Arabic Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Mauritania, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and the language of religion for Muslims.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]


Surnames[edit | edit source]

Because so many components can be used (or not) in a name, the same man may be called:

Ahmad Husain
Ahmad Husain Muhammad
Ahmad bin Husain bin Muhammad
Ahmad Husain Muhammad ibn Sa’ud AL-TIKRITI
Ahmad Husain AL-TIKRITI
Abu Muhammad Ahmad Husain
Abu Muhammad (unlikely on official documents)

Basic Components[edit | edit source]

Assume a man is called Saleh ibn Tariq ibn Khalid al-Fulan.

  • Saleh is his personal name, and the one that his family and friends would call him by.
  • ibn and bin translates as "son of";;;, so Tariq is Saleh's father's name.
  • ibn Khalid means that Tariq is the son of Khalid, making Khalid the grandfather of Saleh.
  • al-Fulan would be Saleh's family name.

Hence, Saleh ibn Tariq ibn Khalid al-Fulan translates as "Saleh, son of Tariq, son of Khalid; whom is of the family of al-Fulan."

The Arabic for "daughter of" is bint. A woman with the name Fatimah bint Tariq ibn Khalid al-Goswami translates as "Fatimah, daughter of Tariq, son of Khalid; whom is of the family al-Goswami."

If Saleh marries a wife (who would keep her own maiden, family, and surnames), their children will take Saleh's family name. Therefore, their son Mohammed would be called Mohammed ibn Saleh ibn Tariq al-Fulan. [1]

Al- or El-[edit | edit source]

  • A family name frequently begins with AL-, or EL-, e.g. AL-QADHAFI,nbut the family name can also be written without it, i.e. QADHAFI.
  • Some family names are derived from geographical place names, e.g. AL-TIKRITI (from Tikrit), AL-BAGHDADI (from Baghdad), AL-MASRI (‘the Egyptian’), and can indicate a family’s origins.


Even More Components[edit | edit source]

The following components may also be included in a full version of an Arabic name:

a. ancestral name: derived from an honoured ancestor, this name typically begins with Al- or ibn: e.g. Al-Husain, ibn Sau’d;
b. honorific title as parent: Abu… (N. Africa Bu / Bou) meaning ‘father of…’ and Umm… meaning ‘mother of…’ can be added to the beginning of a name in conjunction with the name of the individual’s eldest child, usually the eldest son:
Abu Muhammad - ‘father of Muhammad’
Umm Muhammad - ‘mother of Muhammad’.
c. "Abu" can also be used as part of a name to signify possession of a quality or feature, e.g. Abu al-Fadl (‘father of merit’).

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • An Arab typically has just one personal name. This may be simple, e.g. Husain, Muhammad, or may be a compound.
  • Compound names should not be separated, e.g:
  • a. names beginning with Abd / Abd al / Abdul (‘servant/servant of’) combined with one of the names of Allah (‘God’): e.g.
Abd Ullah / Abdullah
Abd al-Rahman / Abdul-Rahman
Abd al-Aziz / Abdul-Aziz;
  • b. names ending in al-din / ad-din / el-din / eddin / uddin (‘of the religion’): e.g. Noor-al-din / Nooreddin;
  • c. names ending in -allah (‘God’): e.g. Habiballah / Habib-allah.

Arab Christian[edit | edit source]

To an extent Arab Christians have names indistinguishable from Muslims, except some explicitly Islamic names, e.g. Muhammad. Some common Christian names are:

  • Arabic versions of Christian names (e.g. saints' names: Buṭrus for Saint Peter).
  • Names of Greek, Armenian, and Aramaic or Neo-Aramaic origin.
  • Use of European names, especially French, Greek and, to a lesser extent, Spanish ones (in Morocco). This has been a relatively recent centuries-long convention for Christian Arabs, especially in the Levant. For example: Émile Eddé, George Habash, Charles Helou, Camille Chamoun.
  • Names in honor of Jesus Christ:
  • Abd al-Yasuʿ (masc. ) / Amat al-Yasuʿ (fem.) ("Servant of Jesus")
  • Abd al-Masiḥ (masc.) / Amat al-Masiḥ (fem.) ("Servant of the Messiah")
  • Derivations of Maseeḥ ("Messiah"): Masūḥun ("Most Anointed"), Amsāḥ ("More Anointed"), Mamsūḥ "Anointed" and Musayḥ "Infant Christ". The root, M-S-Ḥ, means "to anoint" (as in masah) and is cognate to the Hebrew Mashiah.

Muhammad[edit | edit source]

Such is the popularity of the name Muhammad throughout parts of Africa, Arabia, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia, it is often represented by the abbreviation "Md.", "Mohd.", "Muhd.", or just "M.". In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, due to its almost ubiquitous use as a first name, a person will often be referred to by their second name:

  • Md. Dinar Ibn Raihan
  • Mohd. Umair Tanvir
  • Md. Osman

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Arabic name", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_name, accessed 9 March 2021.