North Sudanese Culture

Naming

  • For formal and administrative purposes, people use Arabic naming conventions in Sudan. This is as follows: [personal name], [father’s first name], [grandfather’s first name]. For example, Abdul-Aziz Bilal Hussain is named after his father (Bilal) and his grandfather (Hussain).
  • If the child is a girl, she will still be named after her father and grandfather.
  • Remember, this naming convention does not involve the use of a surname. All the names are first names.
  • Many Sudanese living in other countries have adopted a surname for administrative purposes. For example, some may use their family/tribe name, others may use their great grandfather’s first name.
  • When Sudanese people migrate to the English-speaking West, their names may not be correctly transferred onto official documents. It can appear that members of the same family have different last names.
  • Traditionally, Arab Muslim women do not alter their name upon marriage, although some women may adopt their husband’s family name when overseas.


Clan Names

  • Most Sudanese people have a clan name which often reflects their tribe or region of origin. This is not the same as a surname. 
  • For example, Abdul-Aziz Bilal Hussain may say, “My name is Abdul-Aziz Bilal Hussain and I am from the El-Shaamari clan”. 
  • One’s clan name is deeply linked to a person’s heritage. Therefore, it is often one of the first things people ask about in Sudan (e.g. “Which people are you from?”). 
  • Clan names frequently begin with ‘Al-‘ or ‘El-’ (e.g. EL-SHAAMMARI).

 

Other Considerations

  • The English spelling of Arabic names can vary depending on whether one uses contractions. For example, Salah ul-din may also be spelt Saladdin, Sal-ad-Din or Sal-Addin.
  • Many Sudanese names reflect religious figures or past family members. Sudanese Muslims often use names derived from Islam (e.g. Muhammad, Mustafa, Yasin).
  • Names have a literal meaning that relate to a person’s circumstances at birth. For example, someone who was born during the day may be called ‘Noor’, meaning “the light”.
  • Many people’s personal names are compounded words. It is common for a name to begin with ‘Abd’, ‘Abd al’ or ‘Abdul’ (meaning ‘servant of’) followed by one of the names of God. For example, ‘Abdul-Aziz’.
  • The titles Haram or Hurmat in front of a name means ‘wife of’: e.g. Haram Mustafa Muhammad – ‘wife of Mustafa Muhammad’.
  • People are usually addressed by their first name, except for elders, teachers, lawyers and religious leaders who are addressed by their respective professional or personal title and first name.
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