Beyoncé and Jay-Z Named Their Child Rumi. Here's What to Know About the History Behind the Name

Jul 14, 2017

Weeks after the twins were born, Beyoncé and Jay-Z finally confirmed on Friday, via Beyoncé's Instagram account, that they have named the new additions to their family Rumi and Sir Carter.

While "Sir" may call to mind a wide range of knights in armor, the name Rumi summons just one individual from history: Jalal ad-din Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet whose work has remained beloved for hundreds of years. And, as it turns out, if the life of that original Rumi is any indication, the name is an appropriate one for a child in such a musical family.

Rumi was a follower of Sufism, a mystical Islamic movement, and believed that the world was a "tomb" that separated the soul from the divine. He taught followers (dervishes, a word that meant "beggars") that to release this "imprisoned spirit," they should dance with "reed flutes, drums, and tambourines," as TIME reported in a 1972 review of a performance by disciples of the movement at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Through music and movement, they connected the spiritual world to the world of mankind.

The poet's was a bold, risky perspective, developed at a time that wasn't conducive for free expression. He was a refugee, who fled from his birthplace in Afghanistan and found refuge in the city of Iconium (Konya in modern-day Turkey). "No other poet found such ecstasy in daily wonderment, in song, in vision, in wine, in dance and most important, in friendship," TIME explained in a 1999 feature on the most influential people in history, which dubbed him "mystic of the [13th] century."

Jawid Mojaddedi, an expert on Rumi at Rutgers, once described him as "an experimental innovator among the Persian Poets."

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It is said that after the murder of his close companion, a mystic named Shams of Tabriz, Rumi first realized the potential of the spiritual level of life, as TIME explained in 2002 when his work experienced a resurgence in popularity:

It was in the wake of this experience that Rumi's formidable output of poetry began: a catalog that in its surviving form runs to a dozen thick volumes. Rumi's masterpiece, the Mathnawi, is a fantastical, oceanic mishmash of folktales, philosophical speculation and lyric ebullience in which the worldly and the otherworldly, the secular and the sacred, blend constantly. For Rumi, the universe is like a tavern where people, drunk with desire and longing, collect and carouse until they finally remember their true calling: return to an Islamic God whose all-encompassing love is the core of every earthly love from the most trifling to the deepest and most passionate. "Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?" Rumi had asked. "I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there."

The man most responsible for Rumi's popularity in the West today is Coleman Barks, a poet and retired professor of English at the University of Georgia. Humble and soft-spoken, Barks acknowledges that his translations are often far from exact renditions of the Farsi of Rumi's day, which in any case he doesn't speak. To create them, he has used literal translations provided by others. Barks' emphasis on poetic essence over linguistic exactitude owes a strong debt to earlier poet-translators like Robert Bly, Kenneth Rexroth and Ezra Pound who championed a style of direct, aggressively unacademic translation. Following their example, Barks was able to create an American Rumi: one who speaks across the centuries with a voice as direct and imperative as a tug on the shirt:

Muhammad rode his horse through the nightsky. The day is for work. The night for love. Don't let someone bewitch you. Some people sleep at night.

But not lovers. They sit in the dark and talk to God, who told David, Those who sleep all night every night And claim to be connected to us, they lie.

The God Rumi speaks of in his poems — or at least in Barks' translations of them — is one who seemingly has little interest in the intricacies of orthodoxy and doctrine. "Rumi keeps breaking the mosque and the minaret and the school," Barks told National Public Radio last year. "He says when those are torn down, then dervishes can begin their community. So he wants us all to break out of our conditioning, be it national or be it religious or be it gender based."

Rumi scholars, the piece explained, often noted that modern interest in Rumi and his spiritual ideas tended to gloss over the Islamic moorings of his philosophy. But, as was undeniably the case when Barks' translation of Rumi sold hundreds of thousands of copies — or when Madonna combined translations of his words with music for Deepak Chopra's 1998 album A Gift of Love: Music Inspired by the Love Poems of Rumi, or when a potential Rumi biopic is discussed — something in his verses speaks to many people all over the world and across the centuries.

And now, with the introduction of baby Rumi, that list of followers has grown by at least one more.

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