Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

What’s in a Woman’s Name? No name, no public persona

Rohullah Sorush 19 min

Across Afghanistan, women are not addressed or referred to by their names in public. Even on wedding invitations and tombstones, they are typically referred to as the daughter, wife or mother of their father, husband or eldest son. Many Afghans believe naming a woman in public dishonours her. Others are arguing that a tradition that denies women their individual identity is an anachronism. To mark International Women’s Day, AAN’s Rohullah Sorush (with input from Sari Kouvo, Kate Clark and Said Reza Kazemi) has taken a look at the ways in which girls and women are referred to in Afghanistan, the more respectful, and more derogatory ways that they go unnamed and asks why women’s names are still such a sensitive issue and how that may be changing. 

In 2017, Dokhtaran-e Rabia, Daughters of Rabia, a collective of women activists and writers named as followers of Afghanistan’s most famous female poet (1) – ran a hashtag #WhereIsMyName campaign on social media. They wanted to provoke and encourage girls and women to fight for their individual identities and their right to be named in public. Bahar Sohaili, a young women’s rights activist, who contributed to the campaign, told 1TV’s Gulbang programme, “Addressing women with terms such as ‘siyasar’ [literally ‘black head’, a term used to refer to women, similar to rish-safid or ‘white beard’ for elderly men], ‘mother of so-and-so’ or ‘daughter of so-and-so’ is a superstitious tradition left over from the past.” (see here)

Many women, as well as some men, in places like Kabul, Herat, Balkh joined the campaign. They wanted women and girls to claim their names and break the deep-rooted taboo that means men shy away from mentioning their female relatives’ names in public (see a media report here).

Not everyone supported the campaign. A woman quoted by Afghan Women News Agency (AWNA), giving her name only as Miss Mirzayee (declining to reveal her first name), said, “I am never ready to tell my name to anyone because, in our society, it is not necessary for everyone to know a woman’s name.” Another person, who shared his disapproval of the campaign on Facebook, Hanif Mubashir, asserted that a woman naming herself would go on to unveil: “Today, with the campaign #Whereismyname,” he wrote, “they want their names to be mentioned everywhere. In the future, they will have another campaign, #Whereismybeauty, and ask why should we hide our bodies and beauty from you? We do not care if you men become sinful.” Mubashir’s contention that women are responsible for men’s behaviour and his assumption that publicly naming a woman would open the door to adultery and fornication is a theme that will be returned to when we look at why this taboo is still so strong in modern-day Afghanistan. First, we look at why language is important and then at the ways women in Afghanistan are referred to and addressed without naming them. 

Language and society

A shared language allows us not only to interact with others, but also shapes our understanding of ourselves, others and the world. That includes shaping our ideas about gender, that is, ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman in a certain society. A shared language can also shape ideas, values and norms within a nation, ethnic or language group, as the American poet TS Elliot said, “Because speaking the same language means thinking, and feeling, and having emotions, rather differently from people who use a different language.” (TS Eliot, “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture”, London: Faber & Faber, 1948). Language also changes over time, not only reflecting changes in the way we see each other and the wider world but also helping shape those changes. 

That interaction between language and social and cultural norms has been studied extensively by sociolinguistics and in cross-disciplinary gender studies. There are several academic journals focussing solely on these issues, including Sociolinguistics Studies, the Journal of Language and Sociocultural Theory, Gender and Language and the Journal of Language and Discrimination (see here). Browsing the table of contents of these journals shows that there is a fair bit of research on how language about women and men, including what women and men are called, affects individual and collective ideas about them. There is also research on how changes in language and naming practices can change norms and society (see for example Ann Coady’s study on the French language and how it produces and reproduces ideas about women and men; Ann Coady (2018) The Origins of Sexism in Language, Gender and Language, vol 12:3, pp. 271-293) or Jennifer Anne Sloan Rainbows’ analysis about President Donald Trump’s sexist remarks and how they can fuel hatred). 

While most of the research focuses on Europe and America, there is also a fair bit of research that looks at language and gender throughout history and across continents. However, the authors were able to find no academic research that focused specifically on Afghanistan or on traditions of naming and the consequences of not being named. The articles that came closest to dealing with these issues were: Hassan R. S. Abd-el-Jawad’s article published in 1989 that focused on ‘women’s place’ and Arabic language (Hassan R. S. Abd-el-Jawad (1989) Language and Women’s Place with Special Reference to Arabic. Language Sciences vol 11, no. 3, pp. 305-324). He sought to show how language used to designate women or women’s places in different Arabic countries were seldom neutral, but expressed values and that these values could change over time. Some extreme examples of this from Hassan’s Jordanian case study is choosing forenames for girls that clearly express that parents do not want more girl (‘enough’, ‘conclusion’ or ‘the end’), while choosing boys forenames that show that they are viewed as a gift from God (‘gift from God’ or ‘begged from God’). He also shows how some of the commonly-used expressions for women and men are carriers of ideas about women as weak and dependent and men as strong and independent. Qaisar Khan’s article (Khan, Qaisar (2017) Understanding Gender in Pak-Afghan Pashtun Society: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of Folk Stories. NUML Journal of Critical Inquiry Vol 15:1, pp. 108-129) deals with issues relating to gender and language in Afghanistan’s region. Khan notes that “Language serves as a main vehicle of transmitting culture over generations. It transforms our cultural values, norms and expectations into a comprehensible form which then permeates into the society. As a primary carrier, language preserves, propagates and reinforces culture. On the other hand, culture is dependent in large on language for its existence and survival.” However, his study does not focus on naming practices, but on folk stories handed down over generations.

Although these authors could not find any relevant research about the consequences of not being addressed in public by their names, much has been written about the importance of individually and collectively being able to choose how one is addressed and referred to, as well as the often fierce political responses to efforts to change naming practices. This includes debates around women’s right to keep their own surnames after marriage – in many European countries and in North America, women traditionally take their husband’s names when they marry (see for example, Masumi Archi, “Is it radical? women’s right to keep their own surnames after marriage”, Women’s Studies International Forum, Volume 22, Issue 4, Pages 411-415) or the more recent debates about gender-neutral and inclusive language (see for example the European Parliament’s 2008 study on the issue). 

The issue of naming or not naming Afghan women in public appears to be a fresh topic. As a starting point, we wanted to look at how women and girls are referred to and addressed in the various regions of the country. In the following section, the author discusses the terms most commonly used in urban and rural areas primarily from six provinces (Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Bamyan, Nangrahar and Balkh) in both public and private sittings. This is followed by an analysis of the patterns and trends.

Addressing girls and women in the family: the special case of older sister

There is no problem addressing girls by their given names when they are small. This can be at home among family members, by strangers and also in public. When they are grown-up, within their birth family, they are addressed by their given names. The one exception is older sister whom siblings often address with specific terms. The same words may also be used more widely to respectfully address other girls and young women (not relatives). The actual term varies across the country:

Kabul: dada (an older sister, possibly related to terms on the Sub-Continent) (2) used not only by original Kabulis, but also by some others originally from Maidan Wardak and Ghazni provinces. 

Balkh: a variety of words are used depending on ethnicity, as Nuria Neda, head of the Passon Legal Organisation (which deals with women’s and youth issues) and executive director of Radio Neda in Balkh, explained: “Tajiks in Balkh address their eldest sister as dada, but Uzbeks call them aapa while Turkmen say dada. Hazaras who have been to Iran call their sisters, not only the eldest, but also others, aabji.”

Hazaras in Kabul and other provinces, but particularly in Jaghori, Malestan and Qarabagh districts of Ghazni province: aghai

Hazaras in some districts of Ghazni province, and Dari speaking people in Logar and Kandahar use baji, originally a Turkish word, which means sister and also female servant. 

A few areas in Ghazni province: koko

Pashtuns in Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Kandahar and Nangrahar: khorai

Dari-speaking people in Herat use the word aabji (sister and also female servant). This word is used in Iran and has influenced neighbouring Herat. 

Dari-speaking people in Jalalabad city in Nangrahar province: aapa, sometimes pronounced as aapai. This is also used by Uzbeks across Afghanistan. 

Uzbek girls who are relatives address each other as dogana which means friend.

Special terms to address an older sister are used in both urban and rural areas across the country. They are the equivalent of lala, used by both Dari and Pashtun speakers to address older brothers and as a friendly term of affection between friends. Sometimes, the word jaan (soul) is added at the end of all the words used for the oldest sister and the older brother to show more respect and love. 

Sometimes, men in the family tell their children to address their oldest sister using such words not only at home, but also in public. This is because men think it is a dishonour to them if strangers know their daughters’ or sisters’ names (see also this media report here), a theme that will be returned to. In the urban areas, some changes have taken place with boys and girls addressing even their older sisters by their given names plus ‘jaan’, or simply call them ‘sister’. 

The terms used to address eldest sisters indicate respect and love. They are also an acknowledgement of the greater responsibility and authority eldest sisters often fulfil within the family. These girls are seen as ‘second mothers’ expected to care for their families and homes, doing everything from household chores to being involved in the marriages of siblings, to providing other forms of care, like looking after brothers and sisters in the absence of mothers,in the family. Part of their authority is sometimes also that they manage family finances, saving money and spending it when necessary.

Nicknames for women at home – giving brides a new name

In most provinces, but especially in Kabul and Balkh, when girls get married, their in-laws give them brand new names or nicknames. Examples of the nicknames are: bibi gul, shirin gul, koko gul, zia gul, qand-e gul, gul jan and mah janShirin gul and qand-e gul both mean something like ‘sweet flower’, bibi is an affectionate term for an older woman, zia means light, mah means moon (in Persian poetry, women’s faces are often likened to the beauty of the moon), and koko is just pleasant-sounding. Muhammad Amin, a resident of Kabul, told AAN, “My grandmother’s name was Rahima, but my grandfather called her koko gul.” However, Muhammad Amin’s father called his mother by her given name as he also does his wife. Abdul Latif Rohani, a resident of Khost and member of the secretariat of the central High Peace Council (HPC), told AAN that it is a shame to refer to women by their names at home, so they have nicknames for their wives.

Addressing and referring to wives and mothers – at home and in public

There are a number of terms used to address women at home and refer to female relations. Again, the words vary across the different provinces, but the inference is the same. Unlike the oldest sister, they do not always signal respect.

Zanaka, meaning ‘little woman’, is the diminutive form of zan. Used extensively in the past, it is now rarely heard. According to Persian dictionaries, it is a humiliating and insulting term, but users say it can be affectionate. For example, Shahrbanoo Muradi, the financial manager at a construction company, said, “My father always refers to my mother as zanaka and my mother does not mind.” The equivalent for a man is martika or mardika, which means ‘little man’ is always humiliating and insulting.

Zaifa, meaning ‘weak [woman]’ used both at home and in public. Educated women hate this term.

Ajeza, meaning helpless, is not used anymore. 

Both zaifa and ajeza, equivalent to the English, ‘the weaker sex’, are the most derogatory, non-swear words used to refer to women. 

Madar-e plus the son’s name which means mother of so-and-so and dokhtar-e plus the father’s name which means daughter of so-and-so in Dari are also used to address women in most areas of Afghanistan. In Kandahar, Nangarhar and other Pashtun-dominated provinces, the equivalent Pashto terms are used (de … mor and de … lur).

There are also men who address and refer to their female relatives by their given names. For example, in the relatively open-minded provincial centre of Bamyan, a Hazara-dominated province, most men call their wives by their names not only at home, but also in public. Marzia Hussaini, head of Partaw, an NGO in Bamyan, told AAN this is a relatively new cultural change, a result of women struggling for their rights. “In the past, in Bamyan city, men used to refer to their wives as ‘mother of so and so’ or ‘daughter of so and so’. For instance, they would say madar-e Aref which means ‘mother of Aref’ or dokhtar-e Ewaz meaning ‘daughter of Ewaz’. Now… they call their wives by their names. They call them Fatima, Salima or Fahima.” In the rural areas, however, she said the old naming tradition persists.  

Addressing non-related girls and women in public

There are a whole host of terms used to address or refer to girls and women in public, some of them more respectful than others.

Siyasar (Dari), tor sára (Pashto) made up of siya/tor, which means black, and sar/sari which means head, in other words ‘black-headed’. These terms are used across Afghanistan to address any woman in public. For instance, when you get on a bus, the conductor says, “Brothers, please leave the front seats for the siyasars.” It would be equivalent of an elderly man getting on the bus and the conductor might say, “Give your seat up for the rish-safid (white beard).” Siyasar gets controversial for some women when other women address them with it. Various educated women told us they found it demeaning.

Men and women may refer to older women as madar or móre (Dari/Pashto) ‘mother’ or khala ‘maternal aunt’ and those of similar age as khwahar or khóre (Dari/Pashto), both meaning sister, (3) as does hamshira although its literal meaning is milk-sharer (possibly referring to Islamic law which considers those who have been breast-fed by the same woman as siblings and therefore forbidden from marrying). Dokhtar-e khala meaning ‘aunt’s daughter’ is used to address girls, particularly in Kabul, Herat and Bamyan. Bibi hajji or hajanai (Dari/Pashto)meaning a woman who has made the Hajj pilgrimage, are also commonly used to address especially older women in public. All these terms are respectful, with madar ‘outranking’ khala (which can also be used to address and refer to a servant). Generally, they are not controversial. There are also exact male equivalents, for example, older men may be called kaka, meaning paternal uncle and men, in general, could be addressed as ‘brother’. Terms which address strangers as relatives are respectful and friendly. They may also, where necessary, create a linguistic ‘safeguard’ between unrelated men and women in public with their unconscious meaning of ‘I view you as my sister. I can’t marry you. You are safe in my presence.’ They are also very common across the region and further afield.

In many countries and language communities, there are such culturally accepted and validated terms for women, men and children used in public situation (on the bus, in the shop, etc), in which unknown people encounter each other and, for whatever reason, need to have a verbal exchange. “In Serbia,” writes one female AAN colleague, “I would be addressed in these situations as ‘aunty’ by a younger person and with the equivalent of jan (‘dear’) by an older woman.” In Britain, says another colleague, such familial terms for addressing non-relatives have almost fallen into disuse, but were much more common in the past and litter older literature. Indeed, she said, how to address women in Britain in public situations is an issue of contention with women’s rights activists who object to the frequently sexist terms some men deploy. (4)

Referring to wives in public

Afghan men also use many other terms to refer to their wives in public – and may also use them at home. 

Ayal literally means wife and children, but men use it to refer to their wives. 

Ushtok-ha (Dari) meaning ‘children’, but again, men in Kabul and Logar provinces use it to refer to their wives in front of strangers. They, for example, say “Ushtok-ha khana nist,” meaning ‘The wife is not home’.

Korwadana (Pashto) meaning ‘house-builder’, used mostly by men in Nangrahar and korwala (Pashto), meaning house owner’, are terms of honour. They show appreciation for women’s crucial role in creating and maintaining a family. Yet, they also limit a woman’s life to the four walls of the house. 

Madar-e awladhade mashumano mor and de kuchniyano mor (Dari/ Pashto) meaning the mother of the childrenA similar term, de haiwanano mor (Pashto), meaning ‘mother of the animals’, is also used by some men to refer to their wives.

Koch (Dari), which literally means ‘household’ and can mean also ‘migration’ can be used to refer to someone’s wife, as can kada (Pashto), meaning ‘wife’. 

Khanum, ‘lady’ (a Turkish-origin word, originally the feminine of ‘khan’) is the most polite word which men use it to address their wives, not only in public, but also at home.

Official documents and memorials

Birth Certificates

Generally, in Afghanistan when a child is born in a hospital, a birth certificate, on which the child’s name plus his/her father’s name is written, is issued. The mother’s name is not mentioned. This is changing in some places, however. In Kabul and Bamyan, for example, a child’s mother’s name is now written on the birth certificate. 

It appears that including the mother’s name is now officially an option, but still only an option and not compulsory. The Afghan government’s policy, as per the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) plan for 2016-2020 (seen by the author) has as its second goal: “Births registered with an official birth certificate that includes, as a minimum, the individual’s name, sex, date and place of birth, and name of parent(s).” 

Shab-e Shash party (sixth night party)

This is a party held to celebrate the birth of a son – and, more rarely a daughter – and to announce their names when they are six days old. Even at this young age, the name of a boy is a public affair, while the name of a girl rarely is.


Come to the wedding of Sayyed Edris ‘Abedi’ and Miss ‘Alizada’ (first name not given)

Marriage in Islamic culture is a holy relationship between a man and a woman that brings peace to their lives. Yet across Afghanistan, on this important day, the bride usually goes unnamed. On wedding invitation cards, Dari-speaking people write doshiza and Pashtu-speaking people peghla, both meaning Miss, plus the women’s family name. Some people, specifically Pashtuns, are very strict about not writing the bride’s name at all, not her own given name or her family’s, but just write ‘daughter of so and so’.

Financial manager Shahrbanoo Muradi told AAN a story about her uncle’s wedding. “The men in our family are very sensitive about women’s names, even on wedding invitation cards, or tombstones. When my uncle got married, the bride’s full name was actually written on the invitation card: ‘Razia Sultani’. Then, our family, particularly my maternal uncle, quarrelled a lot and called her a ‘shameless lady’.”

Funeral announcements, fateha invitation cards and gravestones

An invitation to a mourning ceremony – fateha – for walida Dagarwal Muhammad Yasin Bayat, the ‘mother of Colonel Muhammad Yasin Bayat’.

Afghan women often even go to their graves unnamed. Across Afghanistan, when a family announces a funeral and sends invitation cards for the fateha (a ceremony held either at home or in a mosque where relatives and friends go to offer condolences to the bereaved), they simply announce that the mother, daughter or wife of someone has passed away. Gravestones are engraved in the same way. Exceptions are rare. Indeed, an Afghan woman has to be very famous to be named on her gravestone – Rabia Balkhi, the Persian poet who lived over a thousand years ago and is buried and memorialised in Balkh town, for example, and Malalai Maiwandi aka Malalai Ana (ana being grandmother in Pashto), who mobilised Afghan men to fight against the British troops in 1880in Kandahar.

The last resting place of “the late Haji Kazim’s mother.” Even in death, the taboo on Afghan men revealing their womenfolk’s names in public remains strong. (Rohullah Sorush, Kart-e Sakhi cemetery, Kabul 2018)

A doctor’s prescription

Men in Herat do not allow their female relatives’ names to be written on doctors’ prescriptions. In Kabul, the author has also seen doctors who did not even ask the name of the sick woman for the prescription; instead, the doctor just writes ‘respected sister’. In Balkh and Kandahar, it is different as men in these provinces allow women’s names to be written on doctors’ prescriptions.

National ID Card

In Afghanistan, mothers’ names are not written on national ID cards while fathers’ names are. In 2015, there was a call by some Afghan women activists to have their mothers’ names written on their national ID, particularly, on the electronic ones. They ran a hashtag #Whereismymother’s name? (nam-e madaram kojast). They said, “Nam-e madaram ra dar shenas nama am darj koned” meaning ‘Include my mother’s name on my national ID card’

However, it seems that the call was not supported, so mothers’ names are still not written on the national ID cards. However, colleagues recently applying for an ID reported that a form that needs to be filled when applying for one does have a space for the mother’s name. Rohullah Ahmadzai, spokesperson for the Afghanistan Civil Registration Authority (ACRA), told AAN there is nothing mentioned in Afghan law about recording the mother’s name on the national ID card and there is no policy about it either. He said ACRA staff discussed this issue among themselves and finally decided it should be in the databases and in the form for applying for the new electronic ID.

Views on naming

Speaking to people in six provinces and from both rural and urban areas, AAN encountered a range of likes and dislikes from women when it comes to how they are referred to and addressed. 

Many told us they prefer being addressed by their own names, for example, Lala Habibi, a woman from Ghazni, “I do not like nicknames and other words that men use to address women,” she told AAN. “I want everyone to call me by my first name.” Shahrbanoo Muradi concurred, “I hate being called siyasar. It’s nonsense. Addressing women as siyasar means they have no personality.” Even, she said, she calls her uncle’s wife by her name, something very untraditional. “To refer to a woman as mother, sister or wife of so and so, does not have anything to do with respect,” she said. “We need to work on our culture and develop it so that no woman is called siyasar or referred to by a male relative’s name.” Zarafshan, who spoke to the Afghan Women News Association (AWNA), said the words “Siyasar, madar-e awlad[h]a, koch, ayal and so on have been imposed on Afghan women… When I hear words such as zaifa I feel very bad and think that I am not a living creature and men think of me as a thing or an item.” (see here.)

Others, like Nuria Neda say they want at least some parts of the culture to be continued. Neda singled out the terms used for the eldest sister, “Words such as daadaaabji, aaghai, aapa and so on. I don’t see any problem with that. It shows respect, order and discipline among family members.” Fatema Alavi, a housewife living in Iran, told AAN, “Do not call me by my given name. I am not a child anymore. Call me by my eldest child’s name.” Another housewife, Maryam Sarwari, who lives in Kabul said, “When I got married, my in-laws gave me the nickname ‘mah jan’. I have no problem with this. I feel respected.”

Some of our interviewees pointed to men’s honour as being at the root of the taboo on naming women in public. Najla Habibi, a member of the Bar Association in Mazar-e Sharif and a candidate in the recent Wolesi Jirga election, said, “Men are ashamed to address their wives by their names. And if a man’s best friend knows his wife’s name, he and that friend should stop being friends anymore.” A female staff of an NGO in Kabul described to AAN how she had asked one of her colleagues what his wife’s name was. Her colleague answered, “Why do you want to know my wife’s name? If I tell you her name, other colleagues will know it and that is not good for my honour.” That sense of honour and fear of shame can start at a very young age. For example, one AAN colleague recently stopped two small boys fighting, “I asked them why they fought,” he said. “One said that he did not want to tell the second boy his mother’s name, so he was trying to beat him.” 


There are many ways of referring to women and addressing them in Afghanistan without using their given names. Although the terms vary across the regions, there are patterns. Using familial terms for unrelated women can indicate respect and affection. There are also exact male equivalents. These terms are less likely to cause offense. Referring to women as weak, helpless or little is considered by many women to be humiliating, though. Giving brides new names or nicknames when they join their new family symbolises their new life; it might feel affectionate or the abrupt removal of an identity. In general, it would seem that the taboo on referring to a women by name in public is an extension of notions of purdah/hijab, that is, a woman should not have a public ‘face’ and, if she does, it is a dishonour to her and her family. For women who do have a public face, not addressing them by their name is as ridiculous and oppressive as having to go outside with faces covered with a chadori. At the same time, other Afghan women think going unnamed and with faces covered is normal and a mark of honour.

Believing it is a shame to name women publicly is surely tradition-based, given that Maryam (the Virgin Mary), mother of Jesus, is directly mentioned in the Holy Quran more than thirty times and has a chapter of the Quran named after her. Besides, the Prophet Muhammad’s wives and the other women of his family are all known, named and honoured. 

Referring to women at marriage and in the grave not by their own names, but via their male relations is part of the general taboo, but also suggests they only have an identity through their male relations, ie, they are identified by their role and relationships to others, not by who they are as individuals. 

The ways in which a husband refers to his wife using terms related only to her role as mother or home-makers, or euphemistically as ‘the children’ or ‘the household’ is also part of the taboo on addressing women by their names in public. Some of the terms used are respectful and appreciative. They may be used affectionately, but all symbolically limit women to the private realm. Even the nicest of these terms highlight the intricate ways Afghan society distinguishes between the two sexes and defines gender relationships, linguistically reinforcing the idea of women as private individuals concerned only with home and family. 

Calling women by names that are not their own can be both a sign of respect, or an insult. It can be an expression of love and a way of signalling, for example, appreciation for an older sister’s responsibilities in a family, but it can also be a way to discriminate and signal women’s subordination. It also matters how women themselves want to be addressed. When writing this dispatch, the author met women who vocally defended their right to be addressed by their real names and women who just as vocally defended the tradition of not using women’s given names. While many women’s rights activists and educated women argue that calling them by their names strips them of their identity, others say that being referred to by nicknames or via their children’s names gives them prestige and honour. It also matters what tone men refer to their wives or other women – with disrespect or respect. 

Edited by Kate Clark

(1) This is Rabea Quzdari, better known as Rabea Balkhi whose undated tomb is located near the famous Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa shrine in the city of Balkh. It is unclear when she lived – and even whether. Jan Rypka, author of one of the most authoritative histories of Persian literature, puts her “approximately at the end of the Samanid era.” The Samanid empire existed from 819 to 999 AD and had its capital in Bukhara; Balkh belonged to its territory. Swedish literature historian Gunilla Lindberg-Wada calls Rabea “semi-legendary” in her Literary History: Towards a Global Perspective (2006). According to tradition, Rabea committed suicide after her love affair with a Turkic slave named Baktash was uncovered by her brother; she allegedly wrote her last poem with her own blood (see the Persian Qajar poet Reza Quli Khan Ḥedayat’s Baktashnama).

Tomb of Rabea Balkhi (Quzdari) in Balkh, erected in 1345 (1966/67). Photo: Thomas Ruttig (2005)

(2) In India, the term didi, with the same meaning, is used in both Hindi and English. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “an older sister or older female cousin (often as a proper name or form of address)” and “a respectful form of address to any older woman familiar to the speaker.” The origin of the word is probably Bengali via Hindi.

(3) Móre and khóre (in Pashto): the word for mother is mor, for sister khor. The unemphasised suffix -e is the feminine form of a special case used in Pashto when addressing someone (the vocativ). Vocativ masculine would end on -a, for example “Wahída” when calling someone with the name Wahid (or plára, for plar, “father”).

(4) There is a lot of regional variation in how women may be addressed in Britain, in shops or other interactions, and by both men and women. They include: dear, hen, duck, queen, pet and darling. These might be used in a friendly manner, or not. Such terms would rarely be used to address a man. It is worth mentioning too that, while there are many words for ‘man’ in British English – bloke, guy, fellow, chap, geezer, to name just a few – most words referring to women and girls are sexualised, sexist or have changed their meaning to become demeaning over time. They include – both historical and slang – wench, bint, bird, chick, quean, madam, mistress and girl (for women of any age). ‘Lady’ is a polite exception for a woman, but has to reach into notions of class to be so.


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Rohullah Sorush

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