give Mom Back Her Name campaign is not setting out to change these customs necessarily, but is instead focused on promoting gender equality in any and all cultures.

“There are women and men who are agents of change and who are working every day for gender justice and equality,” Naciri said. “It is these stories that we need to champion, and seeing how the conversation has started, I know that we are moving in the right direction.”