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:

[name] bint [father’s name] bin [paternal grandfather’s name] bin [paternal great-grandfather’s name]

An example would be Fatma bint Ahmed bin Mahmoud (the fourth name is often optional)


“bin” here means “son of” and “bint” here means “daughter of”


Common variations:

1-      The words “bin” and “bint” are left out. They are understood.

2-      Instead of the grandfather’s name and / or the great-grandfather’s name there is a clan name and / or a tribal name.

An example would be Fahd bin Mohamed Al Saud


Issues 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 “surname”.

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 English practice.


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”.


Further notes:

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 old passport.

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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