Arabic naming systems
and problems arising
The most common
structure of an Arab’s name is as follows:
For a male:
[name] bin [father’s
name] bin [grandfather’s name] bin [great-grandfather’s name]
An example would be
Mohamed bin Ahmed bin Mahmoud (the fourth name is often optional)
For a female:
bint [father’s name] bin [paternal grandfather’s name] bin [paternal
example would be Fatma bint Ahmed bin Mahmoud (the fourth name is often
“bin” here means
“son of” and “bint” here means “daughter of”
The words “bin” and “bint” are left out. They are understood.
Instead of the grandfather’s name and / or the great-grandfather’s
name there is a clan name and / or a tribal name.
example would be Fahd bin Mohamed Al Saud
arising from Arab names in England
1- Formal British documents often want a
surname. But there is no surname in Arabic. Hence the Arab will probably choose
either his father’s name or grandfather’s name or clan or tribal name as his
2- Arab women do not change their names
when they marry. Hence their chosen “surname” may not match her husband’s
“surname”, or she may choose to use her husband’s “surname” to match
Issues arising from English names in the Arab world
1- In a formal document the Arab may not
record the English person’s surname. He will ask for the father’s name and
grandfather’s name. So “Jane Elizabeth Smith” may be recorded as Jane the
daughter of William the son of Edward, where “William” is her father’s
Christian name and “Edward” is her paternal grandfather’s Christian name.
2- An English person aware of the problem
may provide other variations on formal documents, such as “Jane Elizabeth the
daughter of William the son of Smith” or “Jane Smith the daughter of William
the son of Edward”.
1- Many formal documents record the
details of Identity Cards and Passports. These can be used to identify the
people concerned where there is a problem with the names. However it needs to be
borne in mind that if the document is old the passport number may relate to an
2- Arabic and English alphabets do not
match. This can give rise to problems of spelling between the two languages,
such as “Mohamed”, “Muhammad” and so on.
© 2005 Philip Gordon - Arabic to English Translator.
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