Popular Names in the Middle East

In the U.S., a great deal of importance is placed on our names; as John Proctor says in The Crucible, “How may I live without my name?”  People in the U.S. typically have names deriving from their family’s country of origin or their family’s religion.  Like how ‘Patrick’ is a typical name from Ireland or ‘Rebecca’ is a common Judeo-Christian name.  People in Middle Eastern countries have a similar tradition; with names stemming from background, religion, and often meaning.  For example, one popular name for boys is ‘Abdul,’ meaning ‘servant of God,’ and a common name for girls is ‘Aisha,’ coming from the name of Muhammad’s favorite wife.  There are also historical allusions, like the popular Persian name ‘Cyrus,’ from Cyrus the Great, who founded the Persian Empire.  Other Arabic names include ‘Lela’ (born at night), ‘Jamaal’ (handsome), and Rasheed (thinker).  Some examples of Persian names are ‘Aleah’ (God’s being), ‘Kira’ (sun), and ‘Hussein’ (good looking).

(Shakira – Grateful)

Most of us are probably used to the ‘first name + middle name + last name’ system.  Traditionally, our parents choose our first and middle names, and our last name comes from our father’s side of the family.  Though many people from Middle Eastern countries have adopted a more Westernized approach, whether out of convenience or because of colonialism, there are traditional ways of writing names; however, they can vary depending on specific area.  One way is to set the name up as somewhat of a ‘family tree;’ for example, the name:

Layla bint Hussein walud Malik Al-Qasim

translates to ‘Layla, daughter of Hussein, son of Malik, of the Qasim family.’  Like in traditional Western families, the children also take the name of the father’s family.  Some families, particularly in the West, have shortened their names to be ‘first name + father’s name + father’s family name.’  So, using the above example, the name would be Layla Hussein Qasim.

There are many Middle Eastern names that have Western counterparts.  For example, the Persian name for Roxanne is ‘Roxana’ and a form of Anthony is ‘Antwan.’   This is partly because many names that we consider to be ‘Western’ actually come from the Middle East because of the nature of their Biblical origins.  Many times, Middle Easterners are caricatured by the West as having strange, long, or difficult to pronounce names.  Though it should always be kept in mind that American or European names may seem very unusual to someone from, say, Beirut, be careful.  You may be making fun of someone with the same name as yourself.

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Just a U of M junior living the art history dream.

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