Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Barack – Its Meaning in Different Languages

by Bernadine B. Racoma
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama

Barack – it is the given name of the 44th and incumbent president of the United States. It seems like an uncommon name for someone from the United States. It is not an English name, but a name that has origins in Swahili, Hebrew and Arabic. Barack Hussein Obama, the full name of the U.S. President, came from his father, Barack Senior. Mr. Obama Senior was a government official, who held the position of senior economist in the Kenyan government. 
One word, different meanings in different languages

Barack or Baraka, spelled as Bārak in the Arabic language, is a variant of the name Mubarak or Mubārak, its spelling in Arabic. Mubarak and its variants are Arabic given names, which translate to “the blessed one” in English, and is suggestive of the Latin word, Benedict, meaning blessed.

Tracing its etymological origin, the word Barack came from three consonantal roots, the letters B, R and K, which means a body part, the knee. Taking it further, the three consonants become a verbal description of the act of prostrating oneself. And when you say that someone is prostrating oneself, it translates to the simpler and more common description, that of kneeling down “to receive blessing” from an elder or a person of higher authority, like a religious person or the head of a tribe or king or queen. Conversely, the feminine equivalent of the word Barack or Baraka is “barakah,” which means “blessing” when you translate it to English.

In Swahili, one of the official languages spoken in Kenya, in East Africa, the word Barack is more commonly spelled as Barak. The name translates to “blessing,” and may also mean “abundance” or “prosperity.” From Arabic where the name translates to “blessed,” “fortunate” and “lucky,” it was adapted into the Swahili language. Therefore the meanings of the word in the two languages overlap, just like some religious ideas. Take for example the holy water. For Christians and Islam practitioners, the holy water is meant to ward off evil. While the Christians spray holy water on objects and people that are being blessed. Muslims, particularly during a pilgrimage in Mecca, drink the water from the Zamzam well and many take some of the water home, believing the water to be very holy.

Islam has an inner and mystical dimension called Sufism. Adherents of Sufism define this as the science of preparing the heart by turning it away from everything but Allah. And in Sufism, “charisma” is the closest translation to the word Barack or Baraka. Baraka means a flow of grace and blessings from God to those who are very close to God, which include prophets and saints. Baraka, when received, gives the recipient the ability to make miracles, which translates to karamat in Arabic. Well-known Sufi mystic Abd al-Kārim ibn Hawāzin Qushayri clarified that even if saints were able to perform miracles, it doesn’t indicate the status of the saints but these acts could help establish better credentials for them.

In Judaism, the word related to Barak is berakhah, which also translates to “blessing” and “bounty.” But in this context, the word is not a state but a form of prayer, usually recited at a particular time during an activity or a ceremony. It includes activities such as when blessing fragrances and food, when blessings are recited to show gratitude or give praise or when a commandment is performed. The word “amen” is the usual answer to the berakhah.

On the other hand, Barak, in the Hebrew language translates to “lightning.” In the context of President Obama’s name, though, this is not the translation that should be used when translating and finding the meaning of the president’s name. However, it is related to the Hebrew name Baruch, a Biblical name, which is mentioned, ironically, not in the Hebrew Bible but in the Vulgate Bible as well as in the Septuagint, and included as Book of Baruch or Baruch 1. The Baruch mentioned in the Bible was given the full name of Baruch ben Neriah, a disciple and scribe as well as a devoted friend of Jeremiah, a Biblical prophet. He was of noble birth. He wrote and closely adhered to the prophesies of Jeremiah.

Baraka is a very old name that has its origin in Ancient Egypt. During the time when the Old Kingdom ruled, the word ba translated to “soul” while ra was the word for the “sun” and ka translated to “manifestation” or soul double.  The oldest meaning of Baraka therefore is soul double of the sun, and this is where the name Barak or Barack came from.  This is related to the reason the Hebrew term Barak translates to “thunder,” which follows lightning, and which the Hebrews interpret as light coming from the sun as well.

Other meanings of the word Barack

Aside from the meanings of Barack and its variants given above, the word itself mean differently in other languages around the world.  For the Hungarians, barack means an apricot or a peach, which are sweet and dainty-looking fruits. On the other hand, it represents something strong and formidable in Israel, as Barak was the name given to the missile system the country developed for India, And in Manipur, India, the largest river is called Barak.

In Ethiopia where the national language is Amharic, blessing translates to bereket, which is also a name commonly given to men.

You do not have to dig deep to find the origin of a word. The expert translators and interpreters of Day Translations, Inc., World Interpreting, Inc. and Your Spanish Translation, LLC are always ready to serve you anywhere you are in the world, 24 hours a day. They too, are located around the world and all are native speakers. They could translate and interpret in more than 100 languages. 

Photo Credit:
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama



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Qasim Khan said...

Very good work. Everything is very interesting to learn and easy to understand. Happy Eid Mubarak 2021