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Hard leaders, soft names

Last updated on: May 11, 2010 12:13 IST

Hard leaders, soft names

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President Goodluck Jonathan, head of the world's eighth most populous country, perhaps the most powerful man on the entire African continent?

The name may be hard to believe, but it's 100 per cent true.

When Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua died on May 5, it set the stage for Vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to be sworn in as the 14th Nigerian Head of State.

In the Nigerian newspapers, the unusual first name is being touted as part of the reason for the politician's meteoric rise to chief executive -- he's only 52 years old.

Plus, the penchant for attention-grabbing names seems to run in the family. Goodluck's wife is named Patience Faka Johnson!

Let's look at some other world leaders with interesting names: Barack Hussein Obama. There's nothing unusual about an Arab African name like his, which comes from his father's Kenyan roots.

But during the 2008 US Presidential election campaign, one point quickly became obvious: This name stuck out!

Previous US Presidents have had Protestant names, save for John F Kennedy, but Barack Hussein Obama!?

That, too, when America's two biggest enemies in recent times -- Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden -- had components in their names that reminded of Barack's.

The jokes from certain quarters were endless. And, at times, it went beyond joking, in a deliberate attempt to scare voters by playing to fears of Obama's 'otherness'.

But the candidate wrested control of the issue and used it to form part of his unique, post-partisan narrative of hope and change, which eventually led him to the White House.

Well played, President Obama.


Image: US President Barack Obama poses with Nigerian President Goodluck E Jonathan
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters
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Hard leaders, soft names

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The name of Jose Socrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa, who is prime minister of Portugal and leader of its Socialist Party, follows the traditional Portuguese pattern: two given names, two family names.

And while Jose, derived from the biblical name Joseph, is standard enough in heavily Catholic Portugal, his second name is quite compelling: Socrates, the Greek philosopher forced by the Athenian state to consume poisoned hemlock for corrupting the city's youth.

 


Image: Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates Carvalho Pinto de Sousa
Photographs: Eric Vidal/Reuters
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Hard leaders, soft names

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O le Ao o le Malo is the position held by Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi, Samoa's chieftain and head of state. Taken all together, it's quite a mouthful, but mercifully the leader goes by Tupuola Efi in his public duties. And how about Samoa's second-in-command, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi?

King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck of Bhutan has an awfully long name to be running such a tiny nation!


Image: King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck of Bhutan with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: Jay Mandal
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Hard leaders, soft names

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And Mswati III, of Swaziland, has an awfully short one to be running a country.

But, turns out, he actually changed his name to Mswati III when he took over as leader, in honour of Mswati II, a 19th century Swazi warrior king and national icon. Meanwhile, who would think such a short name would carry with it such potential for progeny? Mswati III reportedly has fourteen wives and 23 children.

Finally, there's just something poetic about Oqil Oqilov, the name of Tajikistan's prime minister.

And closer home, Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin was named after former USSR premier Joseph Stalin, who died just four days after 'Baby Stalin' was born.


Image: Swaziland's King Mswati III
Photographs: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
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