Saddam the Crusher

Sometime ago I wondered why the media often refer to Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein as simply “Saddam”. Wouldn’t this abbreviation be equivalent to referring to his main opponent as “George”? And if so, why does the media discriminate in this way?

Well I struggled for a while to find the answer, but it turns out that Saddam Hussein’s full name is “Saddam Hussein al-Majd al-Tikriti”. Most Arab names have a genealogical structure; individuals are called after their father and paternal grandfather and may also reveal the geographical region from which they come. So we can to some extent dissect the President of Iraq’s name as follows:

  • “Saddam” is the epithet that he chose upon becoming ruler of Iraq and is derived from the Persian word meaning “crush”.
  • “Hussein” was his father’s first name
  • “al-Majd” refers to his paternal grandfather.
  • “al-Tikriti” refers to the town closest to his place of birth, Tikrit.

So, a rough English translation of his name would be “The Crusher/son of Hussein/son of Majd/from Tikrit”. In addition, his true first name was apparently “Hussein”, but that was dropped when he assumed the name “Saddam”.

You can probably see why journalists may have been uncertain about what to call him. While the BBC uses “Saddam”, Canada’s Globe And Mail calls him “Mr. Hussein” (see MP wants Hussein to face trial). For more details see the CTV article You say Saddam, I say Hussein – what’s in a name? and from Slate in 1998 What’s the Name of Saddam Hussein?