|Period Arabic Names and Naming Practices (2nd edition)|
Articles > Names
PERIOD ARABIC NAMES AND NAMING PRACTICES
by Da'ud ibn Auda (David B. Appleton) © 2003Please note: This article is a significant update to an earlier article by Da'ud ibn Auda with the same name. That article has been superceeded by this article and has been removed from the main Laurel site.
The following is my "new, improved" Arabic naming practices and names lists, an update of an article with the same name which was published some years ago. The research in this list has been a little more rigorous: some names which appeared on the earlier list do not appear on this one; on the plus side, this list consists of more names in all categories of name elements than the earlier list. Careful track was kept of what specific name elements came from where in what specific sources, so that answering inquiries and double-checking the work to verify spellings, etc. will be much easier. Also expanded are the descriptions of the various name elements, and illustrations of common names forms with actual period examples of each. As a result, this updated article should be even more useful than the earlier version, in addition to being more accurate.
The following names lists consist of period (pre-1600 A.D.) Arabic names and name elements, having been selected from names of people who lived during that time. These lists are not designed to be exhaustive, only to be large enough to give a reasonably wide selection of provably period Arabic names. I have tried to avoid, as much as possible, names with other than Arabic origins, such as Persian, Mongol and Turkish (e.g., 'Umar al-Khayyami [Arabic] rather than Omar Khayyam [Persian]).
The list of feminine given names is shorter than the list of men’s given names. As is the case with many medieval societies, not many women were specifically named in period sources and references. However, many of the masculine given names can be feminized by the addition of "a" or "ah" to the end (for example, the masculine Khalid can be found feminized as Khalida(h)). Masculine cognomens ending in "i" may generally be feminized by changing the finial "i" to "iyya" or "iyyah". (Cognomens, as such term is used herein, consist primarily of laqabs and nisbas; for more on which, see below.) There are a few names which were "unisex": ‘Ulayyah bint al-Mahdi was a half-sister of Harun al-Rashid, and Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Isma’il ibn Ibrahim ibn ‘Ulayyah was an Egyptian authority for hadith. As can be seen from this example, it is not always possible to tell the gender of a name from the presence of an "a" or "ah" ending. In the names lists below, where I have found both a masculine and a feminine form of a given name, such names are marked with an asterisk [*], and the respective forms are found in the masculine and feminine lists of isms (given names).
Titular names such as ‘The Sword of the Faith (Sayf al-Din) and ‘The Sword of the State’ (Sayf al-Dawla) were bestowed by the caliph on military and political leaders and were very highly valued. Thus, names consisting of "X + al-Din" (the most famous examples being "Salah al-Din" [Rectitude of the Faith], "Nur al-Din" [Light of the Faith] and "`Ala al-Din" (Aladdin)), "X + al-Dawla" (Nasir al-Dawla [Defender of the State]), "X + al-Mulk" (Nizam al-Mulk [Order of the Kingdom]) and "X + al-Islam (Sayf al-Islam [Sword of Islam]) were generally an indication of status or rank. As a consequence, such titular names are not registrable in the SCA, and they have been left out of the lists of period names.
Where I have found the translation of a byname, it follows the name entry in [brackets]. I have not done the same with isms (given names) because in Arabic, as with most other languages, once a word enters the name "pool", it quickly loses its putative "meaning" and becomes simply a name in and of itself. For example, a person would have been named Muhammad because that was the name of the founding prophet of Islam, not because it once meant "praiseworthy".
Where a given name is the Arabic form of a name also well-known in English, I have included the English form in brackets (e.g., Isma’il [Ishmael]; Yusuf [Joseph]). The English form should not be used in Arabic names; it is there only as a reference point for the reader.
Commonly used alternative transliterations for some names follow the primary entry in (parentheses).
A FEW NOTES ABOUT TRANSLITERATION
T.E. Lawrence (yes, that Lawrence), who lived among the Arabs for a number of years before and during World War I and who spoke not only standard Arabic but a number of local dialects, probably summed it up more concisely than anyone else in an answer to some queries from his publisher about inconsistent spellings of Arabic names in his manuscript Revolt in the Desert:
"Arabic names won't go into English, exactly, for their consonants are not the same as ours, and their words, like ours, vary from district to district. There are some `scientific systems' of transliteration, helpful to people who know enough Arabic not to need helping, but a wash-out for the world. I spell my names anyhow, to show what rot the systems are."
So the problem is, and remains, "how do you spell `Khaddafi' (Gadhafi, Qadafi, etc., etc., etc.)?" I have seen a number of systems of transliteration, and find most of them to be adequate, if not necessarily consistent with each other. What it comes down to is that there are usually a number of ways to spell an Arabic name in Roman letters. In researching my own name, I have found Da'ud, Daud, Dawud, Daoud, Dawood, Daood and Da'oud.
However, there are some limits to the variability of transliterations of Arabic names. One cannot simply replace one vowel with another: e.g., Duad is not an acceptable transliteration of Daud. The pronunciation is too different to be a reasonable transliteration. If I may borrow a phrase from Harpy Herald: Transliteration from Arabic may be "complex, but complexity is not anarchy." Any transliteration used must be pronounced reasonably close to the Arabic original.
To help ease the problem of variant transliterations, the names in the lists are spelled according to the most commonly-used transliterations found. If there is more than one commonly used way to spell a name, the alternate(s) follow the primary spelling in parentheses. The listings are not comprehensive as far as alternative spellings; they are simply the ones most frequently seen or generally used. For simplification, most of the diacritical marks (dots or lines beneath certain letters, etc.) have been left out, as they are unavailable on typewriters and many computers and are primarily useful, as Mr. Lawrence noted, only to those who know enough Arabic not to need them.
As a note of historical interest, Arabic name have often become corrupted when used by Europeans. Examples, many from period, include: Averroes, from ibn Rushd; Avicenna from ibn Sina; Achmed from Ahmad; Amurath from al-Murad; Saladin from Salah al-Din; Nureddin from Nur al-Din; Almanzor from al-Mansur; Rhases from Razi; and Avenzoar from ibn Zuhr.
The only two "rules" that seem to be generally consistent (at least in books published since a little before WWII) in transliterating Arabic names are:
ARABIC NAMING PRACTICES
"Giving a name, indeed, is a poetic art; all poetry if we go to that with it, is but a giving of names." (Carlyle) The Arabic-speaking peoples are concerned not only with giving an appropriate name to someone, but with how the name sounds: do the syllables flow well? Do the various parts of the name roll mellifluously from the tongue? Is the name poetry? Do the various elements fit well each with the other? All of this is considered in the giving of names in "the language of the angels", Arabic.
Arabic name elements may be divided into five main categories, with the last category having several sub-types. Persons are named by:
Sometimes what appear to be regularly-formed nisbas are found used instead of or in the place of an ism, e.g., ‘Ali ibn al-Massisi, Abu Ishaq al-Tabari. (Such nisbas might also sometimes be found used in the "normal" fashion for a nisba: Ya’qub ibn Muhammad al-Massisi.) I have not yet found a general rule by which nisbas are used in the place of an ism; the only reliable guide for proper usage right now is to look at actual period examples. Where I have found nisbas used as isms as well as "normal" nisbas, they are marked in the names lists with a plus sign [+] and are found listed in both the list of laqabs/nisbas used as isms and the list of laqabs/nisbas.
Where more than one nisba is used, as a general rule the geographic nisba comes last, preceded by either the occupational nisba or the tribal nisba. I know of no examples of names which use all three types of nisba.
A brief note on the pronunciation of some laqabs and nisbas: the "l" in al- is elided and the first letter of the following word is substituted for the following consonants: d (ad-Duri), n (an-Najmi), r (ar-Razi), s (as-Salar), sh (ash-Shanfara), t (at-Tayyib), th (ath-Thaqafi), and z (az-Zubair). These are, however, generally still written as al-; only the pronunciation is changed.
All of these various name elements can be, and often were, as you may have already noticed in some of the examples above, combined in the name of a single individual, sometimes to an almost excessive degree (though usually only on more formal occasions).
How did Arabic naming conventions work in actual practice? The following are historical examples of common forms, from very simple to the more complex. As a general rule, women’s names tended to use the less complex forms; however, this may be as much the result of a limited sample as it is of period practice. I have included women’s names found in the examples below.
Yusuf ibn Ayyub
ism son of ism [one generation nasab]
Yazid ibn Abi Hakim
ism son of the father of Hakim [one generation nasab where the father’s name is a kunya]
Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani [masculine]
Mariyah al-Qibtiyah [feminine]
ism + nisba
Abu Muhammad Wahb
kunya [the father of Muhammad] + ism
Umm Ja'far Zubaydah
kunya [the mother of Ja’far] + ism
Ahmad ibn Sa’id al-Bahili
ism son of ism [one generation nasab] + nisba
Ahmad ibn Abi Fanan al-Katib
ism son of the "father of Fanan" [one generation nasab, where name of father is a kunya] + occupational nisba
Umamah bint Hamdun ibn Isma’il
ism + two generation nasab
Layla bint Zuhayr ibn Yazid al-Nahdiyah
ism + two generation nasab + [feminine form of] nisba
Abu Bishr al-Yaman ibn Abi al-Yaman al-Bandaniji
kunya + laqab/ism + one generation nasab [where name of father is a kunya] + nisba
Abu al-Tayyib ‘Abd al-Rahim ibn Ahmad al-Harrani
kunya [where name of son is laqab/ism] + laqab/ism + one generation nasab + geographic nisba
Abu Muqatil al-Nadr ibn al-Munqadi al-Daylami
kunya + laqab/ism + one generation nasab [where name of father is laqab] + nisba
Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Sahl ibn Rabal al-Tabari
kunya + ism + two generation nasab + nisba
Abu al-‘Abbas Muhammad ibn Ya’qub ibn Yusuf al-Asamm al-Naysaburi
kunya + ism + two generation nasab + nisba [occupational? Or laqab?] + geographic nisba
Abu al-Qasim Mansur ibn al-Zabriqan ibn Salamah al-Namari
kunya [where name of son is laqab/ism] + ism + two generation nasab [where name of father is laqab/ism] + nisba
Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Ishaq ibn Ibrahim ibn Bashir al-Harbi
kunya + ism + three generation nasab + nisba
‘Ubayd ibn Mu’awiyah ibn Zayd ibn Thabit ibn al-Dahhak
ism + four generation nasab
Throughout period many names followed the pattern of kunya + ism + laqab (Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Mustansir), or kunya + ism + nasab (Abu Muhammad Hamid ibn al-‘Abbas), even by peoples who adopted Islam (and Arabic naming practices) like the Seljuk Turks (Abu’l-Qasim Mahmud ibn Zengi ibn Aqsunqur).
Not surprisingly, the teachings of Islam's founder, Muhammad, have a large influence on Arabic naming practices. The following are some examples of his discussions on names from the hadith (sayings or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad):
On the day of Judgment you will be called by your names and by your fathers' names; therefore keep you good names.
The best names in the sight of Allah [God] are `Abdu 'llah [the servant of God], `Abdu ar-Rahman [the servant of the Merciful One].
Call your children after your Prophet [Muhammad remains the most popular Muslim ism], but the names Allah likes best are `Abdu 'llah, `Abd ar-Rahman, and the next best names are Haris [husbandman] and Humam [high-minded]. The worst of names is Harb [enmity] or Murrah [bitterness].
The vilest name you can give a human being is maliku al-Amlak, or "King of kings", because no one can be such but Allah himself.
Shuraih ibn Hani' related that his father came to the Prophet with his tribe, and the Prophet heard them calling him Abu al-Hakam. The Prophet said, "why do you call him so? Hakam, `Ruler', is an attribute of Allah." And the Prophet ordered him to call himself Abu Shuraih, i.e., the father of Shuraih, his eldest son’s ism.
Some men have been named after the month of fasting during daylight hours, Ramadan. One humorous story has it that a man named Ramadan was traveling across the Sahara Desert and stopped for the night at a tent, asking shelter. The owner took him in and, giving him food, asked his name. Never having heard the name before, the tent owner thought that the man Ramadan was the cause of the month's fasting. While his guest slept, the tent owner killed him. A few months later a sheik told the Arab that "Next month is Ramadan, and you must fast." The Arab replied, "No, I don't have to fast any more, because when Ramadan was in my tent I killed him; now there is no more Ramadan."
As a final note, there are some naming practices which I have not found in Arabic. In my survey of Arabic naming practices, I found:
MASCULINE ISMS [GIVEN NAMES]
The following list is of the most popular masculine isms as found in the Fihrist of al-Nadim (see the Bibliography under "Dodge"), a translation of a 10th Century source. The number of individual entries in the biographical index for each ism were counted; sometimes one or two other entries in which a nasab included the specific ism was also included in the count, but these few "extra" entries should not affect the general ranking of popular usage of a name. Only isms which appeared more than ten times are included in the list below. They are ranked in order from most to less popular, and the number of entries found for each ism are included next to the ism. The only conclusions I will note from this list are: the overwhelming popularity of Muhammad, the name of the founding Prophet of Islam, and Ahmad, a variant of Muhammad (these two names alone comprise just over 30% of the entries of the most popular men’s names); and the fact that names drawn from Biblical sources (Islam accepts both Judaism and Christianity as its antecedents, in addition to the existence of Arab Jewish and Arab Christian minorities) have a strong popularity, comprising one-third of the names on this list, matching the popularity of the use of Biblical names in Christian Europe.
FEMININE ISMS [GIVEN NAMES]
MASCULINE COGNOMENS USED AS ISMS
FEMININE COGNOMENS USED AS ISMS
al-Zarqa’ [the blue-eyed]
ARABIC EQUIVALENTS OF SCA TITLES OF NOBILITY
(from the list compiled by Master Wilhelm von Schlüssel,
These are the classical Arabic (the Arabic of the Qu'ran and that used among the educated classes) titles of nobility most equivalent to the SCA titles of nobility. Where a medieval Arabic form differs from the classical Arabic, it is given in parentheses. Either is appropriate for use.
When written as part of the name, the article "al-" precedes the title, which itself precedes the given name. Landed titles may have the titles followed by "al-" and the place name. Thus, for example, if Joseph, son of Jacob, known as the Fortunate, were King of Caid, His Arabic name and title in full would be written as: al-Malik (or al-Sultan) al-Caid Yusuf ibn Ya'qub al-Muayamman.
When used in person address, the word "ya" precedes "al-" before the title. Thus the above King of Caid could be addressed as Ya al-Malik al-Caid, the equivalent of My Lord King of Caid.
Caliph (kalifa) may not be used in the SCA, as it is the equivalent of both Emperor and Pope. The title sharif is used by the real descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima's son Hasan, and may not be used in the SCA, as being a name claiming a specific relationship and thus disallowed by Rules for Submission VI.3.
* = Found in the sources reviewed in both masculine and feminine forms.
^ = Found in the sources reviewed both as an ism and as a laqab/nisba used as an ism
+ = Found in the sources reviewed both as a laquab/nisba and as a laqab/nisba used as an ism
Ahmed, Salahuddin, A Dictionary of Muslim Names, New York University Press, New York, 1999
Badeau, John S., et al., The Genius of Arab Civilization, Source of Renaissance, New York Univ. Press, New York, 1975
Dodge, Bayard, transl., Fihrist of al-Nadim: A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture, two volumes, Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1970
Clot, André, Harun al-Rashid and the World of The Thousand and One Nights, New Amsterdam Books, New York, 1986
Gabrieli, Francesco, Arab Historians of the Crusades, Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, 1957
Guthrie, Shirley, Arab Social Life in the Middle Ages: An Illustrated Study, Saqi Books, London, 1995
Hillenbrand, Carole, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, Routledge, New York, 2000
Hippocrene Books, Arabic First Names, Hippocrene Books, New York 1999
Lawrence, T.E., The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Poole, Dorset, 1986
Patton, Douglas, Badr al-Din Lu’lu: Atabeg of Mosul, 1211-1259, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1991
Ranelagh, E.L., The Past We Share: The Near Eastern Ancestry of Western Folk Literature, London, 1979
Saunders, J.J., A History of Medieval Islam, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1965
Schimmel, Annemarie, As Through a Veil - Mystical Poetry in Islam, New York, 1982
Stewart, Desmond, Early Islam, Time, Inc., New York, 1967
|Maintained by Codex Herald. This page was last updated on Friday, April 26, 2013.
The heraldry.sca.org site is copyright 1995-2015 Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.
The copyright of certain portions of heraldry.sca.org are retained by the original contributors as noted.
Paper texture used with permission from GRSites.com.