Curious Name: al-Wādī
By Basil Dragonstrike
Greetings, and welcome to another "Curious Names" article---quite
possibly, the longest I will ever write.
In this article, I am going to explore an Arabic byname that has, in
the SCA, recently become relatively popular----al-Wādī.
First, though, there are a few terms I must define, so you will be
able to follow what I'm saying.
I start with "generic toponym". This is a type of locative; a
locative is a name based on a the name of a place, while a generic
toponym is based on a kind of place. In modern English, this
is the difference between John Winchester and John Rivers; the first
comes from an ancester who came from Winchester, while the second
from an ancester who lived by a river.
Next is "romanization"; we tend to speak of transliteration when
describing writing something originally in one alphabet when given
in a different alphabet. Properly, though, transliteration refers to
taking one letter in alphabet X and turning it into one
letter in alphabet Y. In Arabic, some of the letters do not
correspond well to just one letter in the Roman alphabet
(the one being used right here). A scholar who wishes to
transliterate Arabic, therefore, must use unusual letters, such as š
to transliterate ش, and so on. What is more often used is two-letter
combinations; for instance, sh to represent ش. This method,
which changes alphabet X into Roman letters is known as
Then there's "editing". In terms of Arabic texts,
this means taking a manuscript of a text (or more than one, if there
is more than one), checking to see if there are probable
mis-spellings and making probable corrections, filling in as well as
possible gaps and lost pages/lines, and in general neatening up, and
then publishing one's results, in Arabic (with notes
as to the changes, guesses, etc. made). This is useful if one reads
Arabic, somewhat if one can merely romanize.
Now to the point of this article - - - -
When al-Wādī was first used in a submission, it was stated
to be a generic toponym, with the assumption that generic toponyms
were used in Arabic names. I thought it would be interesting to find
other generic toponyms, and write an article on them. So, what does
wādī mean? Well, the Arabic word وَادِي means an intermittent
stream, a water course that flows irregularly, particularly one that
flows only in certain seasons. I will herafter use "intermittent
stream" to refer to the object, and use wādī when referring
to the word as such. So I figured I'd look for other words for types
of features to see if they occurred in Arabic; first, though, I
thought I should double-check al-Wādī. And that's when I ran
The first problem is with the romanization. In romanizing وَادِي
there are a number of possible forms, depending on how dilligent the
writer was, and what printing resources were available. To be blunt,
if you see "wadi" in some book or article or web-page, and if you
don't know how careful the romanization is, you can't be sure what
the Arabic is. It could be وَادِي or وَادِ or وَدِع or---well,
lots of possibilities. Should the a be better romanized as ā?
Or is it a short a? Is the d actually ḍ?
The i, ī? Should or shouldn't there be a ʻ
on the end? In short, there are four places which have two
possibilities each, giving 16 possible original Arabic. Here's a
table, using LOC romanization, for the 16 possibilites:
I have put two of these in boldface: that in the second line because
it's the correct form of the name of an intermitent stream, the
other for reasons I'll get to soon.
There are three possible sources for al-Wādī that people in
the SCA might use as documentation. Only two of them have been used
so far, but I'm going to start with the third. This is Cariadoc's
Miscellany, a work by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook,
containing a number of articles regarding various subjects that may
be of interest to SCAers (and other re-creators). Part of it is
recipes, some from Islamic sources. One of them goes by the
Tharîda in the Style of the People of Bijaya
In the text of the recipe, the same person is referred to as Ibn
al-Wadi, without the apostrophe.. So, we are already dealing
with the problem of inconsistent romanization.
(Bougie, a city in Algeria) Which They Call
the Shâshiyya of Ibn al-Wadi'
The history of some of the recipes in Cariadoc's Miscellany
is worth recounting briefly. One source is known in the original
Arabic as Kitab al tabikh fi-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus fi `asr
al-Muwahhidin, li-mu'allif majhul and dates to the 13th
century CE. In the early 1960's, a translation into Spanish, under
the title La Cocina Hispano-Magrebi en la Epoca Almohade,
was made by Ambrosio Huici Miranda. Somewhat later, a group of
four SCAers started translating the Spanish work into English; when
a preliminary version started to be circulated, Charles Perry, food
critic for the LA Times, took this translation, the Spanish work of
Ambrosio Huici Miranda, and Ambrosio Huici Miranda's edited version
of the original Arabic, and made a full translation into English.
Although I found the title of Perry's work, I have not, despite the
help of a number of Inter-Library Loan (ILL) librarians, been able
to find hide nor hair of that work; that is, no library taking part
in the ILL network had a copy---nor a copy of the magazine issues
with Perry's preliminary work on the translation. However, via ILL,
I did get my hands on a copy of La Cocina Hispano-Magrebi en la
Epoca Almohade. In that work, the recipe is titled
Torta al estilo de la gente Bugía
Note the use of š to romanize ش! in šāšiya. The name Ibn
al-Waḍīʻ; is also used in the text of the recipe.
La llaman šāšiya de Ibn al-Waḍīʻ.
This means that Friedman & Cook's Wadi' and Wadi
are very definitely non-scholarly (and may mis-copy Perry's work).
It also means the scholar Ambrosio Huici Miranda used Waḍīʻ,
which is the other form I boldfaced in the chart above. Thus, the
Arabic would not be وَادِي , but وَضِيع . In conclusion: it's a good
thing no-one has yet used Friedman & Cook's work, as it does
not, in the slightest, support al-Wādī.
So, what of those two sources I mentioned that have been used? I
start with the online work by Julia Smith, "Andalusian Names: Arabs
in Spain" found at:
where Smith states the names she lists are from Estudios
Onomastico-Biograficos de al-Andalus. She includes a byname
In al-Andalus there was an intermittent stream called Wādī Āsh.
On its banks was a town also called Wādī Āsh. The adjective
form is WādīʼĀshī; a person using a byname based on the
adjective would use the form al-WādīʼĀshī. I have limited
access to Estudios Onomastico-Biograficos de al-Andalus, but
I found there a person called Muḥammad Ibn Ŷābir al-Wādī Āšī;
changing that to a romanization you are more likely to have seen,
this would be Muḥammad ibn Jābir al-WādīʼĀshī. This person
has an article in The Encyclopaeidia of Islam, 2nd version,
and is not the only person with this byname (al-WādīʼĀshī)
found there (and elsewhere). After a long e-mail conversation with
Smith, she admitted she could not find her notes, that my knowledge
of Arabic was notibly greater than hers, and that she must have,
unfortunately, mis-transcribed this name. She agreed with my
conclusion that the byname ought to be al-WādīʼĀshī.
Hence, her work does not support al-Wadi as a byname.
The other source people have used for al-Wadi is Selections
from The Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq by al-Khatib
al-Baghdadi, translated and edited by Emily Selove. In
Selove's book, she does not use either macrons nor under-dots, but,
she does differentiate between ʻayn and hamza [ʼ], and does not show
ʻayn in her version of "Wadi". Thus, any of the first 8 forms in the
above table might be what the original was. Note that in her story,
Hakam is said to come from "Wadi," not "a wadi"; this clearly is
meant as a town name, not a generic toponymic. From the beginning, I
was concerned this might be part of a name, as al-Wadi in WādīʼĀshī
proved to be, though the fact Selove is a professor alleviated some
of my concern.
I decided to try and find another translation. However, so far as I
can find, there isn't one. So, I looked for the Arabic text Selove
used. I'm not sure I found it, but I did find an edited text
(remember my explanation of "edting," above). The title was not exactly
the same as that given by Selove, but it's undoubtedly the same
text. My ability to read Arabic is rather small, but between what I
have, Google Translate, Lane's Lexicon, and Wehr's Dictionary,
I was able to work out what I needed. It is worth pointing out that
the numbers Selove gives to the stories do not exist in the edited text
I had available. The long introduction, also not in Selove's book,
was a further problem. And, to tell you the truth, I'm not sure the
stories are in the same order, which is on top of the fact Selove
skipped some (as her numbering shows). All this made finding the
correct story difficult.
But find it I did! And there is no doubt that Hakam is said to have
left Wādī, and no doubt he is called al-Wādī. Hence, Selections...
is a valid source for al-Wadi, although a more scholarly
romanization would be al-Wādī; I have seen an Arabic text
and can assure one and all that al-Wādī is the correct
To conclude: Friedman & Cook's Cariadoc's Miscellany
does not support al-Wādī at all, Smith's "Andalusian Names:
Arabs in Spain" contains an unfortunate error, but Selove's Selections
from The Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq does
show al-Wādī was used as a name element in period, though it
makes clear al-Wādī is not a generic toponym (and
thus, does not support the idea that generic toponyms were used in
And now you can take a deep breath and relax - - - I'm done.
Until my next article, that is.