Just How Do Arabic Parents Decide On Arabic Baby Names Anyway?

Have you ever wondered why Arabic baby names seem so much longer than Western names? Well, wonder no more as today we explain how Arabs get their names.

Just How Do Arabic Parents Decide On Arabic Baby Names Anyway?

In a previous post, we asked the question “What’s in a name?” regarding why we named our app  Kaleela. However, today we can ask the same question as we look into how Arabic babies get their names. Moreover, what exactly goes into choosing both Arabic girl names and Arabic boy names? Today we’ll look into answers for those questions as we explore how Arabs get their names.


Different Cultures, Different Names

First, when looking at how Arabs get their names, one must realize that it’s quite different from the Western system. For example, in America, names usually have three parts: first name, middle name, and family name. Likewise, the Arabs also have a naming system; however, theirs consist of five parts instead of three. They are, in no particular order, the ism, kunya, nasab, laqab, and nisba. Thus, it’s  possible forArabs to go by five names and even sometimes more.


Ism

The ism is the first name that parents give the child at birth. Male isms, or Arabic baby boy names, include names like Abdullah, Abdul Aziz, Abdul Rahman, Adel, Hussein, Sa’ud, and Omar. Likewise, female isms, or Arabic baby girl names, are names such as Leila, Ayisha, Salma, Nawal, and Samira. (You’ll notice that many female Arabic names include the feminine “ah” ending.)

Additionally, Arab parents tend to choose Arabic names with meaning.  An example for boys is the name Laith which means “lion”, “strong” or “brave”. For girls there are names like “Abeer” meaning “scent”, “perfume” or “fragrance”.

Further, not only Muslims follow this traditional naming system, but also Christian Arabs use the same system as well. However, instead of the Islamic Abdullah (“Slave to God”), you’ll find names like “Butros”, the Arab name for the disciple Peter.


Kunya

You won’t find the kunya written on a birth certificate. That’s because it’s more of an honorary title Arabs  usually given to people with children. Hence, friends and neighbors would call the father of a boy named Ahmed “Abu Ahmed” (“Father of Ahmed”). Likewise, they would call Ahmed’s mother “Umm Ahmed” (“Mother of Ahmed”). Arabs use these honorary titles as a sign of respect much like other cultures use “Aunt” or “Uncle”.

However, the kunya isn’t only reserved for those with children. In fact, it’s so important in some parts of Arab culture, Arabs will even give those without children kunya. In this case, the kunya would be symbolic of some personality trait  of that person. For example,  “Umm Hurairah” or “mother of the cats” might be the lady that cares for stray cats in the neighborhood. Likewise, “Abu Khartoum”, meaning “father of the chubby cheeks”, might be your single uncle with chubby cheeks.


Nasab

While parents have kunya, their children have nasab which starts with “ibn” (“son of”) or “bint” (“daughter of”). Moreover, the nasab always refers to the father. In fact, Arabs consider it an insult for the nasab to refer to the mother. Nasab usually follows the ism as in “Mahmoud ibn Mounis” (“Mahmoud, son of Mounis”) or “Salma bint Ibrahim” (Salma daughter of Ibrahim). Moreover the grandfather’s and great-great grandfather’s (and so on) names can be added as well. For example, Noor bint Abdulaziz ibn Muhammad ibn Faras (and so on) all the way back to Adam, presumably. 


Laqab

Simply put, the laqab is kind of like a nickname. Usually religious or descriptive, they, too, follow the ism. For example, you may meet someone called Ibrahim al-Fadl ibn Rashid. This roughly translates to Ibrahim the prominent son of Rashid (with the laqab “al-Fadl” meaning “the prominent”).

What’s more, any name with the prefix “Abd” (meaning “servant of”)  already has its own laqab and it’s usually affixed to one of the names of Allah.  

Further “Abdul” (also meaning “servant of” ) is not an ism nor is it ever used alone . It, too, is followed by one of the 99 names of Allah as in Abdul Rahman or “The servant of the merciful”.

For the ladies, “Amat” is the feminine version of the laqab “Abdul”.


Nisba

The nisba is much like the Western surname in that Arabs often use it as a last name.  Usually, the nisba represents a person’s occupation,  where they are from, their tribe or their family. For example,  if you meet someone named Mohammad al-Masri, it’s pretty safe to say he’s from Egypt as “al-Masri” means “the Egyptian”.  Likewise, Abdullah al-Khabaaz or “Abdullah the Baker” means that Abdullah is a baker or he comes from a family of bakers. Finally, you have Hussein al Hashemi  which means “Hussein of the Hashemite family or tribe”.

These days, however, the nisba is not as popular as it once was. In fact, this is especially true among Egyptians and Lebanese who don’t even use nisba anymore.

So now you know how Arabic babies get their names. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that popular Arabic baby names change just as often as they do in the West. While there really hasn’t been a shift in Arabic baby boy names, there has been a shift in girls’ names. Names like Salma seem outdated these days with Aziza (“beloved, precious”) and  (believe it or not) Kalila becoming more popular.


Speaking of Kaleela, are you looking to learn more about Arab culture or maybe even wanting to learn Arabic? Are you looking for a convenient way to learn Arabic that fits into your schedule? Would you like to learn Arabic, but don’t do well in a classroom environment? Maybe you want to learn Arabic but the nearest classes are miles away from your home. Well, why not try and download Kaleela Arabic Learning App and see why it’s the most convenient and comfortable way to learn Arabic today. Go to kaleela.com for more information and start speaking Arabic now!

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