Naming Conventions

Arabic family

Arab names, for both men and women, consist of a first name (the person’s own), the father’s name and the paternal grandfather’s name, followed by a family name (in countries where family names are used). Putting it simply, Arab names are a string of names listing ancestors on the father’s side. A Western example might be John (given name) Robert (his father) William (his grandfather) Jones.

Usage of Names

  • Because a person’s first name is the only one that is really his or hers, Arabs use it from the moment they are introduced. Once you have introduced yourself, you can expect to be called “Mr John”, or “Mrs/Miss Kathy”
  • An Arab Muslim woman does not change her name after marriage, since she does not take her husband’s genealogy
  • Arabs do not name their sons after the father, but naming a child after his paternal grandfather is common. You will meet many men whose first and third names are the same
Client Identification and Records

It is important to be aware that your client may retain several names for legal/official purposes but will often omit them in daily use. A man named Ahmad Abdallah Ali Muhammad, for example, would be commonly known as Ahmad Abdallah. Equally important is that Arabic speaking clients may not always be consistent when reciting their names on different occasions. It is entirely possible that full brothers and sisters of the same family may be registered with different combinations of names.

Meanings of Names

A family or tribal name identifies a large extended family or group whose members still consider themselves tied by bonds of kinship and honour. A family name may be geographical (Hijazi, “from Hijaz”; Halaby, “from Aleppo”); denote an occupation (Haddad, “smith”; Najjar, “carpenter”); be descriptive (Al-Ahmar, “red”; Al-Tawil, “tall”); denote tribe (Al-Harithi; Quraishi); or sound like a personal name because it is the name of a common ancestor (Abdel-Aziz; Ibrahim).

Names and Religion

The following are a few guidelines to help you to place people, at least partially, upon hearing their names:

  • If a name sounds Western (George, Antoine, Mary), it marks a Christian
  • If a name is that of a well-known figure in Islamic history (Muhammad, Bilal, Salah-Eddeen, Fatima, Ayesha), it marks a Muslim
  • Most hyphenated names using “Abdel-” are Muslim. The name means “Servant (Slave) of God,” and the second part is one of the attributes of God (Abdallah, “Servant of Allah”; Abdel-Rahman, “Servant of the Merciful”; Abdel-Karim, “Servant of the Generous”); 90% of names with this combination are of Muslim Arabs
  • Names containing the word “deen” (religion) are Muslim (Sharaf-Eddeen, “The Honour of Religion”)
  • Many names are simply descriptive adjectives (Aziz, “powerful”; Said, “happy”; Amin, “faithful”; Hasan, “good”); such descriptive names do not mark religion
  • There are names that derive from both the Qur’an and the Bible and used by Arabs of all faiths (Ibrahim, “Abraham”; Sulaiman, “Solomon”; Daoud, “David”; Yousef, “Joseph”)