The United States
Government estimates the Muslim population in the United States in the
year 2,000 to be 6,875,891 persons (3,878,123 In Canada). Studies
project this number to reach as much as 30% of the North American
population by the year 2020. The tremendous growth in the Muslim
populations in North America has led to the need to integrate these
names into existing databases used by authors, researchers, teachers,
students, demographers, marketers and the media.
There are around only 2,000 names utilized as common male and female
names in Islam. Yet, by various rules and customs for combining roots
and meanings of names, the entire world's 1.5 billion Muslims wind up
with more or less unique names!
This article has been prepared for the interest of those who deal with
various issues surrounding Islamic names used by Muslims as they
appear in transliterated form in the English language.
In a sense, all
Muslim names derive from God, or as He is called in Arabic, Allah.
Muslims do not like to use the word 'God' when referring to Allah.
While there are many words in various languages to refer to the
overwhelming reality of the Creator, Owner, and Sustainer of
existence, Muslims use the Arabic word "Allah" exclusively for
referring to this Reality. The word Allah is formed of the Arabic word
Al-Lah, which means "The Divinity." Allah is for Muslims the personal
name of the One true God. Nothing else can be called Allah, Who is
similar to nothing and nothing is comparable to Him.
The word Allah does not mean "a" god or a "Muslim god". Even
Arabic-speaking Christians use the word Allah when they speak of God.
Allah is also the personal name of God in Aramaic, the language of
Jesus and a sister language of Arabic.
Muslims use the word Allah, first, because it has never been used to
refer to anything except the One True God. Many expressions in the
English language utilize the word of god in disrespectful, insulting
and other thoughtless ways. The word Allah has never been uttered with
such an intention, and resides with a purity in the mind.
The term Allah has no plural or gender. This shows its uniqueness when
compared with the word god, which can be made plural, gods, or
Also, the pronoun for God in Arabic, Hu, has neither male or female
gender. We use the conventional English literate form "Him", only
because there is no proper genderless pronoun in English, most
certainly intending no offence to femininity.
Very often when reading books, one sees the Prophet
Muhammad's name followed by several letters, or a phrase. One also
hears this in conversation, for example, "The Prophet Muhammad,
Peace be upon him, said such and so…"
In writing, this is often indicated thus: "Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
said such and so…" The actual Arabic words used are "Sullaho alayhi
wa sallam" which means, obviously, "Peace be upon him." So, one also
will see the variants after the name of the Prophet (SAS), Prophet
Muhammad (AS) , both of which are an "abbreviation" for the original
Islam, is the religion. Muslim, is the practitioner
of the religion. It is incorrect to call Muslims "Islamists", or the
religion "Islamism" or "Muhammadism".
One should know that, unlike in English, almost every Muslim name
has a particular meaning, which is known. Names are not arbitrary or
nonsense. Children usually receive their names from a local
religious master or leader, and it is conveyed on the seventh day
following birth, when a special feast ceremony occurs, called aqiqah.
Most names derive directly or indirectly from the Qur'an (the
Islamic scripture) and often are variants on one or more aspects or
"attributes" of God. Also, Muslims are forbidden from using names
which convey a negative connotation, and insulting nicknames like
"tubby" or "shorty".
Almost every Muslim name has a pleasant, even pious connotation, and
an effort to find names which mean evil, arrogant things will not
prove fruitful (except maybe in the Western mind): the actual
meaning is invariably positive, even sublime, in the native
One should not name a child a direct Name of God e.g. Rahman (the
Most Merciful). Since the penultimate sin in Islam is joining
partners with God Almighty, in naming, to avoid any hint of this
error, people add "abdul" meaning 'servant of' or 'slave of', thus
the correct name would be Abdul Rahman. For women, the prefix is
Ammat, as in Ammat-ul-Rahman.
Jibril is not a good choice for a Muslim name, since Muslims are
advised in the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) not to take
names of the archangels. (Jibril = Gabriel, the Angel of
One should be especially careful not to assign names to females
which carry sexual connotations. Muslims do not do this, and they
will certainly take offense at authors who insist to name characters
in this manner.
Male and female names are gender specific, and one hardly ever
encounters "mixed gender" names as in the English names 'Lynn' or
Endings are often quite tricky. For example, a man would be Amin, a
woman Amina. But just putting an 'a' at the end of a name would not
necessarily make it female.
There are also a few appellations which have specific meanings, such
as Syed (direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad); Sharif (direct
descendant of Ali); Hakim (a physician, or philosopher); Shaykh (a
spiritual teacher or Master); Hafiz (one who has committed entire
Qur'an to memory) etc. These are only used for persons who actually
possess the quality described.
Note that Muslim names would ordinarily appear italicized in
English, since they are foreign words. However, for readability one
may choose not to italicize such names. In many Muslim societies,
the surname used is the name of the town where the person was born.
Thus Jelaluddin Balkhi, means he is Jelaluddin from Balkh, in
Afghanistan; or Syed Dehlavi, meaning Syed from Delhi.
The surname sometimes also can denote an occupation, such as
Fariduddin Attar, (attari = perfumer).
In legal use, persons are identified by their name, followed by
their paternal lineage, such as Hakim Chishti ibn Muhammad ibn
Hafiz, would be Hakim from the village of Chishti, son of Muhammad,
who was son of Hafiz. Most Muslims can recite their personal
genealogy back through to the Prophet Muhammad from memory.
There are also many variant spellings of Muslim names, based on
transliterations of the Arabic, Persian and Urdu original names.
Thus, one will see Hakim or Hakeem. Some people follow the
transliteration conventions of the International Standard Phonetic
Alphabet; however, many (or most) do not. (See also comments below).
Arabic is considered to be one of the three or four most difficult
languages to learn. The meanings and pronunciation of these names
appear to be especially challenging to the Western ear. Most Islamic
names are of Arabic, Persians, Turkish or Urdu origin and are
currently in use in the Middle East, Indo-Pak sub-continent and
Turkey. Some of the names may have two different meanings in two
languages and still a different one in the third. Most common and
popular meanings have been adopted.
A Muslim's name in all likelihood has its root origin in the Arabic
language, composed either of one of the names of Allah (God) or one
of His Divine attributes (Sifat) or one of the names of the Holy
Prophet or one of his epithets, or the name of another Prophet, or
of a quality or attribute of that Prophet, or of a Qur'anic term
connoting an Islamic value.
It is also possible that the name be that of a companion of the
Prophet, or of a great Muslim of the past who has distinguished him
or her self in the service of Islam.
It is an interesting fact of world names, that the most used and
common name on earth is Muhammad. Muhammad is the correct name and
spelling, generally, of the Prophet of Islam. Orientalists and
others have used "Mahomet, Mohamet, Mohamed, Mohamad and Maumet" ---
all of which are not only incorrect, but quite offensive to Muslims
(as is to refer to them as "Mohammedans", or their religion as "Mohammedism").
Muslims in North America are particularly prone to having their
Islamic names mutilated, because of the general ignorance of Arabic
or the difficulties of transliteration. Names which have a Western
equivalent (Yusuf, Ya'qub, Ishaq, Yunus, Musa, Ibrahim etc.) are
sometimes changed to their Biblical equivalents (Joseph, Jacob,
Isaac, Jonah, Moses, Abraham, etc.), without awareness that these
biblical personalities represent entirely different meanings to the
Christian and/or Jew than the Qur'anic names do to the Muslim.
It is difficult to make general rules for Muslim names, because the
rules of pronunciation differ in Arabic dialects, Turkish, Urdu and
Persian. The letter "P" does not occur in Arabic, but does in
Persian. Thus, any Muslim with a name containing the letter 'P'
would easily be identified of Persian origin. The sound of "Ch" (as
in Chalk) does not occur in Arabic, so whenever you see the letter
'C' in an Arabic name, it will be sounded with a soft 'C' as in
The symbol “’” represents the Arabic letter 'ayn', which is sounded
as a guttural stop of air at the back of the throat (as with the
break between the two O's in "cooperate", or "didn't").
a = as in abstain
i = as in fit
u = as in suffer
a (aa) = as in father
i (ee) = as in peer
u (oo) = as in you
s = as in sun (as opposed to sit)
h = as in hamburger (as opposed to happy)
q = as in cough (as opposed to calf)
kh = (guttural)
t = as in tawny (as opposed to tip)
Variants are usually based upon a differing
transliteration. In Arabic, Persian and Urdu, the spelling of the
long vowel 'a' (aleph), 'u' (waw), and 'i' (yah) are written in one
of two ways. One is to follow, approximately, the conventions of the
International Phonetic Alphabet. In this case, the yah is written as
'i.' For most native speakers of Urdu, the long vowel yah or 'i' is
written with a double 'ee' to more closely indicate the way in which
the letter sounds when spoken. Likewise, the long waw, is written as
'oo' as in "moo" and aleph is written as 'aa' as in "father."
In practical terms, this has created a true mishmash of Islamic
names in English, with three, four, or even seven or eight spellings
of the same word. Not infrequently, the English word becomes "lost"
from the Arabic original, in that one cannot decipher with certainty
what the original Arabic word was from the transmuted English word.
Moreover, virtually every Arabic word has up to a dozen root
meanings, so one can find many different "meanings" for a particular
name. We have provided the most common meanings associated with the
word when used as a name.
Another issue that causes unusual transliteration events concerns
the existence in Arabic, Persian and Urdu of two letters which have
no counterpart in English, the letters 'ayn' and 'ghayn'. The
transliteration of these letters is much more problematical than the
long vowels. The first letter, 'ayn', is not a sounded letter, but
rather what is called in linguistics a "glottal stop". This is
sounded similarly to the apostrophe in the English word "don't". The
letter "ghayn" is much more difficult, since it is made by adding a
guttural sound to the glottal stop, which is almost like the sound
of clearing one's throat. The letter 'ayn' is represented,
variously, as an apostrophe, a reverse apostrophe, and sometimes
even an upside down apostrophe! The letter 'ghayn' is also
represented with the same letters, as well as the letters 'kh'---quite
incorrectly, since the letter combination of 'kh' is always used to
represent the Arabic letter 'kha'. But, native speakers often use
the single letter 'K' to represent both the letter 'Kha' and 'Kaf.'
In other words, it is really a mess!
Nonetheless, most of the first choice names given in the Muslim
Names Database are the most common form of appearance one will see
in use in the United States, although there are regional
differences. The Midwest (the Detroit area in particular) has a high
proportion of Middle Eastern immigrants, and one will find less use
of the "doubled" vowel convention. Whereas in New York City, where
there is the largest population of Pakistani and Indian immigrants,
one will find much more of the doubled vowel convention. Often, it
is simply a matter of personal preference, and it should not be
considered incorrect to use any of the spellings.
When naming characters for novels, short stories and screenplays, it
is probably wise to choose a name and spelling which are not too
abrasive to the eye and ear of the reader. Tongue-twisting character
names, or what will be perceived as bizarre names, will not be
easily remembered by readers. Of course, if you wish to employ such
tactics for the sake of creating a particular attitude towards a
character, then such spelling variants can be useful.
Several grammatical rules and customs
about naming of Muslim children will help one to understand these
names, and our approach to constructing names useable for English
speaking authors and readers.
Names of Allah should never be used alone. These should always be
preceded by Abd- or should be combined with another name in such a
way that the final name does not remain a specific attribute of
Allah. The prefixes Al-, Ar- As- etc. (meaning 'the') are used to
make these names specific attributes of Allah.
Names can be combined with each other in a number of ways Ahmad
and Muhammad are frequently used both before and after the names of
Allah, Muhammad or others; e.g. Muhammad Jamil, Bashir Ahmad.
Names of Allah can be preceded with Abdul; eg. Abdul Karim (Abdus,
if a name starts with 'S' eg. Abdus Salam).
Biblical names in Arabic may be combined with the names of Allah,
Muhammad or others; eg. Muhammad Yusuf, Herun Rashid, 'Ali Zulkifi.
Abu added to the name of a married male indicates that he is father
of the child of the same name; eg. Abu Qaim means "father of Qaim".
Ibn or Bin are used to indicate that the male person is the son of
that person with whose name it is used; eg. Muhammad Bin Qasim means
"Muhammad son of Qasim".
In case of a single woman or girl, the name of the father is used
after the chosen name; eg. Maimuna Shafiq.
If she gets married, the name of the husband may replace the name of
the father; eg. Maimua Mahmud. However, adoption of a husband's name
is not compulsory for a woman in Islam, so one may often, or
usually, find women with names totally different from their husband.
In Islam, when the parents intend to name
their beloved child - whether male or female - they choose his or
her name from one of the following four classes of names:
A name indicating servitude to Allah (the
most popular are Abdullah (the slave of Allah) and Abdur-Rahman (the
slave of the Most Merciful)
A name after one of the Prophets or
messengers of Allah
A name after one of the pious people
(most popular are wives of Muhammad, then his other relatives, then
Names that are good, carrying meanings of
chastity or piety and easily pronounced, and harmonious.
Some names are disapproved of or disliked. These
Names which are disapproved of in Islamic Law (any
name which imputes Divinity to a human).
Names which carry meanings of pessimism, or
blameworthy characteristics which will be disliked or cause aversion
or cause the possessor of the name to feel degraded or humiliated
(like Harb (war), Himar (donkey), and Kalb (dog), etc.
Names which are sexually suggestive or may cause
one to feel shame - like Nuhad (a young woman with full and raised
breasts), Wisal (sexual union), Ghadah (delicate young woman), Fatin
(temptress), Fitnah (temptation), and names with similar meanings.
Names which amount to a declaration of a person's
being pious like: Barrah (pious/piety).
Names of the Angels (Jibril, Gabriel).
Names of verses of the Qur'an such as: TaHa, Yasin
and other names of verses.
Names that boast or show superiority in wealth or
status, such as Yasar (Ease), Rabah (Profit), and Najeeh
There are a number of issues with regard to vowels
in all of the original languages from which these names are taken.
As noted, the long vowel 'a' or aleph in Arabic, is written with one
or two 'a's in English---to denote whether it is a long or short
vowel. However, there is no unity in applying this rule whatsoever,
and many errors of transliteration can be noted. Nonetheless, such
spellings do occur with regularity, thus one may see 'Rahman', and
also 'Rahmaan', although only the first is correct. Another
convention sometimes used is to represent the long 'a' with a caret
over the letter 'a'. We have replaced it with an 'a', since almost
no word processors make this available as a default.
The glottal stop for the Arabic letters 'ayn' and 'ghayn' is
represented by an apostrophe. Thus, one finds the word for "slave"
('Abd) written both with and without the apostrophe. Actually the
International Phonetic Alphabet uses a reversed apostrophe for one
of the letters, which makes the matter even more complicated. Since
virtually no one uses a reverse apostrophe on the typewriter or
keyboard, it has been omitted. The spelling in this database for the
glottal stop is shown both with apostrophe and without.
The representation of joining of letters and vowels is a special
situation. One finds the word Abdur Rahman, spelled with many
variants, such as Abdur-Rahman, Abdur Rahman, AbdurRahman,
Abdurrahman, Abdurrahmaan, etc. We have given as many of these
variant spellings as practical.
One sees that there are approximately half as many female as male
names in this database. As mentioned elsewhere, there are only about
2,000 basic names Muslims use. In daily life, it is common for women
to refrain from using their own names in business dealings
especially, and likely may use their husband's name, since it is
considered undesirable for women to interact with strange men
Hakim Chishti (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fulbright Research Scholar.
13th Century Persian & Arabic Poetry & Language.
If any reader has comments, corrections or suggestions for the
Muslim Names portion of ImpianaSoft myName® Database, please send