The Arab world encompasses many countries over two continents, so it makes sense that many Arabs also have unique names that come from many places. An Arab name can come from one’s parents, their place of origin, or even noteworthy deeds they did in life.
Whether you’re trying to research your Arab heritage or looking for baby name inspirations, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we go over everything you need to know about Arabic names!
Many western names follow the structure of the first name, middle name, and last name. The first name is usually what people are called by, while the last name tells which family they’re from.
However, Arab names are vastly different from western names in that an Arab can have up to five names. If you’re curious about how Arabic last names work, we’ll break down the five parts here
Also called an ism, the given name works much like its western counterpart. These names are usually taken from adjectives or nouns, and are usually picked as well-wishes to the child.
Some examples of Arab given names are Abdullah, meaning “servant of God”, and Fatimah, meaning “baby’s nurse”. Another popular name is Muhammad (“praise-worthiness”), used by 150 million people in the world.
Called nisbah, these Arabic last names denote a person’s origins and begin with the prefix al- which basically means “the”. For example, someone with the nisbah Al Afghan is likely a descendant of an Afghan or currently living in Afghanistan.
Nasab is the Arabic version of patronymics. They indicate a person’s heritage with ibn/bin (“son of”) or ibnat/bint (“daughter of”). A good example of a nasab is Umar bin Raihan (“Umar, son of Raihan”).
The kunya is an Arabic name referring to one’s children. A kunya begins with Abu (“father”) or Ummu (“mother”) and is followed by the child’s name. For example, Abu Rashid means “father of Rashid”. These names are usually used in familiar but respectful settings.
Some people also have a kunya based on their noteworthy characteristics. One of the companions of Prophet Mohammed is called Abu Bakr (“father of the camel foal”) because of his kindness to camels.
The laqab is best translated as an epithet, a name of unique origin that describes the person. For instance, Harun al-Rashid has the laqab al-Rashid. His full name translates into “Harun, the Rightly-Guided”.
Surnames help define a person’s origins. Many popular Arabic last names come from four sources, which are:
Many nisbah are taken from a person’s geographic origin. Some examples include Al Amriki (“from America”) and Al-Tikriti (“from Tikrit”)
Some family names tie a person to their lineage. For instance, the name Al-Saud refers to the Saud Family, the current ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia.
What one’s ancestor does for a living can end up becoming the surname of their descendants. For instance, the occupational name Al Tajir means “the merchant”.
An ancestor’s noteworthy feature can end up being immortalized in history as a surname. These names usually come in the form of adjectives, like Fadel which means “virtuous”.
While the nisbah is most commonly used as a surname, sometimes people can be referred to by their kunya or laqab as well. In this list of common Arabic last names, we’ve compiled many names that can fall into any one of those categories:
Researching the origins of your surname can be a good way to start retracing your Arab heritage. Most Arab names also have great meanings and make great baby names.
If researching surnames is the first step, your next step should be analyzing old photos of your relatives. But before you do so, you may want to restore them first. Contact Image Restoration Center for affordable world-class photo restorations!