View Full Version : Origin of name Iraq

05-09-2005, 05:51 AM
I understand that it was the British who first applied (in the 1920s) the name Iraq to what used to be three Ottoman provences in Mesopotamia. The questions are: Who devised that name, when was it applied? Citations would be greatly appreciated.
A recent book about Churchill and Iraq mentions this info in passing but does not give the specifics. Anyone?

Inigo Montoya
05-09-2005, 08:47 AM
There's a post about this, but the sound of the "I" in Iraq is not found in English unless someone is choking. It's essentially a vocalized soft glottal stop. The US Army uses a transliteration system that represents the letter as "

When not referring to the place, the word, ( "RAQ ) means well rooted, or lowland (http://statoids.com/uiq.html)

The following is quite possibly drivel:
It's been a long time, but I think the Arabic word for the verb "to sweat" is ( "RQ ) and if you put the ( A ) before the last letter in a three-letter root word it turns the root verb into the noun. So ( "RAQ ) could be translated as the noun 'sweat.'

Inigo Montoya
05-09-2005, 09:19 AM

Try this site. (http://angelfire.com/nt/Gilgamesh/history.html) It first mentions Iraq in the Arab conquest (637 AD) which makes some sense: Iraq is an Arabic word, presumably the region would have been called something else, or the same thing in a different language depending on which of the locals you were talking to.

I'll just be leaving now.....

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
05-09-2005, 09:30 AM
According to this post (http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showpost.php?p=2468159&postcount=9) by an erstwhile prickly-but-well-informed member, the spelling is "'ain ra aleph qaf."

Does that change any of the responses so far?

05-09-2005, 01:22 PM
The Arabic spelling ‘ayn ra’ alif qaf is correct. The word meaning 'deep-rooted' is taken from Classical Arabic, and in this sense is not familiar to many Arabs nowadays, even educated ones.

The culprit was Gertrude Bell. She was a British secret agent before and during World War I. She had grown up in Iran, where her daddy was a banker. She became an expert in the Persian and Arabic languages, and translated lots of classical Persian and Arabic literature in addition to His Majesty's secret service. She proposed the name Iraq when Churchill was concocting new Arab states from the conquered Ottoman vilayets (provinces). The country as well as its name is a result of British imperialism.

Bell had read classical Arabic geographies of the Middle East, works written a thousand or more years ago. The name ‘irâq meaning 'deep-rooted' seems to show Arab awareness of the long history of civilization in Mesopotamia (BTW, the British had been calling it "Mesopotamia" until Bell came up with "Iraq.") The name al-‘Irâq was used for the province in southern Mesopotamia during the Umayyad period (660-750). However, northern Mesopotamia during this time was called al-Jazîrah. That's right, the same name as the Arabic TV network. Calling the area from Baghdad northwards "Iraq" is an ahistorical neologism. Jazirah literally means 'island', and I have no explanation for why northern Iraq was called this. (Incidentally, the name of Algiers comes from the broken plural form of this word: al-Jazâ’ir, 'the islands'.)

In a later phase of the ‘Abbasid period, as the caliphate lost central authority and broke up into kingdoms, one kingdom was called al-‘Irâqayn, the "Two Iraqs" (sort of like the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies which existed about the same time). The "Two Iraqs" referred to Arab Iraq (present-day southern Iraq) plus adjacent areas of western Iran.

Here is an alternate etymology for Iraq, given by, of all people, an Arab historian. Philip K. Hitti, in a footnote to Chapter XIII in History of the Arabs, says:‘Irâq, probably a loan-word from Pahlawi meaning "lowland", corresponds to Ar. Sawâd, black land, used to bring out the contrast with the Arabian desert. Yaqut, vol. iii, p. 174; cf A. T. Olmstead, History of AssyriaThe first bibliographical citation refers to Yâqût al-Hamawî (1179–1229), Mu‘jam al-Buldân (Encyclopedia of Countries). Pahlavi is Middle Persian, the language of the Sassanid Empire.

05-09-2005, 10:12 PM
I checked a big classical Persian dictionary to see if any words matched ‘irâq and had the sense of lowland. All I found were some old words meaning either 'river' or 'canal' that at least resembled ‘irâq in consonantal outline. (arq, arghâ, arkiyâ...)

The shift of the initial vowel onset sound in Persian to the Arabic sound ‘ayn is a known phenomenon in some old eastern dialect of Arabic, affecting the Persian loanwords this dialect picked up. The sound shift of hamzah > ‘ayn is called ta‘an‘anah because the particle an was pronounced ‘an.

(OK, so I'm an Arabic language geek. You know, Arabic can be an interesting language to geek out on. But the ultimate language for linguistic geeks is Sanskrit. satyam asti. Sanskrit is the FORTRAN of human languages.)

Then I checked a dictionary with lots of obscure, obsolete roots from Classical Arabic. Here are the total verbal meanings under the triliteral root ‘ayn-râ’-qâf:
‘araqa ~ ya‘ruqu
Gnaw, pick, scrape (bone)
Go away, depart, set out for
Double the lining of (bag)
(passive form ‘uriqa) Be thin, emaciated.

‘ariqa ~ ya‘raqu
Perspire, sweat

‘arraqa ~ yu‘arriqu
Make to perspire, sweat
Dilute slightly (beverage)
Parboil (figs)

a‘raqa ~ yu‘riqu
Dilute slightly
Come, journey to ‘Irâq
Become firmly-rooted (tree) <--This is the meaning used to explain the name of the country

ta‘arraqa ~ yata‘arraqu
Gnaw &c. (bone)

i‘taraqa ~ ya‘tariqu
Become firmly rooted
Gnaw &c.

ista‘raqa ~ yasta‘riqu
Try to induce perspiration

A couple of participial forms from the above verbs:
ma‘rûq 'Diluted' (drink)
mu‘arriq 'Sudorific'

I won't list all the noun forms (there are a great many), but you get the idea. Of note is ‘irq ('vein, artery' — any connection to the Persian words for river/canal?); another meaning of ‘irq is 'root'. Also ‘arîq 'enrooted'. "And there you go..."

The Classical Arabic noun ‘irâq itself has the following meanings:
Leather lining
Shore, coast, bank; edge
Border, periphery (of the ear); hem (of a cloth)
in addition to the country name. Make of that what you will.

As for ‘araq the alcoholic drink, the literal meaning 'sweat' refers to the distillation process. See the poetic modes of thought in Arabic semantics.

05-09-2005, 10:31 PM
On the first day of European History class, my teacher said that the names for Iran, Iraq and Ireland share the same root, which means "homeland." This was supposed to demonstrate that above all, the word for ones home would remain unchanged through the generations. I cant verify this, however.

05-10-2005, 06:10 AM
It's false. Not even the names of Iran and Ireland are related (though they sit next to each other at the United Nations General Assembly).

Iran comes from Sanskrit arya 'noble', while Ireland comes from the prehistoric Celtic name for Ireland Iwer-iu, from the proto-Indo-European root *peie- 'to be fat, swell'. The name of Iraq isn't related to either of the others.

05-10-2005, 07:54 AM
When not referring to the place, the word, ( "RAQ ) means well rooted, or lowland (http://statoids.com/uiq.html)

Yup, Iraq is pretty well rooted now.

05-10-2005, 08:13 AM
I thought "Iraq" was derived from the ancient Sumerian/Babylonian city of "Uruk", which is in the bounds of present-day Iraq (as mentioned in this wiki article--hardly incontrovertible, I know).


Inigo Montoya
05-10-2005, 09:01 AM
Yup, Iraq is pretty well rooted now.
Yes. And right after being Saddam-ized for 25 years or so. Again courtesey of the U.S.

:: Bows at Johanna's feet ::

Ya, madam, are one amazing geek!

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