There are many anecdotes on the origin of the name Dabdoub. To date, though, there does not seem to be any evidence of any documented and confirmed source for such origin. Hence, all anecdotes are based on what is known oral history.
In any case, and regardless of which of these anecdotes is the correct and most accurate one, it would still be interesting to learn about all these anecdotes, some of which are somewhat humorous.
Below, I will try to give an account of each of these anecdotes as I got to learn them from my father and from his father and mother before him.
The Dabdoub family belongs to the third largest clan of Bethlehem calledTarajmeh. Some two centuries ago and up to recently, the Tarajmeh lived in one part of the old city of Bethlehem in a quarter or neighborhood (hara) called “haratal-tarajmeh”: the Tarajmeh quarter or neighborhood.
That same neighborhood used to be inhabited by many families from the same clan in what may be called a hosh. For example all of the Dabdoub families used to live in one hosh (called Hosh al-Dabdoub). Next to it was Hosh Mickel, inhabited by the many Mickel families and so on. All these small hwashconstituted what was called harat al tarajmeh or the Tarajmeh neighborhood.
Origins of the Tarajmeh:
Little debate goes around what is believed to be the origin of the Tarajmeh clan. There seems to be some consensus among the Tarajmeh on the following story, as told by Abraham Dabdoub in one of his emails to Marcel Dabdoub on May 1, 2000:
Let me share some of what I had heard from the older generation of Dabdoubs.
From what I am made to understand the family's name was not originally Dabdoub. I am told that during the crusades two Italian Noblemen were sent by the then Pope to take back the Holy Land from the Mohammedans. These two brothers were from a family named "Monteforte".
After Bethlehem was conquered by the Christian soldiers these two brothers were ordered by the Pope to stay in Bethlehem and safeguard the Holy Places. They married two local girls (some people say Jewish Girls) and lived in Bethlehem where the house was in front of the Church of the Nativity. The house was a two-storey house and one brother lived in the upper floor and the other on the lower floor. They say the Coat of Arms of the Monteforte showed a man with his foot on a dead bear and a sword and shield in his hand. The local people would refer to the House where they lived as the house of the "Killer of the Bear". That they say is where the name Dabdoub originated as in Arabic the name means "Killer of the Bear".
As the family grew houses were built next to the main house and most Dabdoubs lived in front of the Church of the Nativity. The family became guides to the Holy Places and spoke several languages. This I believe because my father who did not go to College but who finished High School spoke Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and German. His brother Uncle John also spoke Arabic, English, French, Spanish and Italian. I understand that some Dabdoubs even spoke Russian and Greek as well.
The place where they all had houses was compulsorily acquired by the Jordanian Government in about 1957 and converted to a great parking lot (which it still is) in front of the Church of the Nativity.
I have been trying to determine how much of this is legend and how much can be proven but in any case it does give one a feeling of a great ancestral heritage. The Dabdoubs are very much a strong Catholic Family with a strong Catholic Heritage (....)"
From what I know, the story is a bit different as Abraham specifies that these two brothers were the originators of the Dabdoub family whereas they must have been the originators of the Tarajmeh clan, from which later on the Dabdoub and other families came about.
My story of the origin of the Tarajmeh goeas as follows:
It seems that in the fifteenth century AD, two Italian brothers from the region of Monteforte in Italy, and while on pilgrimage to Bethlehem, decided to reside in the then-small town. Their aim was to learn the Arabic language and work as translators to the Italian pilgrims (possibly the only pilgrims to the Holy Land at the time) who used to come and visit the birth and place of crucifixion an burial of Jesus (the Church of nativity in Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.)
And so the two brothers achieved their purpose and became residents ofBethlehem working as translators as they had once wished.
In the beginning, the Bethlehemites used to address these two foreign strangers (probably because their names were too difficult to pronounce at the time) with their craft or trade, the translators: al tarajmeh.
During their stay in the town, it was inevitable that the two tarajmeh would come in contact with the locals of Bethlehem, and so each one apparently wooed and married a talhamiyeh, from which they must have had some children… and these children must have also been the sons of tarajmeh, hence tarajmeh themselves.
And so the stories goes that these two brothers lived happily (but not ever after) with their wives and children under one same roof in some part of the old town of Bethlehem.
Some years later, the two tarajmeh brothers had a row and decided that they should live separately. And so they built a second upper floor to the one-floor house they used to reside in. Each of the brothers then moved into each of the floors having a upper and a lower turjmani.
The children of the two brothers then got married and bore more tarajmehwho bore even more of the same.
For generations, the offspring belonged and had loyalty either to the upper or to the lower family. With time, the Tarajmeh became obviously split into the upper and the lower hara (neighborhood). And so, each of these two neighborhoods had their own families.
Families of the Tarajmeh Clan
Following are the families of the tarajmeh clan in Bethlehem (as provided by the Latin Parish of Bethlehem), some of which have totally disappeared from the city:
Abu Al Arraj, Abu Fheileh, Abu Jaber, Abu Khalil, Batarseh, Comandari, Dabdoub, Daoud, D'ek, Fleifel, Jabriyeh, Jad'on, Karmi, Mansour-Abu Khalil, Mikel, Mikel-Madalena, Mikel-Tawil, Mubarak, Rock, Sabat, Sara, Sem'an, Suwadi, Tabash, Talamas, Taroud, and Zmeiri
The Dabdoub Family:
As mentioned earlier, the origin of the name Dabdoub has not yet been confirmed. But the many stories about the origin of the name are summarized hereunder.
Before I do, however, it has to be noted that the word Dabdoub in Arabic literally means bear cub, or baby bear. Another point worth noting is that many families of the area are derived from animals (Dabdoub, Sarsour—later changed to Sansour—, Far); from fruit and vegetables (Kousa, Faqouseh, Baqleh, Ballout); and from professions (Qanawati, Qattan, Raheb)
Back to the Dabdoub name, and to the first story behind the name: a story that my father believes strongly in and which he tells in a very sarcastic way.
It is said that the first ancestor of the family used to have a very heavybuilt. When he walked, he had a slow pace but a very heavy stomp on the ground; and he used to tilt left and right really heavily. The name came about after some apparent prank-loving youngsters characterized him as “walking like a bear (dib)”; but later the nickname was softened to refer instead to the baby bear (dabdoub) to avoid insult to the man and his family.
The second story has somewhat a different and highly improbable twist to the origin of the name. As a young child, I used to hear it attentively and with great concern from my paternal grandmother, Faridah, who made it seem very credible at the time.
So it goes that this ancestor of ours was very poor in the start of his career working as a translator. There were months, especially during the summer, when there was what we call today in tourism “low season” when pilgrims were a scarce item in Bethlehem. During those dead seasons, our translator would go to the fields and simply do nothing. When he got hungry, the story goes, he would kneel and uproot whatever available herbs he would find in front of him, in the hope he could get a little of what a locally famous edible plant called “Asaat al Ra’i” (the shepherd’s cane) would give him.
And so with the different kinds of herbs lying in front of him, he would stomp the ground so hard with his hands allowing the heavy sought-after fruit to jump higher than the rest of the herbs, and so he would be able to see where the fruit would then fall so he could collect it and eat it.
In colloquial Arabic, the act of heavily stomping the ground is called “dabdabeh” and the person doing this act could easily be called a “dabdoub”.
A more notorious story has to do with the character, rather than either the walk or behavior of our translator. People who want to bad mouth the Dabdoub family usually use this story.
In Arabic, the phonetic letter “d” and the equivalent to the phonetic diphthong “th” (as in “the”) are very close and in certain cases are used interchangeably especially in the colloquial dialect. At the same time, the Arabic word “muthabthab” literally means “double-faced”.
And so it seems that our translator ancestor must have been a muthabthabof some kind and hence the nick name thabthoub. Furthermore, and since the two Arabic letters “d” and “th” are interchangeable, and in order to sometimes avoid any insult to the man himself, the nickname would be softened to dabdoub.
Variation in the pronounciation:
Until this very day, people often write my last name in Arabic in the form of “Thabthoub” since what differs the two letters in written Arabic is that the “th” is a “d” with a dot on top.
Dabdoub or Abu Fheileh:
In any case, my father tells me that the name Dabdoub was introduced to the Tarajmeh clan around the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. Before that, the family’s original name was Abu Fheileh, and the reason for the shift is still unknown although the family name Abu Fheileh still exists to this date.