Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Arabic/Muslim Names

The religion of Islam, which began in the Arabian peninsula, is shared by many countries of the Near and Middle East and several African states also have large Muslim populations who use Arabic names, especially in the north of the continent. Arabic is the main language of eighteen countries (about 180 million people) and is the sixth most commonly spoken language worldwide.

Names are very similar throughout the Muslim world although there are some regional differences in trannsliteration and pronounciation. Most Arabic names consist of several elements and during the classical period were formed according to a strict pattern.


This is an honorific which designates one individual as 'father' abu or 'mother' umm of another although one did not necessarily have to have children in order to be given one. The father might become 'Abu Hasan' or 'father of Hasan' and the mother, 'Umm Ahmad' or 'mother of Ahmad' although the use of a daughter's name would be more usual.

It may have been used as a way of avoiding pronouncing the ism as there was a taboo connected with this - knowing something's name gave one power over it. For a young person, it may express the hope that they would have a child. Originally, only socially superior people had one but sometimes a good slave or servant could be given one by his master.

It is still polite to use the kunya rather than the ism and sometimes women are known only by it. Refusal to be addressed by it is seen as a sign of modesty as the kunya is intended to honour its bearer.

Ism or 'alam

This is the given name (equivalent to the first or Christian name in England) although it usually comes second to the kunya when the full name is written. Unlike the English naming system, they are taken direct from a living language so are chosen for their meanings above everything else although some names are chosen to honour the prophet Mohammad and people connected with him. There is a tradition that by naming a child after someone or something with good qualities they can be transferred to the child.

There are three main types of personal names are in general usage: names from Arabic nouns or adjectives with favourable meanings, often connected with animals or religious concepts, names of people from the Koran or religious names indicating a connection with God or Allah. There are occasional borrowings from Turkish or Persian but most names are vocabulary words. A number of pre-Islamic names (many associated with leading religious figures) survive. Judaism and Christianity are both recognised with many Biblical stories appearing in the Koran so equivalents of Biblical names are also found. It is only quite recently that more than one ism has been used to form combined names with more than one vocabulary element.


This gives the lineage of a person and is preceded by ibn or bin (son of) for males and ibnat or bint (daughter of) for females. Sometimes the name of a famous sibling might be used, preceded by akhu (brother of) or ukht (sister of). Sometimes the father's kunya rather than his given name is used or a more distant ancestor is commemorated. The plural form banñ (children of) occurs as a family or clan name. In modern Arabic, the ibn part is sometimes missed out so the name appears to consist of two isms together.


This is a placename, either that of a person's birth, family origin or current residence. It is formed by adding the masculine -iyyun (Ì ) or feminine -iyyatun (iyya) to the placename or tribal name. People can have more than one nisba and sometimes use placenames for generations after their ancestors have left them. They can also be used to indicate which religious belief or sect somebody adheres to, or to show admiration for a hero. Nowadays, many nisbas are used as genuine inherited family names with women and men using the masculine form.

Laqab (pl alqª


This is a nickname given to distinguish between people with the same name. It can be a respectful honorific referring to noble character traits, for identification purposes only, or have an unfavourable meaning, often referring to physical characteristics (these are usually called nabaz). These may sometimes have been intended to avert the evil eye rather than to insult.

Words indicating origin or occupation with the prefix '-al' also occur, as do honorifics which usually end in 'din' or 'dawlah'.


As inherited family names are not traditionally used, an individual can use any part of his name as his 'surname' for identification purposes in the West.

Abaza Abou Hamed Abu Shakra Akil Akwal Al Amri
Al Dalharni Al Daye Al Deayea Al Dossadi al Dossari Al Dwairan
Al Farran Al Habash Al Halou al Hardi Al Jaber al Jaber
Al Jahni Al Khlaiwi Al Mawalhad al Mehalel al Mowaled al Mubi
Al Mukhtar al Mutadee Al Muwalid Al Nubi al Owairan Al Sabah
Al Sahaf Al Shahrani al Shammari Alam Al-Asmari Al-Dosari
Al-Fayyoumi Algosaubi Alias Al-Jaber Al-Jahani Al-Jurr
Al-Karachi Alkhaiwani al-Masaari Al-Mehalel Al-Razi al-Sahhah
Al-Sharani Al-Temiyat Al-Thynniyan Al-Zeid Alzeshi Amer
Amin Andoni Anwar Asir Atef Ba'albaki
Bahamdan Bakahasab Baraniq Billah Bin Haji Doka
Elouahabu Faraj Farrakhan Hijaz Ismail Kanasani
Madani Madari Maro Raboud Rostom Saleh
Shia-Agil Shouaa Siham Solaimani Somayli Sulimani
Surur Ta'anari Zebramani Zuabi Zubromawi  






Arab/Muslim index

Middle East index

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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