Abdullah? Or Abdullah Abdullah?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 4 2002 5:42 PM

Abdullah? Or Abdullah Abdullah?

Some news sources, including the Washington Post and the Associated Press, refer to the Afghan foreign minister as "Abdullah" or "Abdullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name." Others, including the New York Times, refer to him as "Abdullah Abdullah." Why the discrepancy?

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Because the two camps don't agree on the Afghan foreign minister's preference. Both claim they are honoring his wishes. The man visited the Washington Post in 1997 and introduced himself as "Dr. Abdullah" with just one name. "That was how we got started down that track, and we didn't see any reason to change," the Post's deputy foreign editor says.

The New York Times foreign desk, on the other hand, is convinced that he prefers "Abdullah Abdullah." Here's the paper's logic, according to an e-mail from Assistant Managing Editor Allan M. Siegal, co-author of the paper's stylebook:

Officials in the Afghan embassy in Washington, the Afghan consulate in New York, and one of his top aides in Kabul said the correct name is Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, but it is complicated. Tom Lauria, the director of media relations for the Afghan embassy in Washington, said he was born with one name—Abdullah. But because he is westernized, he prefers to be called by a first name and last name. Staff members in Washington refer to him in official correspondence and introduce him as Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Feridun, an attaché at the Afghan consulate in New York who has one name, said the correct name is Abdullah Abdullah. One of his senior foreign ministry aides in Kabul said the same thing. He prefers to be called Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. In case you are wondering, he is a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist.

That sounds convincing. But Explainer called Feridun at the Afghan consulate in New York and asked him for the name of the foreign minister. Feridun's response: "He uses only one name, and it is Dr. Abdullah."

Who's right? Is it possible that the foreign minister prefers both? Could he be playing an elaborate game with the press? How many licks are there in a Tootsie Roll pop? The world may never know.

(Click here to learn how to spell "Osama," and click here for a "Chatterbox" on the differences between "Afghan" and "Afghani.")

Explainer thanks Feridun of the Afghanistan consulate in New York; Andy Mosher of the Washington Post;Allan M. Siegalof the New York Times; Jack Stokes of the Associated Press; and John McQuaid for asking the question.

Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor for blogs at Yahoo News and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has reviewed video games for Slate, Rolling Stone, and NewYorker.com. Follow him on Twitter.