Bismillaah (In the name of Allaah)
THE Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Name yourselves by my name, but do not call yourselves by my Kunyah.” (Al Bukhari, the book of manners)
Kunyah (a title that contains the appellation Abu or Umm) is a form of honoring someone. The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave the Kunyah “Abu Yahyah” to Suhaib, “Abu Turaab” to Ali, and “Abu Umair” to the brother of Anas while he was still a young child (may Allah be pleased with them).
Arabic and Islaamic proper names are ordinarily composed of five parts. A person may be mentioned by one or more of them, or by all of them. Sometimes, a person will be mentioned by one component in one place and by others in another place; this is especially common in historical works.
The parts are:
1. The ism (الاسم) or ‘aalam (العالم): Ism (Plural: أسماء) means noun and اسم العالم (ism al-’aalam) is the definite proper noun in the grammatical sense. The personal name of a specific person is referred as ism al-’aalam in the strictest sense, or just ism or ‘aalam in the short, informal sense. (Ism can also refer to names of things and used in the general sense.) It can be –
(a) an Arabic name (occasionally even a pre-Islaamic one), including adjectives and nouns with specific meanings, such as Muhammad (praised), Ahmad (more praiseworthy), ‘Alee (exalted). Sometimes, the name is formed with the definite article (al-), as in al-Hasan (the good, the beautiful) or al-Husayn (the diminutive form of al-Hasan);
(b) a biblical name in its Qur’anic form, such as Haaroon (Aaron), Ibraaheem (Abraham), Sulaymaan (Solomon), Yoosuf (Joseph), Moosaa (Moses), Ayyoob (Job), etc;
(c) a compound name, usually a combination of ‘Abd (slave) with one of the ninety-nine names of God, as in ‘Abd al-’Azeez (slave of the Mighty), ‘Abd al-Kareem (slave of the Generous), ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan (slave of the Compassionate), or simply ‘Abd Allaah (slave of God). Christian Arab names may also take this form, e.g. ‘Abd al-Maseeh (slave of the Messiah);
(d) a Persian (e.g. Jamsheed, Rustam) or Turkish (e.g. Teemoor) name.
2. The kunyah (الكنية): a name or a title, composed of Aboo (father of) or Umm (mother of) plus a proper or a common noun, such as Aboo Bakr (the first Caliph). The kunyah always precedes the ism, as in Aboo Moosaa ‘Alee (‘Alee, father of Moosaa) or Abul Qaasim Muhammad (the kunyah and ism of the Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). In principle, Aboo or Umm is followed by the eldest son’s name (e.g. Umm Ahmad, “Mother of Ahmad”), although this is not always observed.
Kunyahs do not always represent actual parental relationships. Several kunyahs became associated with certain personal names (isms), either by custom or out of respect for the precedent. For example, a man named Ibraaheem is often called Aboo Ishaaq (Father of Isaac) or Aboo Ya’qoob (Father of Jacob) because of the biblical/Qur’anic precedent, regardless of whether or not the man actually had a son named Isaac or Jacob.
It was traditional to avoid using certain kunyahs, also out of respect. During the Prophet’s lifetime, people were prohibited from taking his kunyah (but not his ism); after his death, it was permissible to take either his kunyah or his ism, but not to couple them as Abul Qaasim Muhammad.
A person may have more than one kunyah. ‘Uthmaan ibn ‘Affaan (the third Caliph) had three kunyahs: Aboo ‘Amr, Aboo ‘Abd Allaah and Aboo Layla. Sometimes, warriors would use one kunyah in peacetime and another during war.
Kunyahs are commonly metaphorical, alluding to a desired quality or some characteristic (either positive or negative) or distinguishing mark that the person possesses, as in Abul Fadl (Father of Merit), Abul Khayr (Father of Goodness), Abul Dawaniq (Father of Pennies, the kunyah of the ‘Abbaasid Caliph ‘Abd Allaah al-Mansoor, alluding to his stinginess), Abul Dhubab (Father of Flies, referring to a man’s bad breath), Aboo Shama (Father of Birthmark, referring to his birthmark), etc.
3. The nasab: the lineage, a list of ancestors beginning with the father, each introduced with ibn or bint (son, daughter [of]). This is, properly speaking, a patronymic. Often, two generations are given, but in biographical dictionaries, for persons of great importance, the lineage is traced back as far as possible. Some examples are cUmar ibn [b.] al-Khattab (the second caliph), cUthman ibn cAffan (the third caliph), cAli ibn Abi Talib (the fourth caliph).
In Persian, ibn is expressed by –i (Hasan-i Sabbah) or by zade (son), as in Qadizade/ Kadızade (son of a judge).
In Turkish, ibn is expressed by oğlu (son), as in Mihaloğlu (son of Michael).
4. The laqab: an honorific or descriptive epithet, originally a nickname. In later times, these were adopted as titles and conferred with great ceremony. The laqab can be
(a) a physical quality: al-Tawil (the tall one), al-Acwar (the one-eyed);
(b) of a theocratic nature, expressing dependence or reliance on God, as in the case of the cAbbasid regnal titles: al-Mansur Billah (the one who is helped to victory by God), al-Mahdi Billah (the divinely guided one), al-Wathiq Billah (he who puts his trust in God), al-Mucti Billah (he who makes himself obedient to God);
(c) a compound with the word din (religion) or dawla (state): Jalal al-Din (majesty of religion), al-Mucizz li-Din Allah (strengthener of God’s religion), Taj al-Din (crown of religion), cAdud al-Dawla (arm [strength] of the state), cImad al-Dawla (pillar of the state), Rukn al-Dawla (cornerstone of the state).
Sometimes din and dawla are coupled in titles: Mucizz al-Din wa’l-Dawla (strengthener of religion and state), Ghiyath al-Din wa’l-Dawla (succor of religion and state).
(d) a compound with a word such as islam, milla (community), or mulk (kingdom): Nizam al-Mulk (order of the kingdom), Sayf al-Islam (sword of Islam).
A laqab often precedes the ism and sometimes comes to replace it.
5. The nisbah: an adjective derived from the place of birth, origin, residence, occupation (occasionally), or sometimes from a sect, tribe, or family. A slave or a freedmen often used a nisbah derived from the name of his master (al-Salihi, the mamluk [military slave] of al-Salih). A person may have several nisbahs. Each is usually preceded by the definite article (al-), as in Ahmad al-Khurasani (Ahmad from Khurasan), Jawhar al-Siqilli (Jawhar the Sicilian).
NB: The note is not complete and fully edited and fully referenced as of yet, hence mistakes in grammar, spellings and transliterations are present.
Are you aware of names that are disliked or forbidden to use?
Would you like to get a first or new nickname? What would you pick out and have your self called? Can you be creative with it and try to come up with something that stands out just for you?