Arabic Names

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Josh_, Feb 20, 2006.

  1. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    I was trying to explain how Arabic names to people who do not speak Arabic and/or do might not have understood how they work. How did I do? Feel free to add and/or make corrections/clarifications.

    The structure of Arabic names can be quite complex, but I will try to give a short, possibly overly simplistic overview. Arabic names can fall into several categories. Some of the categories are:

    1) Teknonymic¹ names (names derived from a child’s name).
    a) Paternal teknonyms
    i. Abu Bakr = Father of Bakr
    ii. Abu Hassan = Father of Hassan
    b) Maternal teknonyms
    i. Umm Kalsuum (a famous Egyptian singer) = Mother of Kalsuum.
    ii. Umm Ahmad = Mother of Ahmad
    2) Patronymic¹ names² (names derived from the father or a male ancestor).
    i. Ibn Saud = Son of Saud
    ii. Ibn Rushd (Averroes (Medieval Muslim Philosopher)) = Son of Rushd
    iii. Bint Omar = daughter of Omar
    3)Matronymic¹ names (names derived from the mother or female ancestor).
    i. Rare
    4) Names that refer to a profession.
    i. Omar al-Khayyam = Omar the tentmaker
    ii. Said al-Haddad = Said the blacksmith
    5) Names that refer to place of origin.
    i. Karim al-Masri = ‘Karim the Egyptian’
    ii. Latifa al-beirutiyya = ‘Latifa from Beirut’
    6) Names from conjugated verbs.
    i. Ahmad = I praise
    ii. Yazid = he increases
    7) Names from participles of verbs
    i. Adil = just; fair
    ii. Mahmoud = praised
    iii. Muhammad = the one who is praised; praiseworthy
    8) Phrasal Names
    i. Saladin (Salaah ad-din) = righteousness of the religion
    ii. Aladdin (‘alaa ad-din) = nobility of the religion
    iii. Abdallah ('abd allah) = servant of God.
    9) Names that are adjectives
    i. Karim = generous
    ii. Said = happy
    iii. Latifa = kind
    iv. Sharif = noble
    ¹ Teknonymic , patronymic, and matronymic names are all referred to as kunya ( كنية ) in Arabic.
    ² Patronymic names are the most common form of Arabic name (at least in modern times). Children (male and female) take the first name of their father. Many times the ‘ibn’ (son of) and ‘bint’ (daughter of) is left out.
    Karim Ahmad would be a child whose name is Karim and whose father’s first name is Ahmad.
    Boutros Boutros Ghali (former Secretary-General of the UN) was actually named after his grandfather, Boutros Ghali. But most of the time, if you ever see an Arab with the same two first names he was named after his father. This is the Arab equivalent of the senior-junior system used here where a child is named after his father (i.e. George Bush Sr., George Bush Jr.).
  2. Heba

    Heba Senior Member

    Coventry, England
    Egypt, Arabic
    Hello Josh :)

    One thing I would like to add is that using or dropping out the word ''ibn'' or ''bint'' differs from one Arabic country to the other. For example, it is commonly used in Morrocco while it is never used in Egypt.

    In Saudi Arabia, it was widely used about 50 years ago, but now it is usually used in official papers (such as high school certificate) to avoid confusion since some people have complex names (اسماء مركبة). (for example, Saad Zaglool is sometimes used as a fiest name of one person, other times Saad is the first name of that person while Zaglool is the name of his father)
  3. SofiaB Senior Member

    English Asia
    Also place names/from: el Iraqi, el Jemi,,el Masri,el Tekriti.
    Profession names Haddad, khoshoji and children بِنْت بْن, اِبْن ولد
    are still in use in some countries.
    tribal beni hassan.
  4. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Are the examples given above (especially by Josh) full names? Do Arabic speakers not have given names?
  5. Slimane New Member

    French from Quebec
    I like the name Slimane (pronounced Sleeman) and I don't know what it means. I chose that nick because I like to pronounce that name.
  6. victoria luz

    victoria luz Senior Member

    Salaam Alaykum,

    I'm an almost absolute beginner of Arabic, so forgive the naivete of my remark:

    I don't see in the list of types of names the ones we are most used to hearing everyday: the composed names Abd-Al-etc ... which category do they fall into?

    Victoria Luz
    (hopeless learner)
  7. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    There's a little bit of everything, Outsider.

    The names under #6, #7, and #9 are all given names. The names under #8 could be given names as well, but the "diin" part would most likely be dropped in everyday usage. The names under #4 and #5 are full names (first and last). The names under #1 and #2 refer to historical and other important figures and are fixed (think "Alexander the Great") - they are not likely to be used today.

    The names given by Sofia are most likely family names.
    "Slimaan" is the colloquial version of "Sulaimaan" (spelled سليمان), which is the Arabic version of the Hebrew name Solomon.

    Glad you like the name. :)
    Welcome to the Arabic forum, Victoria. :)

    You make a good point; Josh's list is by no means comprehensive, though.

    "Abd al-" means "slave of" or "servant of" and is usually followed either by "Allah" or one of the 99 names of God in Islam.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 16, 2016
  8. fatiha Senior Member

    good morning

    like my name is فاتحة
    fatiha is the first surat in the Coran
  9. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    I think they fall in category #8, like Saladin and Ala'uddin... they form a sort of sentence or phrase.
    I prefer translating it as servant or worshipper.
    Not just that, we have also Abd al-MasiiH (servant/worshipper of Jesus).
    Hi Outsider, I know Elroy has answered your question already, but I still have a little problem understanding what you mean by full names and given names ? Could you give examples ?
    Elroy, could you please tell me what these are in Arabic ?

    Thank you both :)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 16, 2016
  10. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    For example, take the full name of a Portuguese politician, José Manuel Durão Barroso.
    The word Durão is a family name which he got from his mother. The word Barroso is a family name from his father's side. These family names are not really his; his sisters and brothers will have them, too. Family names (especially the last one) are the ones by which most people are known in social, formal contexts, after they become adults.
    The two first names, José Manuel, are his own; his siblings have different first names. These two make up his given name, the one most people are known by as children, and later among their friends and family.
    Do Arabic names have these two parts? The examples above gave me the impression that many of them just had a family name (son of X, father of X, etc.)
  11. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Now I understand, thank you very much :)

    As for your question : each person has of course his/her given name, the main difference is that it's a bit rare that a person has two names as given names. For example, my given name is Cherine, we have in the forum Heba and Fatiha... I have a French friend whose name is Marie-Pierre (2 names), it's very very rare that this happens here (at least in Egypt, but I think other Arab countries have the same thing). And when Marie-Pierre was here, every one simply called her Marie, never Marie-Pierre.
    Sometimes a person has two names (but this is mainly with boys), I have an uncle whose name is Mohamed Ahmed, and every body only call him Mohamed, or as the example given by Heba : Saad Zaghloul, I think people would call that person either Saad or Zaghloul, never both (it sounds long) :)

    Also the fact that a person holds both his father's and his mother's family names happens only -as much as I know- in Spain and Portugal (maybe I'm mistaken).
    Here we only carry the name of our fathers. Our mothers carry the names of their fathers :) and so on.

    Furthermore, when a man who is called.. let's say Hosny Mubarak (that's our president) :) this means that his given name is Hosny (actually his name is Mohamed, but as we have so many Mohamed(s) we sometimes call them by their fathers' names) So again he is Hosny and Mobarak is either his father, grand father, great grand father... we can't know for sure, because the usage of family names is not as fixed as in Europe, except with the really big families (big socially or economically, or in number).
    I give my name as Cherine Mahmoud : I'm Cherine, Mahmoud is my father, I rarely use my family name or my grand father's name, and there's no problem with that.
    But this is not the common thing in all the Arab countries.

    Boy ! I spoke a lot, didn't I ? but I hope I didn't confuse you much :D
  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thank you, Cherine, it's much clearer to me now.

    I have another question: :eek:
    Would these count as actual names, or just as nicknames? For example, are they used in official documents?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 16, 2016
  13. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Yes, I have a colleague (more than one actually) whose family name is al-masri (interesting though, they're not from the same family) :)
    Omar al-Khayyam is a very famous Iranian poet
    Foad al-Haddad is a very famous Egyptian poet

    Al-beiruteyya though is not really a family name; it's rather a nickname or something like that, because it's a feminine adjective, if it were her family name her brother would be called al-beiruteyya too, which would sound funny.
  14. victoria luz

    victoria luz Senior Member

    Interesting thread indeed :)

    Now, since someone was asking about given names and full names, I have a similar doubt:

    I noticed that my arab friends tend to identify people (not just their relatives and friends but also famous people like .. players and so on), by their christian/first/given name.

    Now, is this more common in arabic than in other languages? Is it perhaps because most surnames (family names), being not just patronimic but defining the whole of a tribe at times (my friends are from the Gulf, a few of them proud of their badu descent, maybe it makes a difference) wouldn't help much at identifying a person?

    Thanks a lot
  15. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Yes, it's common to identify people by their given names, I don't know why exactly, but this is the way we do it :)
    It's not informal. I know in the West you call a person -for example- Mr. Berlusconi, But here we'd call him Mr. Silvio. (just an example) :D

    We rarely call people by their surname, mainly with famous ones: i.e. presidents (Berlusconi, Bush, Chirac, Mubarak, Arafat...), Famous people (scientists, writers, football players...) for those are well known by their family name.
  16. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Wow. It is nice to start a thread which evoked much discussion.

    Yes, like cherine said, it would fall under category #8 as it is a phrasal name. I should have added that to show a bit of variety.

    Edit: Thanks to all who responded. I will take your questions and responses have been into considerstion if I write an expanded version of Arabic names.

  17. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  18. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    Nice thread Josh. Just want to add an example which as you mentioned is rare, but there is a very famous case:

    In the Qur'an Jesus is referred to as "3iesa bin Maryam" as he has no father.


    Such a name is invalid in Islam, if it exists in Egypt for instance, it would do so outside the bounds of Islam. If you mean by "we" the Muslims, then no we don't use any such name.
  19. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Just a slight correction of the transliteration: he's 3iisa 'bnu Maryam. We don't really pronounce ابن/بن as bin, but as "ibn". As the alef is a hamazat wasl, we say 3issabnu Maryam.
    I didn't think I should point that out. Of course I didn't mean we Muslims, I meant we Egyptians :)
    We Egyptians, and more precisely the Chrisitans among us, have the name عبد المسيح .
    I don't know if 3abd Yasuu3 is used, but a famous Syriac doctor is called bakhtishoo3 بختيشوع and I read very recently that his name means "servant of Jesus" عبد يسوع .

    Some Muslims, in Egypt at least, have the name 3abd en-nabi عبد النبي , but religiously speaking this is equally unacceptable; because 3abd should be followed only by one God's names.
  20. Ikhlas New Member

    Jakarta, Indonesia
    Australia, english
    Ass Wr Wb
    I am a new member to this thread.
    I am currently researching the origins of Arabs in Indonesia. Almost all seem to have come from the Hadhramaut in southern Yemen.

    My question concerns the origin/meaning of many names of the original people of the Hadhramaut (as distinct from the Alawi - those claiming descent from Fatima, daughter to the Prophet and wife of Ali - who apparently immigrated to the Hadhramaut in the 10th Century).

    It seems that many/most families/clans have names such as Bawahab, Basalama, Bafali, etc. The common feature of these names is the "Ba" prefix.

    I would be grateful if members could explain the details of this name construction to me, and what it represents in family/clan/tribal terms (if any).

    Much appreciated,

    Wass., Ikhlas
  21. petsamnam New Member

    Since we are talking about Arabic names rather than Muslim names, we shouldn't forget the Arabic names of Jesus' apostles & others from the bible:
    Boutros (Peter), Boulos (Paul), Issa (Jesus), Morkos (Mark), Hanna (John), Youhanna (Jonathan), Moussa (Moses), Matta (Matthew), Ayyoub (Jacob), etc...

  22. SofiaB Senior Member

    English Asia
    The با ba means "abu father/one of/who does" it is a common feature that identifies a person from hadhramaut.​
  23. faranji Senior Member

    Bahia (Brasil)
    And my favourite: Yahya (John the Baptist) :)
  24. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Youhanna/Yu7anna يوحنا is John. The Gospel of John is إنجيل يوحنا .
    Luke: لوقا Luuqa
    Job: أيوب Ayyuub
    Zechariah: زكريا Zakariyya
    Jonah: يونس Yuunus/Yuunis (for Muslims) and يونان Yuunaan for Christians
    Yahya/Ya7ia يحيى is John, but I'm not sure if it's used by Christians. I think they use Yu7anna more (if not "only").
  25. petsamnam New Member

    My bad.... Jacob is Ya3-oob not Ayyoub. Hanna is used much more commonly than Youhanna in Lebanon.
  26. lightbearer13 New Member

    usa englis
    Can anybody tell me about names in Jordan? Are Patronimic most common?

    My other questions is that I don't understand the concept of naming a person after a child. Could someone explain to me why this is done. I mean you are named before you have children, what is the process? You'll forgive my ignorance on this, but nobody explains the reason for this when citing it. It implies you have to change your name after you have children? Am I insane or is there something I don't understand.
  27. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Hi Lightbearer13,

    You will of course want to wait for those more knowledgeable with this type of naming, but I imagine the parent takes the name of their child (at least in part) in honor of their child or out of pride. Obviously, the parent still has his/her birth given name, but also uses, or maybe exclusively uses, their teknonymic name. As for when the teknonymic name starts to be applied to the parent, it probably varies. Some may not take one until their child is an adult, while others may take one when their child is born and given a name. Again, you will want to wait for more knowledgeable answers.
  28. lightbearer13 New Member

    usa englis
    Thanks Josh,

    I gather from another thread that there are made up kunyas too, out of respect. Maybe somebody can tell me under what conditions would somebody who doesn't have a child yet, would be given this designation, "father of". Thanks to all.
  29. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    I'm not sure about the reasons for this, but some names seem to get "automatic" nicknames:
    Yusuf--> abu ya32uub أبو يعقوب
    Hassan--> abu 3ali أبو علي
    Ibrahim --> أبو خليل

    If you give a closer look, you'll notice that Yusuf is actually the son of ya3quub (Joseph, son of Jacob) the Biblical prophets (also respected by Muslims), Hassan is the son of Aliyy (Hassan is the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed), Ibrahim (the Prophet Abraham) is called in the Qur'an خليل الله (I don't know the exact translation, but it denotes "chosen", "close one")

    I guess other kunyas should also have some "logical" origins.

    By the way, having kunyas before having a son is not a widely used custom in Egypt. I guess it's known more in the Gulf countries.
  30. lightbearer13 New Member

    usa englis
    Thanks Cherine,

    Maybe someone from Jordan or Palestine could tell me when the made up kunya "father of" would be given to someone who doesn't have a child yet.

  31. lcfatima Senior Member

    In a teapot
    English USA
    Lightbearer: I think sometimes people are given a title of Abu + sometype of characteristic they possess, like Abu Khater (Khaater means good,kind???) even if they don't have a kid with that name or a kid at all.

    I have a question: in some places peoples' last/family names are Bu Fulaan or Abu Fulaan or Bin Fulaan. Like this is the whole family or tribal name. So does that mean that they had a patriarch called Bu Fulaan, or how did they all get that name as a last name since these Abu/Bu/Bin names are traditionally first/given names?
  32. lightbearer13 New Member

    usa englis
    Thank you lcfatima,

    That helps me.
  33. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    "Bin" (actually "Ibn") means "son of." So, when someone's family name is "Ibn Fulan", then that means the patriarch's name was "Fulan."

    If the patriarch was known in his time as "Abu Fulan," then his descendents may later carry the family name of "Abu Fulan" or "Bu Fulan." Sometimes the patriarch may have been known by a nickname, like "the tall", "the fat", "the thirsty", the "drunk" (no really), and so his descendents will carry that nickname as their family name. I imagine that that's how it works in many other languages as well.
  34. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Yes, but this is different from being named after a child. In addition to the literal meaning of father and mother, abu and umm, they can also be used as referents, i.e. the one having, the one with. For example:

    feen ir-raagil abu sha3r aHmar?
    Where's the man with red hair?
  35. Abu Bishr Senior Member

    Afrikaans, South Africa
    To the best of my knowledge, the "baa" stands for "banuu / banii" (children of ...), for example, the famous Arabian tribe: بَلْحَارِثِ is actually بنو الحارث (Children of al-Harith). The full name is بلحارث بن كعب . They have a famous lughah or dialect ascribed to them (and some other tribes) called لغة "أكلوني البراغيث" .
  36. SofiaB Senior Member

    English Asia
    You are right Abu Bishr,however, my reply was specific to Hadhramauti names.
  37. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    This is still used in southwestern Arabia (where بلحارث used to reside). It's a contraction of بني with أل التعريف. So, you have the tribes of:

    بالأسمر (pronounced بـلـّسْمَر)
    بالأحمر (pronounced بلــّحْمَر)
    بالحارث (different from the tribe you mention)

    However, in the case of the Hadhrami ba, I don't think it has to do with this phenomenon, and more likely means the same as abu, because it occurs without the أل. Also, some Hadhrami families start with 'bin' (like you know who), so that means ba and bin/bani are distinct. There may be some South Arabian explanation for this, but since I don't know much about South Arabian languages I can't make a judgment on that.

    In Najd you have families that start with aba rather than ba, like آل أبا الخيل, while large tribes still start with bani (e.g. Bani Khalid, Bani Zayd). I don't recall ever hearning of a Najdi family whose name starts with أبو or أبي. So clearly, aba means "father" here and lends credence, in my opinion, to the explanation of Hadhrami ba as "father".
  38. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    While I'm not a native, but I have spent years in several Arab countries and I think I have a good understanding of the culture.

    Abu + something
    Umm + something
    in many Arab countries is a very honorable way of addressing a person, it can also be endearing whether or not the person has a child. If they don't have a child usually someone coins a kunya using a common name and it sticks and people begin referring to the person as Abu 3abdullah for example.

    In some contexts it could be seen as rude, impolite, or presumptuous to call someone by their birth name. In some Gulf countries that is especially so when addressing or speaking about another man's wife. Indeed it takes some feeling your way around to get the hang of this.

    In some regard the practice of having a "stage name" or a "pseudo-name" or a "pen-name", if we were to think of it in those terms, is alot more common in Arab culture than Western society. Those name never replace the person's true birth name, but in some cases they do become quite wellknown, even sometimes no one can recall the person's actual birth name.

    This sort of name is even given to a child, when you want to encourage a child, or make him/her feel more adult-like, you call the boy or girl Abu+fulaan, Umm+fulaana.
  39. columbe1 New Member

    New Zealand/English
    For those cultures where a child will be given a kunya when he doesn't have any children of his own yet, such as in Jordan, he will name his first born son that name when he does have one. For example, that of one of my friends: her father was called Abu Khalid from childhood, so he named his son Khalid... so the kunya doesn't actually change.
  40. xebonyx

    xebonyx Senior Member

    If someone has been a known troublemaker, is name changing common to eliminate the relative's association to her or him?
  41. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    I tend to think that legal name changes are not at all as common as is done here in the US for various cultural/religious reasons.
  42. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    I know two people I grew up with who changed their names.
  43. cute angel Senior Member

    the universe

    I wanna add that in Algeria we rarely or actually we don't use words like OM ahmed or Abuu Ahmed or Bint Ahmed things like that don't exist in Algeria as nick names .May be our names are quiete different from those used in the Middle east especially that we are not pure Arab people we are a mixture of Arab and African (north of Africa) Names like the following are old fashioned names if I can say so;





    Tawoos=طاووس الطائر \ي الريش المزركش



    zwina=زوينة beautiful

    shahrazed=شهرة زاد








    houria=حورية حورية البحر


    and also we have others like Yasmin a kind of roses we have Fairouz safia houda Hanaa

    Ιf you are interested in such names I can make a small research about names that are used here in Algeria I mean origional names because now a days we use new names we use for example Maria or SARA these two names are used because they were names of prophets wives also we have sirine and others.
  44. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    It's extermely rare to have kunya as a child; actualy I've never heard of it. The exception is standard Kunyas (Mohammed<=>Qasim / Waleed<->Khalid / Ali<=>Hassan / Ibrahim<=>Khaleel / Ammar<=>Yasir ...etc.). Usually the Kunya is not given, it's actually chosen as you usually choose the name of your child. If you want, you can make up a kunya, although this is no longer practiced and it's usualy done only by people who lose hope of having children. Another way to get a kunya before you have children is to use your father's name as a kunya. Is your friend's father's given name Waleed?

    Some interesting Kunyas from Iraq:
    If you are a soilder your kunya would be Abu Khaleel, if you are a policeman it would be Abu Ismai'eel, British colonists used to be called Abu Najii.
  45. Martin81 New Member

    [Moderator's Note: Merged with a previous thread]
    Hello everyone,

    I hope it is okay that I post this question here.

    My mother is Danish and my father Arabic. Since I was born and grew up in Denmark my parents decided to give me the following naming set-up: Martin Faris Sawaed Nielsen. Nielsen being my mother's family name, Sawaed being my father's family name. As you can see they decided to give me a Danish/European first name in 'Martin' but then there is 'Faris' which is an arabic/semitic first name. The way it works here in Denmark I basically have one first name, Martin, then two middle names, Faris and Sawaed, and then one family name in Nielsen. But the way my parents thought it up I would have two "sets" of first and family names. Martin Nielsen, and Faris Sawaed. More on that later.

    I recently became a father to a son and my wife and I had settled on a Danish first name and a Danish family name for him. However we both thought it would be nice if he had something to remind him of his Arabic heritage so we wanted to name him 'Faris' as a middle name. Now, however, my father has informed me that it is apparently against Arabic traditions to pass on your own first name and so it would be counter to tradition for me to name my son Faris for his middle name as it is, at least in theory, my own first name (even though in practice here in Denmark it is my middle name, not first name).

    So my question is: can anyone confirm that it is against Arabic naming tradition to pass on a given name to your own children? I haven't been able to google my way toward any sort of answer and I'm not 100 % my father is correct.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 16, 2016
  46. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Welcome to the forum!

    Your father is right, at least if Palestinian naming conventions are representative. What is common, however, is for a father to name his son after his own father. For example, I was named after my grandfather (my father's father).

    I don't know if it's different in other Arab countries, but I don't think I've ever met an Arab male who had his own father's name.
  47. Martin81 New Member

    Thanks a lot for your reply! Would you say it's somehow faux pas? Like something that would considered ridiculous or even insulting? Or is it more a case of "that's a bit quaint but to each his own"?
  48. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    It would be considered very strange. It would be like giving both of your sons the same name.
  49. Martin81 New Member

    Thanks again!
  50. bejl1 New Member

    But hasn't your father already "broken" the tradition by naming his son after his mother?

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