This blog, which, like many, only uses one name

There are certain memes that infiltrate journalistic beats that really — depressingly — have some staying power. It’s tough to say which are the “worst” or “most annoying” as such characterizations are subjective. But, subjectively speaking, the one that really gets my goat is the persistence of the Afghan, “who, like many Afghans, uses only one name.”

The latest offender is the LA Times. Today in a piece about plastic surgery in Afghanistan, the writer interviews a woman who got a nose job. The offending sentence reads:

“Shoqofa, who, like many Afghans, uses one name, is part of an emerging middle class exposed to beauty trends from India and Iran through movies, travel and the country’s proliferating media outlets.”

So, I decided to Google that phrase a just see what pops up. Well, 44,600 things popped up. Obviously not all are relevant, but the list of offenders is excruciating. All the majors — the NYT, AP, WaPo, wires, etc. — have used this line in pieces on and from Afghanistan. 

The full search results are here. Some instances:

# 3 November 2012 — USA Today — “In an Oct. 7 meeting, Lt. Col. Rasoul, the battalion commander who like many Afghans uses one name, told Marines that he is concerned about them leaving his force behind.”

# 28 November 2007 — AP — “‘This is also a big problem for Afghanistan,’ said Khodaidad, who like many Afghans uses one name.”

# 19 January 2010 — NYT — “’The government has police, intelligence guards and army soldiers in all the crossroads, so how can these people get in?’ said Mr. Azizullah, who like many Afghans uses one name.”

And so on and so forth. Perhaps these people did not give their surnames or tribe names because they were fearful for reprisals against themselves or their families for speaking about that issue. It’s not like plastic surgery, corruption, and opium production are things people enjoy going on the record about in Afghanistan. 

Sigh.

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8 thoughts on “This blog, which, like many, only uses one name

  1. I can’t speak for the Afghan situation, but I know that in Mongolia, the local journalists I worked with were very clear that in fact most people did go by only one name. And in Western journalism, it looks like a mistake if you don’t have a “first” and “last” name on first reference. I’m not saying there aren’t other ways it could be worded, but it does sort of call for some explanation.

  2. Thanks, Nicole. There certainly are people in Afghanistan who actually do use only one name. But, in the context of nearly all of the mainstream pieces that use that silly line, the interview subjects are almost always talking about some sensitive topic. I have discussed this with my Afghan and Pakistani colleagues at length.

  3. I work with Afghans. Nearly all of them, except this one guy who wears a black turban to work and insists on being allowed to wave his AK-47 around in the office, have more than one name. Which they use frequently. Unless I’m asking them about their daughters. For some reason they get all uppity about that.

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