Friday, August 15, 2008

What's in a name?

I have been Muslim for about 16 years and changing my name is something I have always been in two minds about. I was just a teenager when I accepted Islam and at the time it never occurred to me to change my name but over the years, meeting other convert sisters some of whom have changed their name it is something I have often thought about.

The reasons I did not change my name were:

  • When I first accepted Islam it didn't occur to me
  • I wanted to keep the name my mother chose for me out of respect to her
  • I felt being outwardly Muslim, i.e. wearing hijab, yet having a very obviously Western name would be a good way of showing non-Muslims that Islam is not just for Arabs and Asians
  • Keeping in mind that my name doesn't have any unislamic undertones, I didn't feel it was necessary to change my name to a 'foreign' name.

As mentioned though, the topic of name changing is one I mull over from time to time with the occasional sense of regret and I wonder if having a muslim name would give me a feeling of a stronger Islamic identity.

I say muslim name rather than Arabic name since I don't see the point in changing ones name from some perfectly acceptable non-muslim name to something like Jamilah (which means beautiful) or Wardah (which means Rose).

I found a few hadith relating to the subject and it seems that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) only changed new Muslim's names when they had an objectionable meaning or a meaning unbecoming to the person. An objectionable name could be an unislamic name such as Shaytan (Satan) or Abdul Shaytan (Servant of Satan), a name that implies that person has bad qualities such as Al-Munba'ith (one who lies), a name which is for Allah alone such as Malik Al-Mulook (King of Kings) or a name that gives a person too much prestige such as Barrah (piety).

Narrated AbudDarda': The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: On the Day of Resurrection you will be called by your names and by your father's names, so give yourselves good names. (Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 41; number 4930)

Narrated AbuWahb, Hazn ibn AbuWahb: The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) asked: What is your name? He replied: Hazn (rugged). He said: You are Sahl (smooth). He said: No, smooth is trodden upon and disgraced. Sa'id said: I then thought that ruggedness would remain among us after it. AbuDawud said: The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) changed the names al-'As, Aziz, Atalah, Shaytan, al-Hakam, Ghurab, Hubab, and Shihab and called him Hisham. He changed the name Harb (war) and called him Silm (peace). He changed the name al-Munba'ith (one who lies) and called him al-Mudtaji' (one who stands up). He changed the name of a land Afrah (barren) and called it Khadrah (green). He changed the name Shi'b ad-Dalalah (the mountain path of a stray), the name of a mountain path and called it Shi'b al-Huda (mountain path of guidance). He changed the name Banu az-Zinyah (children of fornication) and called them Banu ar-Rushdah (children of those who are on the right path), and changed the name Banu Mughwiyah (children of a woman who allures and goes astray), and called them Banu Rushdah (children of a woman who is on the right path). AbuDawud said: I omitted the chains of these for the sake of brevity. (Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 41; Number 4938)

Narrated Al-Musaiyab: That his father (Hazn bin Wahb) went to the Prophet and the Prophet asked (him), "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Hazn." The Prophet said, "You are Sahl." Hazn said, "I will not change the name with which my father has named me." Ibn Al-Musaiyab added: We have had roughness (in character) ever since. (Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 73, Number 209)

Narrated Abu Huraira: Zainab's original name was "Barrah," but it was said' "By that she is giving herself the prestige of piety." So the Prophet changed her name to Zainab. (Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 212)

I'd like to ask those reading this who are also converts to Islam (or reverts if you refer that term), did you change your name? If yes, why? If no, why not? Do you have any regrets about changing or not changing your name? Do you think you gained anything from changing your name?


Rainbow In The Grey Sky said...

you should not be obliged to change your name unless it meet the criteria of a bad meaning as stated in the hadith. If your name is a nice meaning one then so be it!

UmmAbdurRahman said...

For the first two years that I was muslim, I did not change my name. When I got married and moved to another state I decided to change my name then. It was much easier than having to ask everyone I knew to call me by a new name. Unfortunately, the name chage is not legal. So, now all the people(muslims/non-muslims) I meet know me as "new name" but my co-workers, family, and people from old state call me by "old name." sooooo confusing.

Humayraa said...

5 years after accepting Islaam, I "met" a brother who is a graduate from the University of Madinah (where he specialized in hadith) and he presented me with some convincing ahadith about why I should change my name. He offered to present me with a list of names from which I could choose, and I accepted. That's how I picked the name I have now. My legal name is still the one my parents gave to me, and though I was adamant on changing it over the years, I've opted to leave it as it is. All relatives, non-Muslims and Muslims who knew me before the change call me by the name chosen by my parents, while all Muslims who have met me within the last five and a half years call me by the name I chose. There are a few people who use both interchangably.

While I enjoy using the name I picked, in retrospect, I wish that I had just stuck with the name given to me by my parents. It does not have a bad meaning (that I know of!) and though it's known to be a christian name (especially when you add the title "sister" in front of it, also there's a "saint" with the same name), I think it would have been excellent for da'wah, as you said...

Maybe it's not too late for me to revert to exclusively using my given name, but time will tell what I do, inshaaAllaah.

Adventurous Ammena said...

salam, I use my given name all the time.. although I have an online persona which is getting weird the more I meet people in real life from the net.. I dont mind either and I have nicknames from my name (louise) that my close family and even h2b calls me :) I love my name, although I didnt when I was a child and I love the meaning too (female warrior) Allahu alim. I too came across all the hadiths about not having to change it and I also think its very good dawah although some people never believe me that its me name. 'but youre muslim, thats not a muslim name' lol :D starts the conversation, if they do say it to my face anyways :P

Anonymous said...

as salamu alaykum

I changed my name too and,as most of us,I have ppl calling me with my arabic name and ppl calling me with my "original" name.But I don't mind alhamdulillah!

But I think it's important now that we give good names to the new generations:like name loved by Allah "Abdullah,Abdurahman...etc" or names of the Prophets(as) or the Sahaba/Sahabyat. Most of this names I see them disappearing..or maybe it's just my feeling... Allahu a'alam!

Umm Ibrahim said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

Interesting to read your responses, masha'Allah. Humayraa... I love both your names masha'Allah but you do make me laugh when you say it makes you sound like a nun!

UmAlMujahid, I definitely agree with you that we should give our children good names with a strong sense of 'muslimness' in order to start fostering a strong Islamic identity. My children all have names of people in Islamic history and they love hearing the story behind their names. :)

Latifah said...

Assalamu alaikum:

Well when i converted to islam, i want to change my name, but i didnt know how are the importance has,so i decided to my name has now,i really like it because the meaning is a patiance woman.

latifah umm hassan

pd. sister..i wrote in english version in my blog and i answered you...

seekingtaqwa said...

I did change my name initially, but it never felt right and for some reason I needed to keep a little bit of "me"...after changing so many things regarding my lifestyle after i came to islam it was good to retain a part of myself..and I LURVE my name..

Anonymous said...

Assalaamu alaykum!

I changed my name (I wrote an entry about it), because it was a derivative of something haram -the name of a goddess. Although I never really liked the name given to me at birth, I would have kept it for a few reasons (good for dawah, part of me/my identity). Well, I had to change it, so I embraced the change and chose a name I liked the meaning and sound of. I think as long as the meaning of the name is acceptable (i.e. not haram/something bad), then it is a Muslim name regardless of its origin. For instance, I knew a sister who is also a convert. Her name is 'Felicity' which is a lovely name both in its meaning and its sound. Although it is perfectly acceptable, she changed hers to 'Khadija' to attain a stronger Islamic identity.

Umm Ibrahim, why have you started thinking about changing your name (again) after so long - 16 years of Islam? And what are some of the ones you've considered?

alajnabiya said...

I hated my name when I was growing up. It seemed such a boring, common name. I was always imagining changing it to something more exotic, especially after I heard that my parents had named me after an uncle! (Carol instead of Carl) I was their third daughter and they had only picked out boy's names. But when I became Muslim and had to choose, I decided to keep the name my parents had given me. My mother was already hurt when I rejected so much of the way I had been brought up, changing my beliefs, style of dress, even refusing to eat the foods my family loved. So I decided that changing my name would have been perceived by her as one more rejection. There was no need to hurt her feelings if it wasn't mandated by Islam. Besides, most of the names that are now considered Islamic existed before The Qur'an was sent down.

I have actually met several other Muslim Carols over the years. Who knows, maybe some day it will be a common name for Muslims. The funny thing is that now that I live in Palestine, I have the exotic and unusual name I wanted as a child, and it is still just Carol.

Unknown said...

I never officially changed my name, but I did choose a name for myself when I converted. I felt that the change in my heart deserved a name that reflected it. I became Noor to those Muslims around me, but to my family I kept my own name. Now as a writer I am using my original name and it has actually helped me come in contact with people from my past who are curious about me and it has become a way to make Dawa with them. Alhamdulillah. I think it works both ways depending upon how you feel.

Umm Ibrahim said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

Latifah is a very pretty name masha'allah :] . Thanks for the English reply on your blog!

Seekingtaqwa: To some extent I feel the same way about keeping a part of me... a part that doesn't need to be changed.

Aliyah: I haven't started thinking about it all over again; it's just something that coms up with me every now and then. :] But yes, 16 years does seem a bit late in the day and I really don't know how I would choose a name - it would be too strange for me! Actually I do like the name Aliyah a lot and haven't used this for any of my girls as I feel it doesn't really 'match' with the names I have given them... maybe I should have it then?! Me as an Aliyah just seems a bit surreal though! LOL

Alajnabiya: That's kinda funny what you are saying about having the exotic name you always wanted even without changing it!

Nicole: I guess not officially changing your name is easier ont he family; they can still know you by the given name but you can enjoy having a new name amongst your muslim sisters. :]

Anonymous said...

I am also a Louise and like other sisters feel my official rejection of the name my parents gave me would further hurt their feelings. I am therefore known by that name when I am in the UK and by Mahdiyyah in Algeria although my 'foreign' expat friends here in Algeria still call me Louise?????. I chose this name as it means 'rightly guided' and as my husband is called Mahdi, I thought we could be rightly guided together! - and I need all the help I can get!

talib د عا ؤ ں کا طا لب said...

assalam alaikum warahmatullah wabrkatahu,

May ALLAH bless you.
you are doing the best in the favour of society , umma and islaam.
i am a new blogger from india.
i have given your blog link in my blog
plz when ever you time do visit my site.


L_Oman said...

Not legally, but family here calls me by an Arabic name. Family there calls me by my birth name. To say I have identity issues would be an understatement.

Just kidding.

I wish I had never allowed the family here to call me by an Arabic name. I like my given name so I don't know what I was thinking...

alajnabiya said...

LOL, I think all of us who are converts and long term expats have some "identity issues."

Umm Ibrahim said...

Mahdiyyah: Yes, I am also very aware of hurting my family's feelings, or rather NOT hurting their feelings as my acceptance of Islam was a big enough blow to them.

Talib: Thank you. Looking forward to more English language posts on your blog. :]

L_Oman, Alajnabiya: Ah yes... identity issues! LOL

Sketched Soul said...

As-salaamu'alaykum wa Rahmatu Llahi wa Barakatuhu my dearest sister,

Very interesting topic. :D

I really like that you distinguished between Muslim name and Arabic name - a lot of people don't see the difference. As far as I know, your name just has to have a good meaning (that's one of the rights of a child), .. and can be in any language you like. But we are not supposed to change our last name (ie: when you get married).

Allahu alim.

Wa'alaykum as-salaam
Love Farhana

Anonymous said...

Assalaamu Alaikum Sister!

Greetings from Finland! I just found your blog through another blog and was amazed, Masha'Allah! This post was like I have written it, it's so similar with my thoughts. Your way of presenting hadiths even looks similar.
So you know my opinion about this topic by reading your own posting, lol!
By the way, I was reverted about 15 years ago and I have 5 children, Masha'Allah.

Fee aman Allah your sister Maryam

Umm Ibrahim said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

Farhana: well for me there is a definite distinction between and given that my name translates to an Arabic equivalent, I don't see the point in putting my family through the heartache. I think your name is apart you really so unless you really hate your name it is strange to change it.

Maryam: Nice to 'meet' you sister! you say that my sentiments are very similar to your own but it seems that you did change your name... what were your reasons, if that's not too personal? :]

Anonymous said...

Assalaamu Alaikum,

No I didn't change my name officially (at least not yet), I kept my name and took the name one dear sister gave me as my "nickname" which I use mostly in the netdiscussions in order to keep my real identity secret. Almost everyone know me by my original name in real life.
Anyways, I have always felt also that I don't want to be Umm-something, I wanted to be me myself and I ;-)

wassalaam Maryam

Umm Ibrahim said...

I see. :)

I understand what you mean about being Umm something, another thing where I am caught between two sentiments! Am so indecisive! lol. I don't think anyone IRL really calls me Umm Ibrahim though, it's mainly online where I use my kunya for reasons you mentioned. Takes up less imagination than having to think up a whole new name for myself!

Anonymous said...

ma sha allah
I really liked your point of view, I was always against changing the names of new Muslims, don't know why but I didn't like the idea.
I didn't think a lot about it anyway, but after reading here, I was really happy with the points of view from you people, really really makes me happy!
thank you for the great blog.

Suleiman, Riyadh

Umm Ibrahim said...


Thanks for the feedback Suleiman. :)