There was some bizarre and frankly inappropriate attention paid over the weekend to the origins of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s first name, which I wrote about here. Purely for the vocabulary, without trying to make any strange or arcane connection between his name and his alleged acts, I thought Dzhokhar’s name should get some attention as well. This took me a few days because I didn’t put together what seems to be a very particularly Chechen transliteration with the original Persian word, but it turns out to be a word that I like quite a bit, because it perfectly illustrates the historical flow of vocabulary between Persian and Arabic.
“Dzhokhar,” written that way, looks like it was transliterated from a Persian word spelled ژوخَر or ژوخار, or something like that, but no such word exists in any Persian dictionary I can find. It wasn’t until I Googled “Dzhokhar meaning,” thinking that it was some Caucasian or Central Asian Turkic name, that Wikipedia schooled me. “Dzhokhar” is a transliteration of the Chechen Dʒouxar, or the Russian Джохар, which derive from the Arabic/Persian جَوهَر (jawhar). In Persian it means “essence,” “substance,” and “ink” (as a compound verb, جَوهَر کَردَن means “to ink”).
The reason I like this word so much is that it is an Arabic loanword of a Persian loanword, meaning it came into Persian via Arabic after first going into Arabic via Persian. The original Persian word is actually گَوهَر (gawhar), meaning “jewel” or “essence.” Presumably, at some point (I think pre-Islam, because I think the word appears in pre-Islamic Arab poetry, although those were only written down post-Islam so who knows?) Arabs picked up this word from the Persians, but changed the first consonant to a “j” sound (see my Arabic blog for more detail). Later, presumably after the Arab armies had conquered Iran and destroyed the Persian Empire, جَوهَر was incorporated into Persian as a new loanword, but with the emphasis on the meaning of “essence” since گَوهَر was still used to mean “jewel.”