Understanding Arabic Names فهم الأسماء العربية


Arabic names are patrilineal. This means you use your given name, followed by your father’s name, followed by your grandfather’s name…etc. It can be as long or short as you like. Classically, the names were separated by bin (literally ‘son of) for a man or bint for a woman (literally ‘daughter of’). This is the basic name structure, everyone has this.

The ism (اسم), is the given name, first name, or personal name; e.g. “Ahmad” or “Fatimah“. Most Arabic names have meaning as ordinary adjectives and nouns, and are often aspirational of character. Male names often begin with Abd which means “servant of” followed by one of the names of Allah. (Ex: Abdul Karim or Abdul Monim)

The laqab (لقب), pl. alqāb (القاب); nickname; title, honorific; last name, surname, family name. The laqab is typically descriptive of the person.

The nasab (نسب) is a patronymic or series of patronymics. It indicates the person’s heritage by the word ibn (ابن “son”, colloquially bin) or ibnat ( “daughter”, also بنت bint, abbreviated bte.).

Several nasab names 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.

The nisbah (نسبة) surname could be an everyday name, but is mostly the name of the ancestral tribe, city, country, or any other term used to show relevance. It follows a family through several generations. A ‘nisba’, that can be loosely translated to ‘family name’. The nisba ends with a y (or i depending on how you transliterate it) and may refer to your tribe, your clan, your city or country or place of birth (or the one you are most known by) or that of one of your ancestors, or your profession or that of one of your ancestors, or a combination of which. This means you can have more than one nisba.

A kunya (Arabic: كنية‎, kunyahis a component of an Arabic name, a type of epithet, in theory referring to the bearer’s first-born son or daughter for example Abu Muhammad (Father of Muhammad) or Om Ahmad (Mother of Ahmad).

Traditionally, Arab Muslim women do not alter their name upon marriage, although some women may adopt their husband’s family name. The titles Haram, Hurma or Hurmat in front of a name mean ‘wife of’:

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.