36 Wives and the Ambassador


A few days ago, I introduced you to Said (pronounced Sigh-eed) Zahouani, “my chauffeur” who lives in London.  Jim and I spent a lovely day with Said, who literally “saved the day.”  It went from a really bad day to a wonderful treat.  Not only did he take us wonderful places, he was just so nice and friendly.  We chatted and one topic led to another and we talked, of course, about families and DNA testing.  I mean, did you expect anything else?

I love to learn about other cultures, and Said was born in Morocco.  The farthest back he knew was about his grandfather, who never left Morocco.  I asked him how people in Morocco obtained last names – in relation of course to Y DNA testing – and he told me a fascinating story.

Said’s last name, Zahouani, was his grandfather’s nickname.  His grandfather’s nickname meant “womanizer” in Morocco, in the native language.

Why was that his nickname?

Because he had 36 wives.

Yes, I said 36 wives.

No, that is not a typo.

The first thing I thought of was a harem, but no, Said said his grandfather did not have a harem.  He was married 36 individual times, to 36 different women attempting to have a male heir.  His 36th wife indeed succeeded in producing such, Said’s father.

Yes, I did the math.

No, I didn’t ask….

But I had questions, so many questions, that I just couldn’t bring myself to ask….like, for example….how did he keep their names straight???  Did he refer to them as “my 25th wife?”

I remember all too clearly my bigamist relative (who got caught, twice no less) whose two wives had the same first name and the terrible jokes the rest of the family made about that….but I digress.

What did Said’s grandfather’s family think of this?  Were there female children?  Did he get divorced between marriages?  Moroccan culture permits multiple marriages, generally up to 4, so long as the first wife gives permission, although today this traditional way-of-life has pretty much gone by the wayside in Morocco.  And 36 is a lot more than 4.

Which begs another question. How, simply how, does one convince 36 women to do this?  I mean, maybe the first and second weren’t too tough….but how do you convince number 20, or 30, or 36?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I figure either Said’s grandfather was phenomenally wealthy, incredibly handsome or unbelievably silver-tongued, or maybe all three.

No, I simply couldn’t bring myself to ask.  But just think of how many people he might be able to DNA test.

Needless to say, I was fascinated, both with the idea of 36 wives and also by the fact that his grandfather’s nickname then became the family surname.  I thought I had heard just about every type of surname acquisition story in existence by now, but I was obviously wrong!

Said is fascinated too.  He is going back to Morocco to find out more about his ancestors and to preserve this heritage for his children and grandchildren.  He is interested in DNA testing as well and what additional ancestral information it might hold.  I told him I’m guessing he’s E1b1b1 – given that this haplogroup is so prevalent in Morocco – but he might be something else quite exotic.  I’d love to know, and so would he.

So I left Said that evening, thinking I would never see him again.  We exchanged cards.  However, that was not the case, because a few days later, our plans for getting from London to Dover failed to materialize and not wanting to repeat our London arrival experience, we called Said once again who personally came to drive us to Dover.

He also forgave me for spilling my coffee in his beautiful black Mercedes.  The man is a Saint, I swear.  And a very gracious one as well.  And he didn’t even say Bloody Hell.  I, on the other hand, was utterly mortified….

On the way to Dover, we had the opportunity to chat once again, and he took me to another quilt shop too, on the way, even after I spilled my coffee.  He had told his friends and family about DNA testing and several are interested.

I had told several people about Said as well.

As I’ve thought about this experience, I’ve realized a few things.

First, we are all ambassadors, whether we realize it or not.  What we say and do reflects not only on us, but what we represent – be it a country, a culture, our family, a product, an employer or our passion.  We either influence people positively or negatively, all of the time, whether we realize it or not.  All of us reading this are ambassadors for genetic genealogy.

Second, there is always an interesting story just waiting to be found.  Just ask.  After all, how many people do you know whose grandfather had 36 wives???

Third, sometimes a bad day really isn’t a bad day.  The day with Said was the best day we had in London.  And yes, angels do walk among us, or maybe come to fetch us with their contemporary flying carpet, a black Mercedes.

Said's Mercedes

Said’s and his company are waiting to serve people in London and onto the continent through the Chunnel as well.  I’ve suggested to Said that he put together a “Quilt Tour” for London visitors and I’ll be sending him quilt shop information.  I introduced him to shop owners as well as we threaded our way through London.  I would feel absolutely safe with this man anyplace, with or without my husband.  I’d send him to retrieve my daughter, or granddaughter, without a second thought.  In fact, I’d insist that he retrieve them!  There are 25,000 other cab drivers in London and I’m convinced that not one is as good as Said!!!

So, if you’re planning a visit to London, please call Said.  He can turn a bad day into a good one and he will rescue you from whatever pickle you are in.  What a wonderful ambassador!

Here is his contact information:

Inside UK Phone: 07 930 133 584

Outside UK Phone: 004479 30 13 35 84

Personal e-mail: saidzahouani@hotmail.com

And no, by the way, this is not a paid commercial.  It’s called a “good turn” and paying it forward.  You just never know when you might need to be rescued in London.  Maybe at the Who Do You Think You Are Conference held each winter???

Maybe, if we are lucky, in a future story we’ll see what Said’s DNA has to say about his ancestors!  If you see him, ask him, and tell him the DNA Lady said hello!!!  He’s entirely too much a gentleman to say anything about that spilled coffee in his car….but I guarantee you…he’ll remember me!!!  Knowing Said, he’ll just smile and say something very gracious:)



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24 thoughts on “36 Wives and the Ambassador

  1. Okay, now I read this blog and looked up the New Paltz website and here I go, off on another search. I found my family name on the list of family names, but we were not protestant, we are catholic. Now what? Very interesting blog Roberta.

    • One of mine was listed as Catholic too, in London. It’s amazing that he was allowed to continue to America, but he was. Look at it this way, all protestant families were once Catholic, at least in Europe:)

      • Thank you for posting that great story. It would interesting to hear the results of any DNA testing he has done. You may find this of interest….not all Christians in Europe were originally Catholic at one time. Check out the Waldensians.
        Can’t wait for you next article.

  2. Wonderful! I didn’t see how the previous story could get any better. My German “son” married a woman whose parents came to Germany from Morocco. The couple has traveled to both London and Morocco since they have been married. Her sister lived in London for several years, I think. I will definitely pass this story along to them.

  3. Roberta, begging in advance for your forgiveness may I lightly chastise and suggest that you never post anyone’s email address publicly in a format that can be easily read by software? Data miners scan websites thousands of times a month looking for email addresses. My own blog and websites have been hit many times. I first noticed an increase in SPAM to my inbox when my email address was posted on some of my websites. I discovered a way around it (at least until the data miners figure it out). I put spaces either side of the at (“@”) symbol. That way my email address can’t simply be cut/pasted into a database by some automatic software. You can also use other formatting tricks such as me-at-mywebsite.com. -With apologies, ronv @ ronv.net.

    • Hi Ron,

      You know, I used to worry about that, but my e-mail is all over the internet, literally, on rootsweb lists and such, which are all freely accessible, so I don’t worry about this. I do get spam, but I also have a spam filter which is pretty effective. I did ask him in advance. I always do before publishing anything. Having said that, I do appreciate all feedback and your taking the time do so, and will keep that in mind as an option for people. Good idea.


  4. I’ll be in London in February to attend Who Do You Think You Are Live with my mom. She can’t walk very far so I’m definitely going to call him and ask him to show us around!

  5. Another great story, thanks. “On the way to Dover, we had the opportunity to visit once again”. The verb ‘to visit’ Roberta and I have discussed before because I was absolutely thrown the first time around. Here in England ‘to visit’ means to physically travel somewhere to meet someone or to see a place. In America ‘visit’ apparently simply means to talk to someone even if you are already next to them. I hope I got that right.

    • Hi Trevor,

      It can mean either here. But yes, in this context, I mean while we were in the car. What would you say in England to convey this?

      These articles have really been a quite interesting language lesson.

      Thanks much,

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed Said’s story — makes my 5 times married in-law seem like a mere dilettante! Would imagine the alimony laws were quite different in Morrocco at that time 😉

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  8. Bobbi, passing his info to Houston…since I hear that 4 (maybe) are coming this year to WDYTYA…Thanks Cuz as usual for a great story..

  9. Exactly what Derrell said…another great post, Roberta! Your ability to weave together science, travel, a personal story AND support a fellow entrepreneur is rare. Reading this made me laugh out loud and left me feeling like I was right there visiting with you among the spilled coffee and quilts. I just added Said’s info to my London database because you can never have too many word-of-mouth-recommended Mercedes-driving tour guides ;p Muchisimas gracias for always keeping it real and really fun, interesting, and informative. Season’s greetings to you and your global DNA-Explained family as you continue relishing the rest of your travels.

  10. Nicknames can indeed become surnames.. I can give the example of the Cox surname as it relates to those most likely bearing the Hg I L161 SNP from County Roscommon in Ireland. In Gaelic, the Cox surname is Mac an Choiligh which is literally Son of the Cockerel which should normally become MacCockerel but this surname is unknown to me. Cocks spelt with X is probably the best way to disguise the origin of the surname.

    Other surnames from this area are:
    Ganley/Shanley, son of the Old Warrior
    Keaveney, son of the Hostage
    Mulvihill, the devotee of Michael or possibly the son of Bald Michael

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  14. I am so glad I read this. I missed it the first time. I’ll probably never get to England but would look for Said if I did.

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