How to Choose a Muslim Baby Name

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The Importance of Muslim Baby Names and Naming in Islam

Naming a child has a profound effect because it exerts a defining impact on that child’s development, as well as its connection to and interaction with the people and things around that child.

The first thing Muslim parents blessed by God with the coming of a newborn should know is that Islam considers the moment of choosing a name and ‘naming’ (tasmiyah in Arabic) one of the pivotal events in all of life. A good Muslim baby name is a fundamental right of a child and the solemn duty of its father (more on this later). That name must announce a new human being’s beauty and its felicitous implications for life in its very being by eloquently linking the child to its Creator and joyousness.

A Muslim baby name is an adornment in this world, an identification of its religion, and the title of honor by which it will be called in the Hereafter.

A child grows within and beneath the hue of its name’s meaning and representation in the most decisive years of its personality formation and psychological orientation, as Khalid (which means “Ever-Blessed”) Dhorat points out in his Rights of Children. A child’s name, therefore, brings to bear a truly fundamental influence on both its self-perception and its presentation in the world for the rest of its life.

Names, not only of people but also of places and things, quite explicitly tell us the state and inclination of the cultures within which they emerge.

For this reason, the Prophet Muhammad, literally “the Praised One,” or “the Man of Praise,” (as contemporary scholar Abdal-Hakim Murad (lit. “The Yearning Servant of the All-Wise”) precisely captures it in his recent Travelling Home), loved and named felicitous names to people and places and tolerated no adverse or inauspicious names for either, changing these on the spot when he came upon such “bad” names. He understood that names had crucial significance wherever they occurred.

He once came to a place named Barren Rough (Ḥuzrah), asked its name and immediately changed it to Verdant Lush (Khudrah). Wâdî Ẓallah (Strays Valley) he renamed Guidance Dale (Shu‘ab al-Hûdd), as ‘Abdullah (“The Servant of Allah) ‘Ulwân reports in his Islam and the Rearing of Children.

In this practice, the Prophet, on him be peace, was following the unchanging Sunnah of Allah, or Way of God, in naming, and Who says of Himself in the Quran:

Yet to Allah belong the Fairest Names of all. So call upon Him with them. And leave alone those who profane His Names. They shall be duly recompensed for all that they have done in life. (Sûrat Al-A‘râf, 7:180)

For Allah is He Who names, and such was the first gift He imparted to our forefather Adam, a divine knowledge of the names of creation that He did not bestow upon even the angels. This account of the Quran differs significantly in import from that of some Biblical interpretations, in which Adam himself devises their names and, thus, according to some accounts, participates in the creating of these beings. This constitutes a fabrication of polytheistic divine association, or shirk, in Islam, as God has no partner in any way or act:

Thus He taught Adam the names of created beings, all of them. Thereafter, He arrayed them before the angels. Then He said: Tell Me the names of these, if you are truthful in saying that man is undeserving of earth’s stewardship. They said: Highly exalted be You! We have no knowledge, other than what You, Yourself, have taught us. Indeed, it is You, You alone, who are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:31-32)

Did the Prophet, on him be peace, speak about choosing a child’s name?

Yes. The Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, said:

You shall be called by your names and the names of your fathers. So, give good names to your children (Al-Nawawi, Riyâḍ Al-Ṣâliḥîn, Meadows of the Virtuous).

He reportedly said, as well:

Give your children the names of Allah’s prophets. Allah, most powerful and resplendent, most loves the names ‘Abd’Allah (Servant of God) and ‘Abd Al-Raḥmân (Servant of the All-Merciful); and also prefers the good names Ḥârith (Ploughman, Tiller, Cultivator; or also, Great Lion) and Hemm (meaning one who is Determined, Resolute, or Undaunted). And He holds hateful the names Ḥarb (War) and Murrâh (Bitter (in taste), Acrid).

Did the Prophet, on him be peace, connect the names of people to function or conduct?

Yes. The Prophet, on him be peace, cared about the names of people to the extent that he would ask one’s name before assigning any task, especially of honor. Imam Al-Nawawi reports in Riyâḍ Al-Ṣâliḥîn that the Prophet, on him be peace, sought the milking of a camel to satisfy people in need. He asked for volunteers. Eager for the deed of honor and charity, a man stood up:

Your name?” the Prophet, on him be peace, asked. “Al-Murrâh (Bitter),” he replied. “Sit,” said the Prophet, on him be peace.

Another came forward. “Your name?” the Prophet, on him be peace, asked: Ḥarb (War), he said. “Sit,” it was said.

A third time came the offer. In haste for the honor, another stood. “Your name?” the Prophet, on him be peace, asked: “Ya‘îsh, Long-Lived,” came the answer, and he accorded him the privilege of milking.

And while the Prophet, on him be peace, encouraged Muslims to name after the prophets, to propagate their names and histories among us and cement our connection to them, he cautioned Muslims to particular conscientiousness when they named their sons Muhammad after him. We are not to associate his name with any negative expression or untoward behavior, for this name’s association will forever be with its Prophet-namesake, on him be peace. He said:

When you name a son Muhammad, neither hit nor deprive him [meaning using that name].”

He said, also:

Do you name your children Muhammad and then rebuke them therewith too?”

This noble practice is still particularly and widely maintained among the Muslims of the Subcontinent, who often name Muhammad, but regularly apply secondary familiar names and house names to their sons, in reverence and in fear of violating the sanctity of this hallowed name.

Did the Companions follow this manner of naming?

Yes, indeed. Moreover, they seemed to indicate that naming, in general, might influence the fortunes of people.

The great Companion Abdullah ibn Salâm, God be pleased with him, a rabbinical scholar of Torah in Madinah from the Jewish tribe of Banû Qaynuqah, accepted Islam at the hand of the Prophet, on him be peace, upon the Prophet’s arrival in Quba before he entered Madinah after his migration from Makkah. When the Prophet, on him be peace, asked the Rabbi his name he said Husayn ibn Salam. The Prophet, on him be peace, said, “Now you are Abdullah ibn Salâm,” giving him the noblest of names.

Later, Abdullah ibn Salâm, Allah be pleased with him, had a newborn son and took him to the Prophet, on him be peace, who put the boy in his lap, lovingly stroked his head, and named him Yûsuf.

The Companion Abû Mûsa, Allah be pleased with him, said that the Prophet, on him be peace, named Abû Mûsa’s first son Ibrahim, after the Father of Prophets, and prayed for him.

‘Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb, the Second Rightly Guided Caliph, Allah restore it, asked a man his name:

Jamarah (Firebrand),” he said. “And your father’s name? “Shihâb (Meteor, Shooting Star). “And your tribe? “Ḥurqah (Blaze).” And your homeland? “Hutamah” (Hellfire’s Crusher) on the hillock. “Which hillock?” ‘Umar asked. “Fire-Flair Hillock,” the man answered.

“Rush home,” said ‘Umar, “for the people of your household have burnt to death.” The man reached home to find ‘Umar’s words true. (Al-Muwaṭṭa of Imam Mâlik)

Are there Sharî‘ah requirements for names?

Yes, but the general rule regarding names is that they are permissible (mubâḥ), except for five naming patterns that are prohibited (ḥarâm), both for one to name them or as to the one who continues to use a prohibited name (whether it is one’s personal name or one is calling another by that name):

  1. Names that attribute servitude or worship to anything or anyone but Allah
    (eg. ‘Abd Al-Ka‘bah (Servant of the Ka‘bah), ‘Abd Al-Nabî (Servant of the Prophet), ‘Abd Al-Masîḥ (Servant of the Messiah), etc.)

  2. Names of Allah that befit Him alone
    (eg. Al-Khaliq (The Creator) or Al-Razzâq (The Sole Provider). Ibn Al-Qayyim adds the following names of Allah to these exclusively divine names: Al-Aḥad (The One), Al-Ṣamad (The Everlasting Refuge), Al-Jabbâr (The Overpowering), Al-Mutakabbir (The Majestic), Al-Awwal (The First), Al-Âkhir (The Last), Al-Bâtin (The Hidden), and ‘Allâm Al-Ghuyûb (The All-Knowing of All the Unseen))

    (Names of Allah that are of obviously different meaning when applied to human beings can be used by people, such as ‘Alî (High), Rashîd (Guided Aright), and Ḥalîm (Clement). According to classical scholars, like Ibn ‘Âbidîn, even prefixing the definite article, ‘al’ (‘the’) to these names does not alter this clear difference in meaning as applied to the Creator and the created. So, Allah is Al-Rashîd, The All-Guiding Aright, but Hârûn Al-Rashîd, the celebrated ‘Abbasid Caliph, is Aaron, the Guided Aright, the meaning difference being intuitive and apparent.)

  3. Names in the exclusive province of unbelievers or people of faiths other than Islam
    (eg. Names foreign to Islam like Paul, George, Bin Yamîn (Benjamin), etc., in whatever linguistic form, although some hold this to be reprehensible (makrûḥ) not forbidden (ḥarâm).)

  4. Names of idols, false gods, or demons whatever their linguistic origin
    (eg. Zeus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Rhea, Hera, etc.; or Amon, Azazel, Diablo, Lilith, Loki, Shayṭân, Yen-lo-Wang, etc. )

  5. Names that befit no other but the Prophet, on him be peace
    (eg. Many of the compound “Sayyid” names, like Sayyid Al-Kul, Master of All, or Sayyid Al-Nâs, Master of the People, etc.)

In addition, eight name patterns are reprehensible (makrûh) but not prohibited (ḥarâm). The first five of these carry a strong stigma. The last three name forms classical Muslim scholars consider objectionable but their common use among Muslims (including some of the objecting scholars themselves!) places them in separate exceptionable categories.

strongly reprehensible name forms
  1. Names of distasteful meaning that give rise to disgust or mockery

  2. Names of sexual connotation or allure

  3. Names for currently popular immoral figures (unless they coincide with permissible names or those of historically noble people)

  4. Names that denote or reference sinful acts or notorious sinners
    (like Qâtil (Killer), Sharr (Evil), Shuḥ (Avarice, Greed); or Pharoah, Korah, Haman, and other well-known tyrants)

  5. Names of animals synonymous with objectionable qualities
    (Kalb (Dog), Ḥimâr (Donkey), Thu‘bân (Snake), etc.

(eg. Nûr Al-Dîn (The Light of the Religion), Jamâl Al-Dîn (The Beauteous of the Religion) Badr Al-Dîn (The Full Moon of the Religion) Shams Al-Islam (The Shining Sun of Islam, and the like)

We should note here that this construction – especially of names joined to the descriptive ‘Al-Dîn,’ the Religion – have grown utterly ubiquitous among Muslims, to the degree that they have lost their denotative implications in their naming usage.

Millions of Muslims carry such names. The phenomenal scholar Al-Nawawi (whose sobriquet, incidentally, Muḥiy Al-Dîn (The Reviver of the Religion) grew into his most recognized honorific, to the point that he became personally known by it) noted his dislike for such names for the presumption intrinsic in them (though his strong opinion made no difference in this appellation sticking to him).

The same can be said of “Taqîy al-Dîn” Ibn Taymiyyah. In fact, “My family gave me this nickname,” he said. Yet despite his objections “it became well-known.”

The scholars opposed the element of exaggeration, boast, and self-praise inherent in such names, though perhaps this no longer applies in practical use. Yet we should bear this in mind when naming.

(eg. Rahmat-Allah, (the Mercy of Allah) Faḍl Al-Raḥmân (the Preferred of the All-Merciful), etc.)

Again, such names have become widespread among Muslims, particularly the 80 percent of Muslims that make up the non-Arab majority of the global Muslim population, now approaching 2 billion. The same rationale and observation as noted in the previous entry apply here, though higher caution and awareness should prevail whenever names are conjoined to the name of Allah.

Note: The same “dislike” applies to appending words to the Arabic titles ‘Nabî,’ Prophet, and ‘Rasûl,’ Messenger to form names. Faḍl Al-Rasûl (the Preferred of the Messenger), etc. Ḥabîb Al-Nabî (the Beloved of the Prophet).

One finds many Muslims that go by the names of the angels or the Separated Letters (Ḥurûf al-Muqatta‘) that begin certain sûrahs of the Quran.

Regarding the former, angel names, scholars hold that the Prophet, on him be peace, in exhorting to the naming of the prophets placed an implicit bar on reaching for names beyond these exemplars, that the prophets provide a sufficient human apex in the naming hierarchy.

As to the Separated of Disconnected Letters of the Quran, Muslim scholars agree that their actual meanings are known only to Allah and, therefore, we ought not venture their use in our state of unknowing.

There are those who hold such names, especially Yasîn (Yâ Sîn, pronounced Yaaseen, and Ṭâhâ (Ṭâ Hâ) to be divine names of endearment for the Prophet, on him be peace. Others say these Separated Letters hold mystical meanings. Yet scholars maintain that we cannot rely on these unknown and unproven claims and, therefore, should not use them as names.

Nonetheless, such names, especially Yasin and Taha, are widely used among Muslims and any who hold them, especially those given them by family and who have grown up with them, are under no compulsion to change them.

undesirable name forms of widespread usage among muslims

Can you summarize the best approach to naming children?

The Prophet, on him be peace, as we have seen has ranked names in a hierarchy.

  1. The best of (male) names the Prophet, on him be peace, has specified as ‘Abd Allah, and ‘Abd Al-Raḥmân, The Servant of Allah and the Servant of the All-Merciful, respectively.

  2. The next best names are those that express servitude to and worship of Allah by any of His Fairest Names (Asmâ’ ilâh Al-Ḥusnâ, or the Beautiful Names of God). This means prefixing ‘Abd, or Servant of, to any of Allah’s Most Excellent Names: ‘Abd Al-Qâdir (Servant of the All-Powerful), ‘Abd Al-Jabbâr (Servant of the Overpowering), ‘Abd Al-Hady (Servant of the All-Guiding), and so on.

  3. The names of God’s messengers and prophets come next, with the best of these being Muhammad, on him be peace, or Aḥmad (the Most Praised, or Ever-Praising of God), another name of the Prophet, on him be peace, mentioned in the Quran in the account of Jesus’, on him be peace, foretelling to the Children of Israel of the glad tidings and the name of the Final Messenger to come after him (Sûrat Al-Ṣaff, 61:6).

    Ranked after the names of Muhammad and Ahmad, come the names of the other four Messengers of Resolve – Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), ‘Isa (Jesus), and Nûḥ (Noah), on them be peace.

    The name Maryam (Mary), on her be peace, comes as the name of the best of women, along with Khadijah, Âsiya, Fâtima, and ‘Âisha, God be pleased with them.

  4. The names of Allah’s most righteous servants follow as beloved names. The Companions of the Prophet, on him be peace, and may God be pleased with them, male and female, top this list. For in bearing their names our children gain crucial identification and may long to reach the status of piety, nobility, and striving in the path of Allah achieved by their illustrious namesakes.

  5. Any name of goodness, wholesomeness, beauty, and pleasantness is then permissible for Muslims to name.

Who holds the naming right?

A father ultimately bears the responsibility for selecting a good name for his child, and this is, indeed, a solemn duty, for the child will likely bear the name and its identification throughout its life. The scholars say that the father holds this duty because Allah has commanded in the Quran that the child, male or female, be called by the name of its father.

This means that the father’s name will become part of his child’s name. So if the child’s name will be Khadijah, she will be Khadijah, the daughter of so-and-so (the father’s name), even if the father dies or divorces before the child’s birth and the mother marries another man at the appropriate time. Muslims should not abandon or lose this naming tradition of formal inclusion of the properly wedded biological father’s name, as it is a Quranic commandment.

Yet Muslim scholars are quick to add that it is highly preferred for a father to reach that name choice of a newborn in close consultation with the child’s mother. Both should be happy in the naming of the baby. If the mother, moreover, suggests a noble name to which the father finds no objection, it is perfectly fine to name that name.

If the parents deem it more appropriate to defer to their family elders for naming, there is nothing preventing this, provided that the father ensures that the name meets the Muslim standard of goodness.

On what day should a newborn be given its name?

The scholars report both naming the child on the first day and the seventh day. Some say the seventh is preferred, others the first, others say both are equally preferred. Bukhari, the great ḥadîth collector, reconciles these two report streams by saying that if the ‘aqîqah sacrifice is to be offered, then delaying naming the child till its seventh day supersedes in preference.

The seventh day, according to the majority opinion, counts the day of the birth as day one. In Islam’s rendering, the day begins with sunset (maghrib). So the count for a child born at night includes the day that follows it as day one.

The Prophet, on him be peace, according to a good (ḥasan) ḥadîth in the collection of Al-Tirmidhî, instructed Muslims to name newborns on the seventh day, purify them then, and make the ‘aqîqah sacrifice all on the seventh day.

In a similar authentic (ṣaḥîḥ) report, the Prophet, on him be peace, instructed:

Every child is in pledge of its ‘aqîqah sacrifice, to be slaughtered on its behalf on the seventh day, its head shaved, and its name given.” (Abû Dâwûd)

The Companion Anas ibn Malik, Allah be pleased with him, reportedly named his child Ibrahim on the night of the boy’s birth, according to a report in the esteemed collection of Muslim. The Companions may be followed in their practice of Islam because they unfailingly adhered to the way of the Prophet, on him be peace.

So whether preferred or permissible, one has latitude as to the day a newborn receives its beautiful name, by which people, Allah, and the Heavenly community shall call it.

And Allah knows best.

from The Flourishing Servant of the All-Clement

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