The name game

A guide to help you pick a name for your child


There is no set formula for picking the perfect name for a baby, but here is a guide to make the daunting task easier

The joys of having a child are innumerable. They can be as simple as the pregnancy glow everyone has been complimenting you on or the first time you see your little one in an ultrasound. But with the expectant arrival of the little bundle of joy a few months from now, there comes a great responsibility of picking the perfect name. Even though you may consider it a privilege and brainstorm all kinds of cool names for your offspring, remember the name should be one the child would be happy with rather than yourself.

The idea of naming a child may appear seemingly easy but there is a lot that needs to be considered since the name you give your child is going to stick with them forever. Numerous researches suggest that a name can have a profound impact on a child that reverberates well into adulthood. For instance, if you give a boy a girly name, he could suffer from behavioural problems later in life. The same goes for unique names. Therefore, a significant amount of thought has to be put into finding a suitable name for your child, and the following dos and don’ts will ensure that you are on the right track.


•  Spend some time doing research on the possible names you have on your list. Consult family members and friends in the process to shortlist the best names.

•  Find names with powerful meanings as the meaning of a name has great influence on the person it is attributed to.

•  A name doesn’t necessarily have to come from the Arabic language, but Arabic names, specifically from the Quran, are preferable.

•  If your heart is set on an Arabic name, consider names with a similar pronunciation in your local language. This would avoid changing the meaning of the name due to a shift in the pronunciation.

•  Remember that Allah’s 99 names can only be used with the prefix Abdul, which means ‘servant of.’ For instance, Abdul Rahman means ‘servant of the Merciful’.

•  It is also equally important to understand that if you are naming your child Muhammad, there is a certain amount of respect that the name commands. As a result, you and everyone around you will have to take the child’s full name as there is no room for shortening it to create a nickname.


•  Names that give an impression of pomposity and vainglory should be avoided. Even those that translate into ‘king of kings’ or ‘the most powerful of all’ are not a good idea as these names imply perfection which can only be attributed to Allah.

•  You may have your heart set on a beautiful girly name, but if your child is a boy please avoid names such as Yasmeen or Sanober and save them a lifetime of awkward explanations.

•  Another situation that should ideally be avoided is giving your child the same name as someone in your immediate family. However, if you do have your heart set on the name, then give your child a middle name as well to avoid confusion.

•  There is a simple name etiquette that needs to be considered: if someone tells you they would like to give a certain name to their child and you like it too, then always ask them if they’re okay with you naming your child the same.

•  Another mistake people make is to add a prefix to their child’s name, such as Umme or Abu, which mean ‘mother’ or ‘father’. For instance, Umme Kulsoom would mean Kulsoom’s mother. These names, although common in the Islamic tradition, were actually titles given to people to refer to them by their child’s names.

•  Trending baby names

•  Afaf           -      One who is virtuous and pure

•  Arya          -      One who is noble and pure

•  Aniba        -      The one seeking God (one of the doors of Paradise is named Aniba).

•  Shanzey    -      One with dignity

•  Meerub     -      The flower of Paradise

•  Ashar        -      The wise one

•  Shaheer    -      The well-known one

•  Shahwaiz  -      The noble one

•  Mahad      -      The great one

•  Mursal      -      The messenger, a name attributed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

Apart from the aforementioned guidelines, people belonging to different religious or cultural backgrounds follow certain naming traditions. One such tradition is known as nisbat (meaning an affinity or connection between two people), according to which a child is named after someone with great religious significance with the belief that the child will mirror the qualities of the concerned person. This tradition is popular in the Shia community as many prefer naming their boys after one of the 12 Imams in the correct order. “The first male born in the family will be named Ali”, explains Samar Zehra Zaidi, a member of the community. “The next one shall be named Hassan and the one after that Hussain and so on and so forth,” she explains.

In families where nisbat is practiced, it is common for boys to have a middle name in order to avoid confusion. Samra says that her family members use the full name to refer to the children. Many others in the community also use a common middle name, such as Fatima or Batool.

On the other hand, some families follow a trend whereby grandparents select a name for their grandchildren. “My father-in-law chose names for all my children,” says Sajida Majid, a housewife and a mother of five. “He picked names from the Quran for all my daughters, but with my son he was adamant to name him Khalid, despite the girls wanting to name their brother Waqas,” she says, adding that the reason behind it was her father-in-law’s immense fondness of the name. Even though this is a declining trend as new parents want to name their own children, some still consider keeping elders in the loop a good idea.

Even though selecting baby names is considered a big honour, it is eventually the name that matters the most and its meaning. The power that comes with naming a child can be both intimidating and addictive, so make a wise decision.

Hurmat Majid is a subeditor at The Express Tribune magazine desk. She tweets as @bhandprogramme

Traditions around the world

It may not be common practice in our culture to name children after their grandparents but it’s customary in some cultures around the world.

In Judaism, there are specific rules that surround the tradition, depending on which part of the world the family is from. Ashkenzi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe name a newborn after a relative who has recently passed away, while Jews from the Middle East name a child after a grandparent who lives with them.

The Greeks, on the other hand, name their first daughter after the paternal grandmother and the second after the maternal grandmother.

The Scots take this a step further, with a third son being named after the father and a third daughter after the mother.

The French often use a child’s middle name to pay homage to a set of grandparents, using both grandmothers’ first names for a girl and both grandfathers’ names for a boy.

The Spanish, known for their traditionalism, have rigid rules till date. The first daughter is named after the paternal grandmother, whereas the first son is named after the paternal grandfather.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, July 12th, 2015.


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