Thursday, January 8, 2009

Understanding People's Names

There is quite a lot of stuff happening with people's names, so I'll explain today's blog posting using typically representative, but imgainary names.

Men's Names
If for example a man is called,
'Sayed Zuhair bin Ali bin Mohammed Al Thwadi', we can separate his name into six parts:

1. Sayed
indicates the person is a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammed and is the equivalent to the English title/salutation, Mr.
2. Zuhair
his first name and the name he would be called by friends and family. At work he is likely to be called, Mr. Zuhair, especially by his subordinates
3. bin
as a direct translation means, ‘son of’
4. Al
ithe name of his father
5. Mohammed
the name of his grandfather
6. Al Thwadi (a popular name in Oman)
the family name, last name or surname

Women's Names
If Zuhair (the imaginary man in the example above) had a sister called Mariam, then her name would be,
'Mariam bint Ali bin Mohammed Al Thwadi', which can be described as follows:

1. Mariam
the name she is called by friends and family. At work she is likely to be called Mrs. (or Miss, or as a term of endearment, Sheika) Miriam, especially by her subordinates.
2. bint
directly translated means, ‘daughter of’ and rarely included in names
3. Ali
the name of her father
4. bin
the son of
5. Mohammed
the name of her grandfather
6. Al Thwadi
the family name, last name or surname

Changing Your Name
Women do not change their names when they get married and will continue to use the family name they are born with. She will however go from being a Miss to a Mrs. So if Zuhair was to marry a woman called Miss Jawaha Yousif Ali, she would change her title from Miss to Mrs. and would become; Mrs. Jawaha Yousif Ali.

~ I was very excited when I first found this out and felt it was a true example of women's liberation. However, my exictement soon stopped when I discovered the reason behind this particular custom, "If she gets divorced then no one will know" ~

Should a Muslim go on the Hajj {see blog archive: o3/o2} then as a term of respect the men are occasionally called Hajji [hajj-ji] and the women, Hajjia [hajj-jee-ah].

The film industry gets it wrong again; 'Les Adventures of Hajji Baba'
Image taken from:

Another term of respect is to call someone by their eldest child's name. For example if Zuhair and Jawaha had a son called Ahmed, there's a strong chance Zuhair would be called, 'Bu Ahmed' (direct translation: the father of Ahmed) and Jawaha would be called, 'Umm Ahmed' (direct translation: the mother of Ahmed).

Possibly the most famous 'Umm' of all time, the Egyptian singer 'Umm Khalthoum' [umm kal-thoom]. According to the Guiness Book of Records, four million people attended her funeral in Cario, in 1975, the most ever recorded for one person:
Image taken from:

Another Umm, this time 'Umm Khammas', a rebel and three times a widow, from the UAE carton 'Fareej'
Image taken from:

Children always take their last name from their father. This means Zuhair and Jawaha's son might be called, Ali bin Zuhair bin Ali Al Thwadi (after his grandfather) and their daughter could be called, Layla Zuhair bin Ali Al Thwadi (Layla could well be named after her grandmother).

Additonal Information
It is said, although there is no concrete evidence, the most popular name in the world is Mohammed, (meaning; 'one who is praiseworthy'), and which can also be spelt; Muhammad, Mohammad, Muhammed, Mohamed, Mohamad, Mahammed, Mohammod, Mahamed, Muhammod, Muhamad, Mohmmed, Mohamud and Mohammud. Apparently the closest spelling to the Arabic pronunciation is; Muhammad [mo-ham-ma'd]

A minumum of four names is required for all holders of GCC passports

Repetitions of names are not unheard of ~like the English Mr. John Johnson~ and you are likely to meet a Mr. Mohammed Ali Mohammed. Occasionally you’ll come across a Mr. Ali Ali Ali or a Mr. Mohammed Mohammed Mohammed.

Urban Legend
When I first met my husband and I asked his name I was shocked at the reply, it seemed so long and large and full of meaning. The first words I uttered after hearing it were, “That’s not a name, that’s a sentence”.


ipv6 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ipv6 said...

“That’s not a name, that’s a sentence”.

heheh, I laff a bit reading this..
Anyways Thanks for some lesson in Arabic name.

Elizabeth Bojang said...

This is a great explanation! I am fascinated by naming customs and culture.
Perhaps you would be interested in doing a guest post on my blog (coming soon) at

lesley said...

A very interesting explanation, very well thought out. Looking forward to reading your future work

wgaw said...

More than happy to write a guest post for your blog.

Coffee Catholic said...

I used to live in Manama! I loved it there!! Say hello to Bahrain for me!!!!

embojang said...

great - I'll let you know when it os up and running

Sharshura said...

Just to let you know that there is an islamic reason why Muslim women do not change their last names, it is seen as disrespect to their father as well as to keep it is to honor ones lineage. All of the prophet's wives also did not change their names.

Read more here:

Anonymous said...

I am fascinated!