Patronymic naming conventions are the standard throughout the majority of the Arabic-speaking world. Most names comprise at least three parts:
- given name
- family name or surname
However, each country has varying norms for how many names are recorded on public records. Between the father’s name and family name, additional names following the paternal lineage may be added. The number of patronymics used varies by country.
For example, Lebanese records typically list three names: given name, father’s given name, and surname or family name. In Jordan, it is more common to include four names: given name, father’s given name, grandfather’s given name, and family name. Of course, exceptions to these rules exist, and some people disclose four or more names on Lebanese company documents.
The Nasab in Arabic Naming Conventions
The nasab is the string of male names indicating a person’s heritage that follows the given name.
For men, the nasab comprises the names of the father, grandfather, and other male ancestors. These names are sometimes separated by the word ibn (ابن) or bin (بن), both meaning “son of.” For example:
أبو عبد الله محمد بن عبد الله اللواتي الطنجي بن بطوطة
Abu Abdallah Mohammed bin Abdallah Al-Luwaty Al-Tanjy bin Batouta
محمد بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود
Mohammed Bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud
For women, the given name and father’s name are separated by bint, (بنت), meaning “daughter of”:
نورة بنت فيصل السعود
Noura Bint Faisal Al-Saud
In the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, this construction is very common. In other parts of the Arab world, such as Lebanon or Egypt, individuals don’t often write their names using ibn, bin, or bint.
Nisba Adjectives in Arabic Naming Conventions
Some individuals’ last names are nisba adjectives. Nisba adjectives are formed by adding the suffix ي (-y) or ية (-iya) to a noun to denote relation or pertinence. Common examples of these last names include البغدادي (Al-Baghdady), الصعيدي (Al-Saeedy), and المصري (Al-Masry), all of which derive from place names. These names generally indicate the person has a distant connection to that place. Women whose last names are nisba adjectives may write the name in its feminine form, using the suffix -a or -ah. This spelling change may appear in both Arabic and English records. For example, Layla Al-Shamy (ليلى الشامي) may also go by Layla Al-Shamiya/Al-Shamya/Al-Shamiyah (ليلى الشامية) in English records.
Adapting Arabic Names Abroad
Individuals with Arabic names living in non-Arabic speaking jurisdictions may adapt their names to comport with the standards of that region. Because name length varies significantly by region, countries with shorter naming conventions use abbreviations of common Arabic names.
For example, most Chinese citizens have names that are only two to four characters long. To get around computer systems created with this fact in mind, the first name Mohammed is often abbreviated as Mhd. or Mohd. on Chinese official records. In the United Kingdom, an individual named Mohammed Khaled Ahmed Khalfan may abbreviate his name as Mohammed Kh. A. Khalfan.
Arabic names adapt in a specific way in Spanish-speaking jurisdictions. To read about this naming adaptation, see our article on Levantine Arabic Names in Spanish.