What’s in a Name II

In my previous post thinking about a name for our baby, I mentioned a website for Muslim names.

Now, what exactly is a Muslim name? Let’s take a look at a few websites listing Muslim names. Most of the names on these sites are Arabic names with some Persian and a few Turkish names as well.

This seems like the general naming pattern in Pakistan where Arabic and Persian names are quite common.

However, why should we restrict Muslim status to Arabic, Persian or Turkish names? One website seems to be even more restrictive, prohibiting even Persian and Turkish names as “foreign.” Why are Persian or Arabic names Muslim while Indonesian (which is the largest Muslim country) ones are not considered Islamic by some Muslims? What about Berber names? Or African ones?

Why should we consider Arabic names Islamic? After all, Arabs of all religions share those names. Arabic names have spread over wherever Arabs ruled as well as in other Muslim lands, but one can still not tell a Muslim or Christian Arab apart by their given name in general. An example of the cultural and ethnic origins of names is that Pejman Yousefzadeh’s grandfather was named Abdollah. Pejman’s family is from Iran and he’s Jewish, but his paternal grandfather’s name is Arabic and means “Allah’s slave.”

I think names follow culture, language and ethnicity. A few names are based on religious figures and hence could be said to belong to a religion, but most are not.

Consider Biblical names. Quite a few Biblical names are common among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yochanan, Ioannes, Johannes, John, Jean and Yahya are different versions of the same name in different languages. Why should we consider Yahya, the Arabic version, as the only Muslim one of this list?

Let’s look at the practice of the Prophet Muhammad in this matter. There is no record of him renaming people who accepted Islam to distinguish them from pagans, Christians or Jews. The only examples I know of where Muhammad changed someone’s name was either because the name was derogatory or was of the form “slave of X.” Here is what Muslim Baby Names says on the topic:

The name must be meaningful. “You will be called by your name on the day of judgment” this is another reason why it is important to chose a name with good meaning. The prophet was very particular about it and he always changed names that were derogatory. An example is that he changed Aasiyah (disobedient) into Jameelah (beautiful).

A child must not be given the name of Allah unless it is compounded with Allah. According to a Hadith the worst of men on the day of judgement will be one who is called Shahinshah. only Allah Ta’ala is king of kings or Shahinshah; Kingdom belongs to him alone

Further parents must make sure that the names they select signify servitude to Allah alone and to no one else. They must not append bondage even to the name Nabi. Names that reflect love or romance must not be used either. The Prophet has suggested names of the Prophets or Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. He has said,

“Keep the names of the noble Prophets, Allah loves most the names Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. The most truthful names are Harith and Humam, while the most disliked are Harb and Murrah (war and bitter).”

I am always surprised at Muslim converts who change their names at the time of their conversion. I see no need for it.

Next: The struggle for last names.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

43 thoughts on “What’s in a Name II”

  1. Your post reminded me of the hell we went through last October in naming our son – he was Baby Boy for 5 days after his birth. The issues were the same. My parents chose a 12 syllabus, proto-Arabic name that expounded on several sifa’at of Allah and was not too sympathetic to our small conditions:
    1. The name exist as a meaningful word in more than one language
    2. It be short
    3. Americans could pronounce a semblance of it.

    The argument for choosing Arabic names is actually a recent phenomenon (outside of Arabia). It never has caught up in Iran or other Muslim parts. It was in the 70s that Arab names gained popularity in Pakistan- probably a symptom of wider Arabization in the country (a more severe case is Bangladesh). If you look at the names of people born in the 40s and 50s, they will have persian derived names.
    As for what makes a name “Islamic”? I completely agree with you. Nothing does. Of course, Believers look to their holy books to find names for all things (they are after all words of God) and as such, Muslims look to the Qur’an (which happens to be in Arabic). The other main reason is piety-or-blessing-by-association. For new converts, in Sufi tariqas, this was a common practice to give them a name of a “star” upon conversion which would act as an inspiration as well as reminding others that this non-believer has joined the ranks.
    As a result of the two practices, it has become a cultural norm to re-name a convert (same exists in some Christian sects as well as Jewish traditions).
    Sorry about the long rambling, but your post just touched that sore spot.
    our son is Kavi (poet in sanskrit, strong in arabic).
    good luck

  2. Zack: I agree with you completely.

    Waiting for your next post on last names. My thought is that last names should be used for identification purposes only, i.e. on documents and passports etc. While calling someone, only his/her first name (personal name) should be used. Last name should not become an essential part of one’s name.

    Also I believe there’s no need for any person to change his/her first or last name – except if it’s derogatory – like people do when they convert or some women do after marriage. It seems stupid to me to change one’s name when getting married. What if someone married thrice or four times? She’ll keep changing her last name all her life???

    Anyone wants to throw light on this tradition, how women started to have different maiden and married names?

  3. my dad’s reason for giving his kids unpronounceable arabic names:

    1) they have meanings.
    2) the angel on the door of heaven will recognize you as muslim if you have an arab name.

    lest you think my dad is a total moron, he does have a phd in physical chemistry….

  4. This is exactly why I didn’t change my name when I converted. I don’t have a problem with people changing their name if they want to, but it shouldn’t seem like they have to.

  5. sepoy: I sympathize, it’s a common problem.

    Munira: I’ll try to look up some info on last names for my next post.

    razib: I thought about mentioning the propensity of Bengalis in naming their kids with some nice long flowery Arabic names and then not ever calling them by that name in my post but then decided against it.

    I hope your dad don’t read your comment though. 😉

    Al-Muhajabah: Agreed.

  6. Establishing a balanced name is an essential first step in creating a successful life. Choosing and using a balanced name for a child, harmonizes child’s thinking to the natural qualities of his or her inner potential. Expressing one’s intrinsic qualities brings greater happiness, peace of mind, and success. Thus, the baby’s name should be in harmony with the baby’s inner potential and his/her last name (and/or family name if wished to be kept)

    As I posted my comment earlier (April 9, 2004 12:52 PM), Baby’s name should be simple so that people do not find difficulty in reading or saying it but it should be kept within the desired parameters and should have good meaning. Of course there is no name which will be pronounced correctly by everybody.

  7. What’s in a name? A lot!

    FWIW I think that you should name your kid something that fits in with the dominant culture. (Like Zack, or Amber)

    (….since the baby’s a girl, something like Zoe (Greek for ‘life’)…)

    The child can always express herself by changing her name to something more “authentic”, but you can say to yourself that you didn’t saddle your kid with a name that marked her out as different during early childhood.

  8. When I got my certificate of conversion to Islam from Al Azhar (I had converted several years prior but I got the certificate in case I ever go on Hajj), I asked the imam about the issue of name change (as I did not want to change mine). He said that if my name had no meanign that directly contradicts the Islamic belief system then it is OK to keep it. My name is fine, however he gave the alternate example of suppose you were one of the pre-Islamic Arabians and your name was “Abdel Shams” (Slave of the Sun) then you would change it because it is about worshipping the sun instead of Allah. He also stated that it made no difference if it were Arabic or not.

  9. You are not supposed to need one, but I would rather have them accept me than have them give me a quiz which I understand is what they’ll do if you show up looking not like a typical Muslim (I.e., white with a US passport).

  10. If you are a convert who looks really pale, they will probably ask you to answer some questions for them. Rather than be vetted by Wahhabis, I opted to get a piece of paper. Al Azhar is universally recognized, even by the Saudis. I have not been on Hajj yet.

  11. Again, I have never been on Hajj so I could be wrong about this, but it is what I have heard.

  12. hello,

    Thanks for the above notes. Please note:

    “However, why should we restrict Muslim status to Arabic, Persian or Turkish names? One website seems to be even more restrictive, prohibiting even Persian and Turkish names as “foreign.” Why are Persian or Arabic names Muslim while Indonesian (which is the largest Muslim country) ones are not considered Islamic by some Muslims? What about Berber names? Or African ones?”

    We sincerely regret how you were able to jump to conclusions.

    If you are able to find and forward us the above names mentioned – Indonesian, Berber, Senegalese (Muslim African country), Muslim Chinese, Eastern Europe, etc. of Muslim countries – we would love to include them as a separate category so folks from those countries may relate to it better as “for information purposes only” ….

    You will find that we have not mentioned “Islamic names” for that simple case – that we are mentioning Muslim as an identity – which could be cultural, religious, or whatever …

    Thanks for your points mentioned. Bear in mind, in the end – it is the individual’s choice of the various alternatives available to choose the methods in selecting the name at their disposable.

    Volunteer Project
    http://talkislam.com/names/

  13. talk islam:

    We sincerely regret how you were able to jump to conclusions.

    I did not jump to conclusions. Your main page has the following categories:

    • Muslim Names
    • Muslim Names 2
    • Arabic Names
    • Persian Names
    • Turkish Names

    Looking at your list of Muslim names, I saw only Arabic names there.

    Even more clearly, you have a page titled Forbidden Names which list the type of names that are forbidden (I assume for Muslims due to religious reasons). Of the 12 reasons mentioned on that page, one is:

    Using foreign names, such as Turkish, Persian, Berber, etc. names, that have no origin in the Arabic language.

    So you clearly think Turkish, Persian, Berber or other non-Arabic names are not Muslim.

  14. What’s in a Name III

    This is the last post in my series of thinking aloud about our baby’s name. We were thinking about our daughter’s last name when I found an article about the issue of women taking their husbands’ last names. A debate…

  15. What’s in a Name I

    One of the interesting pastimes during pregnancy is choosing a name for the baby. Since we can 19t be sure about the gender of the baby, we have to consider both boy and girl names. The question then comes down to…

  16. plz tell me the meaning of Eshaal.is this an islamic name or not.I came to know about this name from a site which is muslimnames.co.uk.i want to know about this urgently

  17. Assalamualaykum…..

    I require some unique names for my daughter starting with an Arabic letter (Alif)…..

    Thanks….
    Jazaak Allah….
    Sister Ayesha

  18. My sister is expecting baby, a girl. Being the greatest Mamoo ever it is my responsibility to help my sister and her husband to decide a name. This discussion on your blog is really very informative. I am right now looking at the hebrew names here. I am looking for meaningful, beautiful, easy to remember names. My brother Azib often faced situations where people asked him to say his name twice or thrice and even then most people mis-spell such a simple name. I am myself still confused how to spell my name, the proper spelling is Numaan but since school I am using a much more difficult spelling Noumaan.

  19. —————————————-
    If you are a convert who looks really pale, they will probably ask you to answer some questions for them. Rather than be vetted by Wahhabis, Posted by: Anna in Cairo (4 comments) at May 30, 2004 7:27 AM
    ——————————————-

    Anna, congratulations on becoming a Muslim (a few years ago I assume). I am not sure what your beef is with Saudis, but I don’t think there is any benefit of throwing the Wahhabi term around. I am not even sure if you or any of the others who love to use this word, know what it means. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything, it is only a slur to define anyone one doesn’t think fits their profile of a ‘good Muslim’. The same Saudis will or have been your hosts at Hajj… show a little guest-like spirit, will you?

    Amad
    Musings of a Muslim Mind

  20. salam
    I want to the meaninh of word( ZAREESH).Is it an Arabic name or not.
    it should be a great favour for me
    thankx
    Allah Hafiz

  21. hi i want to know the meaning of name “Eshaal” is it a muslium name or not and how can i write it in urdu please help me b/c i have already named my daughter and if its not a muslium name i should change it as early as possible.

  22. Please tell me the Meaning Name, Its Arabic or any other, How we can write in Urdu of the following Names

    Ezzah
    Eshal
    Manha
    Ula

    Regards
    Afraz

  23. حج مبارک

    آپ سب کو حج اور عید مبارک ہو۔ آج ہم دیکھتے ہیں کہ امریکہ سے حج یا عمرہ کرنے کی شرائط میں کیا کیا شامل ہے۔

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