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Research & Discussion

General biography

Rejected legend

Youth 1888-1914

War service 1914-1918

Diplomacy 1918-1922

Service years 1922-1935

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What does El Aurens" mean?

Enquiry received by email

Is the Arabic epithet, El-Orens, merely a mispronunciation of "Lawrence" or does it have a meaning in the Arabic language?

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Comment by St. John Armitage

Lawrence's name has no Arabic meaning.

As Lawrence himself wrote, he was addressed as "Auruns", "Aurans", "Runs" and "Lurens". The use of different vowels and diphthongs are merely transliterations to help convey what was heard. The sound of the consonants would not differ, but in cases where the "l" is omitted would likely be due to an Arab's hearing - and use - of an unfamiliar western name.

Arab writers simply use "lurans" or /"laurans" (the consonants of both words remain the same) not the Arabic equivalent of El-Orans or El-Lorans.

Those versions of his spoken name almost certainly stem from westerners' unfamiliarity with the sound of the Arabic. From hearing "ya laurans" - Oh! Lawrence" - as "yal-orans". Even plain "laurans" might have seemed to have been pronounced with a faint prosthetic "e" - "elorans". Such distinctions could be better explained by voice mail.

A more accurate transcription of their hearing of his spoken name would be eLorens, the e being an almost indiscernible prosthetic.

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Comment by JR, an Israeli subscriber

I would like to add to St. John Armitage's explanation that the prefix Al or El in Arabic means 'the'. When the Arabs hear Al or El or L, they assume that it is not an integral part of the word or the name. Thus, when the Arabs encountered the name Alexander they assumed that it is actually Al-Eksander and dropped the Al. Alexander later was naturalized in Arabic in the from of Iskandar. Many of you will recognize the Al in words of Arabic origin such as Algebra, Almanac, Alcohol, Alchemy and Admiral which is a twisted version of Amir Al Bahr (the command of the sea) or even Arsenal which comes from the Arabic Dar Al-Sinaah (the house of industry).

So Arabs who heard the name Lawrence took it for "Orens" with the Al prefix.

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Comment by St. John Armitage

JR has further explained how Arabs might have dropped the L/el/al to address Lawrence as Orens or "Aurans" as Lawrence himself noted. However, whereas Al-exander has been arabicised as Iskandar, Lawrence has not been arabicised only transliterated - without prefix or prosthetic - as Lurans/Laurans (depending on vowel or dipthong used).

But all these linguistic interpretations only touch on how El-Orens could have been used orally rather than how or when that form was adopted. I think it was first used in one of the popular fiction accounts, but not one of the better known. Gurney Slade, for instance, used "Lorens", the Korda screenplay "El Lurens", the Lean screenplay "Au-rens". There is no evidence of Arab usage in speech or literature.

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Comment by Jeremy Wilson

I half remember that Lawrence told someone how the Arabs addressed him, and we may also have records in the memoirs of contemporaries (? Young, Rolls, Stirling, Kirkbride, Auda's son on TV?). I don't have time right now to check these things, but if someone can recall them please post.

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Comment by Harold Orlans, USA

"...over the local cries and the shrilling of women came the measured roar of men's voices, chanting, 'Feisal, Nasir, Shukri, Urens', in waves..."

Seven Pillars, 1935 text, 1.xi.18, p. 668

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Comment by Jeremy Wilson

Yes indeed, that occurred to me last night, as did another instance in SP when Lawrence reports a message from another area asking them to 'Send us an Urens' - or words to that effect. No time to search for it now. Given the wild variations of spelling of Arabic words in Seven Pillars, 'Urens' could probably also have been 'Orens' or 'Aurens'.

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