What’s in a name?

July 24, 2012, Tuesday/ 18:08:00/ JOHN LAUGHLAND

We had a phone call at the start of the week that had us rummaging about in one of our “miscellaneous” stashes.

 Soon we had collected a few documents and a dozen passport photos, and after cleaning ourselves up to “town” standards we set off. Having reached the Belediye building in town I took the dogs to their favorite restaurant, whilst Die frau entered the offices in search of the nüfus müdürü (head of the Population Registry Office). No more than half an hour later she emerged a different woman, literally. Frau Schmit had entered the building and Bayan Ayşe Karagöz now emerged, clutching her brand new Nüfus ID card in her newly Turkish hand. After about two years of frustrating struggle with bureaucracy, she had obtained her Turkish citizenship.

It has to be said that the German bureaucracy had been almost as bad as the Turkish, but the nonsense that gave Turkey its early lead was its refusal to accept her Turkish wedding certificate. I kid you not, we had married in Turkey about 12 years earlier and not only have a Turkish wedding certificate but also an international marriage document in half a dozen languages. This was not acceptable; we were to provide a German proof of marriage. That took six months. Proof of marriage in Germany required that we post them the Turkish certificate! I urge you to mull that over for a moment or two.

We sat in a restaurant gloating and joking for half an hour. I insisted that she must now do all the work around the house and relieve me of the whitewashing. I asked if she would wear a headscarf and, headscarf or not, would she elbow herself to the front of queues in banks and the post office? We desperately wanted to do something that would not have been possible an hour ago, but could think of nothing, short of buying another house in a village; however, funds would not allow that. In fact, funds would not even stretch to me buying her some gold jewelry as she requested, so I treated her to a Campari and orange instead. Orange in lieu of gold, see?

We have joked in the past that once a citizen, Frau would not only be able to vote but could also stand for office. The office of village muhtar would be a start. Unfortunately, the people who are so elected in this village are usually the sort who are willing to turn a blind eye to transgressions, and that is not a characteristic she has, so she would probably stand no chance.

A few years ago I inadvertently told a policeman that I was a Bahraini. See, I carry my old Bahrain driving license with me at all times; it has my photograph in it, so serves as ID too, despite the fact that it shows a young man of less than half my current age. No policeman has yet noticed that the license expired in 1978. So, I was once stopped and the policeman, after inspecting the license, asked in Turkish if I was a Bahraini. Having so little Turkish language, I thought he had asked if the license was Bahraini, so I answered, “Evet.” Frau put me wise later. Oh yes, we two are true citizens of the world. Frau now has a choice of three family names and two forenames. I’m not sure she can mix them, though; Frau Ayşe McLaughland sounds silly to me.

The three boats I have owned since leaving England have all had two names, easy to arrange and done as a precaution against unforeseen international troubles in a complicated and still unstable part of the world. Some years ago I visited a bloke who was building himself a sizeable boat in a remote Turkish bay. A year later in a popular harbor for liveaboards I spotted an extremely colorful national flag at the stern of a fine-looking sailing yacht. I was puzzled as to what nation the flag belonged, so went to investigate. It was the aforementioned self-built boat, and the owner my old friend. It transpired that the flag was that of a very remote African country, and my friend had not only run up the flag himself on his old Singer machine but had also run up a full set of registration papers complete with impressive-looking stamps and signatures. He had sailed between a dozen Greek islands and the Turkish mainland for half a year with ne’er a challenge to the authenticity of his yacht’s registration. You should watch out for that flag, it will certainly be the most colorful in the harbor.

You’ll know that it was only about 80 years ago that the Turkish government required all its citizens to register their chosen family names. It is obvious that the men of the family had the final word in the matter, leading to such names as Warrior, Ironman, Rockhard and so on. Many less macho names were chosen to reflect the trade of the family head, all male trades. Had the ladies had the last word, we would have names like Rosewater, Sunrise, Butterfly and so on. The most feared man at the infantry boot camp? Staff Sergeant Needlepoint?

I dare say that it took a few years for many people to comply with the law, and very likely some old folk in distant villages are still not registered. Certainly in remote areas in recent times mothers have not registered their children in the first year, or even longer, and often give a date of birth of their own choosing, for reasons unknown to me; Jan. 1 was always a popular date.

Even on the comparatively civilized south coast of Turkey some people seem to have never been registered and so officially do not exist. There is a young man in a village near to ours who suffered severe brain damage at birth. He is able to walk and exchange a few simple words, but can do little else. He will certainly never work in his life, has never attended a school and would be of no interest to the army. Why bother to register him? When our “Mad Cat Lady” mysteriously disappeared some years ago, nobody from the village or from the local town did more than look in their barns or water tanks. Her being lost was of no interest to the authorities because she had never existed.

So here I sit at the computer, slightly bewildered. My third wife has a choice of three family names and three forenames (I had forgotten the double German ones), and I currently own two boats, both with two names. Even our two houses are complicated; one was originally two houses, so may now be No. 1a and No. 1b, and our second (?) house may be No. 2 or No. 3.

Would you please excuse me if I leave this for now and go to lie down in a dark room for a while? Just who I will lie down with tonight... goodness knows (Allah bilir).