Is a 'Muslim' Name Necessary for Converts?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Any name that has a good meaning is a Muslim name.  However, for various reasons, it is encouraged to have definitive, identifiable Muslim name.  It is preferable for the convert to not replace his name but to add an alias.  For legal reasons, having an entirely new name might necessitate the changing of a lot of documents which is expensive and a hassle.  Also, become a Muslim does not mean abandoning your heritage.  You are changing your faith, not your culture or your ethnicity.  It is highly encouraged to keep the family name for genealogical reasons.

Having a recognisable Muslim name helps in instances such as the claiming of a body for a Muslim burial for Muslims who are without Muslim family or spouse.  It may also facilitate entry to Makkah for the hajj.  A good Muslim name is also a supplication for the person.  Therefore choosing a good name is important.  It should not be something that is rushed.

Instances where name must be changed would be any name that is disparaging or insulting.  Even an Arabic name that denotes negative attributes or misfortune should be changed.  Any names that are from the Times of Ignorance, that denote divinity or servanthood to anything other than God, such as ‘Abd ul-Ka’bah (Male Slave of the Ka’bah), or Hubal (ancient Arab deity), Ganesh (Hindu deity) or names that might cause confusion such as ‘Christian’ are inappropriate for a Muslim.

In the etiquette for someone choosing a Muslim name, it is important that the name is grammatically correct and complete.  An example of an incomplete name is ‘Saiful’ which means ‘the Sword of.’  Perhaps it could be ‘Sayf ad-Din,’ ‘the Sword of Faith’ or ‘Sayf ar-Rahman,’ ‘the Sword of the Infinitely Merciful.’  The name should also reflect characteristics that suit the person.  It is not advisable to name a timid person ‘Amir’, (Leader), for example.

Names that reflect great personages are preferred (Muhammad, Abu Bakr), followed by names that reflect servanthood to God (‘Abd ur-Rahman, ‘Abd ul-Malik) followed by names that reflect character and pleasant or divine things (Jamal, Nur ul-Jannah).

There was a habit in this part of the world for converts to have the ‘bin ‘Abd Allah’ which means ‘the son of the Slave of Allah,’ as part of the name or ‘binte ‘Abdullah’ for the women which means ‘the daughter of the Slave of Allah.’  This is not preferable.  In Islam, we are not allowed to throw our heritage aside and that includes family names without good reason.  In the same vein that in the Qur’an, the Prophet (s.a.w.) was not allowed to rename his adopted son Zayd as ‘ibn Muhammad.’  Whilst it is commendable to have the name, ‘Abdullah, the ‘bin’or ‘binte; means that the father is named ‘Abd Allah’ and that is not true.  Also, this is very hurtful to the families of those who convert.


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