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Arabic names were historically based on a long naming system; most Arabs did not simply have given/middle/family names, but a full chain of names. This system was mainly in use throughout Arabia and part of the Levant.
The ism (Arabic: اسم) is the personal name (e.g. "Kareem" or "Fatimah"). Most names are Arabic words with a meaning, usually signalling the good character of the person. Such words are employed as adjectives and nouns in regular language.
Generally, the context and grammar should differentiate between names and adjectives, but Arab newspapers sometimes try to avoid confusion by placing names in brackets or quotation marks.
A common form of Muslim Arab names is the combination of ʿAbd for males or ʿAmah for females (both English: servant) followed by an adjective of God. A particularly common masculine example is Abdullah (Arabic: عبد الله / English: servant of God); the feminine counterpart being Amatullah.
This practice creates a possibility of 99 names for each sex, as there are 99 exclusive adjectives for God in Islam.
To an extent, most Christian Arabs have names indistinguishable from Muslims except that they do not often use explicitly Islamic names, i.e., Muhammad. The following is most common:
The laqab (Arabic: لقب "cognomen" / "surname") is intended as a description of the person.
The laqab was very popular in ancient Arab societies, ca 1000 years ago. Today, the Laqab is only used if it is actually a person's birth Surname/Family name.
Several nasab can follow in a chain to trace a person's ancestry backwards in time, as was important in the tribally based society of the ancient Arabs, both for purposes of identification and for socio-political interactions. Today, however, ibn or bint is no longer used. (Unless it is the official naming style in a country, region, etc.: Adnen bin Abdallah). The plural is 'Abnā for males and Banāt for females. However, Banu or Bani is tribal and encompasses both sexes.
The nisbah (Arabic: نسبة) Surname. It could be an everyday name, but is mostly the name of the ancestors' tribe, city, country, or any other term used to show relevance. It follows a family through several generations.
Note: The Laqab and the Nisbah are similar in use, thus, a name rarely contains both.
محمد بن سعيد بن عبد العزيز الفلسطيني
Muhammad ibn Saeed ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Filasteeni
muḥammad ibn saʻīdi ibn ʻabdi l-ʻazīzi l-filasṭīnī
Muhammad, son of Saeed, son of Abdul-Aziz, the Palestinian
This person would simply be referred to as "Muhammad" or by relating him to his first-born son, e.g.:"Abu Kareem" (father of Kareem). To signify respect or to specify which Muhammad one is speaking about, the name could be lengthened to the extent necessary or desired.
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Almost all Arabic-speaking countries (excluding for example Saudi Arabia or Bahrain) have now adopted a Westernized way of naming. This is the case for example in the Levant and Maghreb, as well as some North African countries, where French or English conventions are followed (an effect of European colonization), and it is rapidly gaining ground elsewhere.
Also, many Arabs adapt to Western conventions for practical purposes when travelling or when residing in Western countries, constructing a given name/family name model out of their full Arab name, to fit Western expectations and/or visa applications or other official forms and documents. The reverse side to this is the surprise of many Westerners when asked to supply their first name, father's name, and family name in some Arab visa applications.
The Westernization of an Arab name may require transliteration. Often, one name may be transliterated in several ways (Abdul Rahman, Abdoul Rahman, Abdur Rahman, Abdurahman, Abd al-Rahman, or Abd ar-Rahman), as there is no single accepted Arabic transliteration system. A single individual may try out several ways of transliterating his or her name, producing even greater inconsistency. This has resulted in confusion on the part of governments, security agencies, airlines and other: for example, especially since 9/11, persons with names written similarly to those of suspected terrorists have been detained.
Non-Arabic speakers often make these mistakes:
In Arabic culture a person's ancestry and his/her family name are very important. An example is explained below.
Assume a man has the name of Saleh ibn Tariq ibn Khalid al-Fulan.
Hence, Saleh ibn Tariq ibn Khalid al-Fulan translates as "Saleh, son of Tariq, son of Khaled; of the family al-Fulan."
The Arabic for "daughter of" is bint. A woman with the name Fatimah bint Tariq bin Khalid al-Fulan translates as "Fatimah, daughter of Tariq, Son of Khaled; of the family al-Fulan."
In this case, ibn and bint are included in the official naming. Most Arab countries today, however, do not use 'ibn' and 'bint' in their naming system. If Saleh was an Egyptian, he would be called Saleh Tariq Khalid al-Fulan and Fatimah would be Fatimah Tariq Khalid al-Fulan.
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.
All Arab countries however do not use the name to its full length, but conventionally use 2 and 3 word names, and sometimes 4 word names in official or legal matters. Thus the first name is the personal name, the middle name is the father's name and the last name is the family name.
The Arabic names listed below are used in the Arab world, as well as some other Muslim regions, with correspondent Hebrew, English, Syriac and Greek equivalents. They are not necessarily of Arabic origin, although some are. Most are derived from Syriac transliterations of the Hebrew Bible. For more information, see also Iranian, Malay, Pakistani, and Turkish names.
|Arabic name||Hebrew name||English name||Syriac name||Greek name|
Andrāwus / ʾIdrīs(?)
Akhnūkh / ʾIdrīs(?)
|Iyov / Iov|
Iyyov / Iyyôḇ
Āzar / Taraḥ
|Téraḥ / Tharakh||Terah||Thara||Θάρα|
Būlus / Bilus
|Dawoud / Davoud|
Dāwūd / Dāwid
Ḥabīb / Shu'ayb(?)
|Chava / Hava|
|Eliahu / Eliyahu|
|Eisa / Yasoua|
ʿĪsā / Yasūʿ
|Yitzhak / Yitzchak|
Yišmaʿel / Yišmāʿêl
|Israel / Yisrael|
Yisraʾel / Yiśrāʾēl
Jibrīl / Jibraīl
|Jad / Gad|
Ǧād / Jād
|Jalut / Galut|
Ǧālūt / Jālūt / Julyāt
|Jasham / Gushaam|
Jašam / Ǧūšām
Jūrj / Jurjus / Jurj / Jurayj
|George (given name)||Γεώργιος|
|Migdal||Magdalene (given name)||Magdala|
|Maryam / Miriam|
Maryam / Mīryām
|Miriam / Miryam|
Mattā / Matatiyā
|Matatiahu / Matatyahu|
|Matthew||Mattai||Ματταθίας / Ματθαῖος|
Miḫāʾīl / miḵāʼīl / Mikhāʼīl
|Michael / Mikhael|
|Noach / Noah|
|Qaaroon / Qoorah|
Qarūn / Qūraḥ
|Tzfanya / Ṣəp̄anyā|
|Tzipora / Tsippora|
Ṣamu’īl / Ṣamawāl
|Shmu'el / Šəmûʼēl|
|Sara / Sarah|
|Sarah / Sara|
|Shamsaan / Shamsoon|
Shamsān / Shamsūn
|Shimshon / Šimšôn|
Sulaymān / Silimān
Ṭālūt / Sāʼûlā
ʿUbaydallāh / 'Ubaydīyā
Ovádyah / Ovádyah
|Yahia / Yehia / Youhanna|
Yaḥyā / Yiḥyā / Yūḥannā **
|Yochanan / Yohanan|
Yāhwāh / Yāhūwah(?)
Yahweh / Yāhôveh
Yathrun / Shu'ayb(?)
|Younos / Younes|
Yūni / Yūnus
|Yona / Yonah|
|Youssof / Youssef|
Yūsuf / Yūsif
Zakariyyā / Zakarīyā
|Zachary or Zechariah|