Muslim Names and their Meanings
In Islam and in Eastern traditions as a whole, the child’s name has a very special meaning, much more than in Western cultures. These Muslim names reflect hope for the child’s personality, the respect of relatives or a tribute to the 99 names of Allah (God).
The majority of Arabic names, both male and female, derive from Islam. These are names that are meant to glorify God or to express the faith of parents in Islam. Other names are poetic and drawn by the previous, pre-Islamic times and are usually the names of heroes or heroines of early Arabic poetry. A small amount of the remaining names are descriptions of things that are considered beautiful in Arab cultures, such as horses, light, roses and lions.
Muslim Male Names and their Meanings
Many male names beginning with the letter “A” are mostly associated with the religion of Islam. The most common of these is a name prefaced with “Abdul” or “Abdel” both mean Servant and the section that follows is one of the many names of God in Arabic as “Abdul Jabbar” which means servant of the Mighty “or” Abdel Karim “, which means servant of the Gentle One.
The majority of male names have some Islamic overtones, but not all. For example, Fahd, a popular name in the Middle East (King Fahd of Saudi Arabia for example) means lynx, while “Abbas” (as in Mahmoud Abbas) is a description of the virtues of a lion. Finally, some names reflects the pride a parent feels for their child. Hasan means “beautiful” and Mu’tazz means proud or the strong one.
Muslim Female Names and their Meanings
Names of Arab women also tend to reflect a dedication to Islam. Some established by relatives of the Prophet Muhammad as Fatima (daughter) or Zara or al Zahra, meaning “bright” (nicknamed the Prophet PBUH gave to his daughter). Other names reflect the Arab appreciation for beauty in a poetic sense. Habibah means “beloved” and Maysan is a small star. Latifah (as in Queen Latifah) means “noble” and Jada (such as Jada Pinkett Smith) means “gift” or “a gift.”
Finally, Arabic female names may be derived from earlier, pre-Islamic era, and have essentially lost their meaning over time. It can, for example, be an unusual but not unheard name with no real meaning in Arabic. Similarly, Usaimah or Usaymah is an old Arabic name which has no direct relevance.
In the twentieth century, Arab governments moved to the standardisation of surnames so there is now one naming system. Turkish people, for example, have similar naming conventions, but after the Second World War, Ataturk (Turkey’s leader after 1922) decided that all Turks should choose a name that will be permanent for their family. Likewise, the Egyptian government standardised the names for bureaucratic reasons and other countries followed since. The surnames of most Arab people express the selected name of a distant ancestor and this remains the same over generations. Women can still retain the surname of their family though.