Palestinian Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

  • Palestinian names traditionally follow Arabic naming conventions. This is formatted as: [personal name] [father’s personal name] [grandfather’s personal name]. For example, Yousef Hussam Khalil (male) or Zeena Hussam Khalil (female). 
  • It is important to understand that Arab naming conventions do not conform with the English system of [personal name] [middle name] [family name]. In some cases, Palestinians may use their grandfather’s personal name as the surname to fit Western naming conventions. Others may use a nisba or a laqab (see below).
  • The naming lineage is passed through the male side of their family. Children will be named after their father, grandfather, etc.
  • Palestinian women do not traditionally adopt their husband’s names when they marry. Some may do so in English-speaking societies to conform with Western naming standards, but it is not typical.
  • Occasionally, people may add a fourth name that is their great grandfather’s from their father’s side of the family: [personal name] [father’s personal name] [grandfather’s personal name] [great grandfather’s name]. 
  • It is considered rude to address somebody by their first name or personal name (ism) alone. Palestinians usually try and address people by nicknames and titles (laqab, kunya or nasab). It can also be difficult to identify someone by their first name alone as many Palestinians share the same name.


Names

  • Ism: Palestinian given or personal names (ism) are often derived from Islam (e.g. Muhammad), as well as traditional Arab names. Amongst Palestinian Christians, Biblical names are also popular, such as Maryam (Mary).
  • Nisba: A nisba is similar to what one would call a surname in English. It’s a name that may be inherited from the father and usually relates to occupation, a geographic location, an ancestral tribe or family heritage. For example, it could reflect the town the family originated from (e.g. the NABULSI family originated from the city of Nablus). Bedouins and other Palestinians may have a nisba reflecting the tribal names of their descent group.
  • Kunya: Parents are often referred to by an honorific nickname (kunya) that describes their relationship to their eldest son. This uses the titles ‘abu’ (meaning “father of”) and ‘um’ or ‘om’ (meaning “mother of”). For example, the father of Ahmad would be referred to as “Abu Ahmad” and the mother would be called “Um Ahmad” or “Om Ahmad”. The kunya is such an important name that even a childless person may be granted a kunya that makes him or her symbolically the parent of some quality, such as “father of good deeds”. 
  • Nasab: The nasab is an acknowledgement of a person’s father, but is also commonly related to non-blood relationship. It starts with “bin” or “ibn” (son of) or “bint” (daughter of”). For example, Maryam bint Yousef Hussam means “Maryam, daughter of Yousef Hussam”. 
  • Laqab: A laqab is a nickname, title or honorific that is typically a description of the person. One of the most common is Abdullah, meaning “slave of God”. Other examples include al-Rashid (“the rightly guided”) and al-Fadl (“the prominent”). The laqab usually follows a person’s given name (e.g. Yousef al-Rashid), although sometimes it is used in surnames.
  • Be aware that Arabic names can have various English spellings. For example, the same name can be written as "Majid", "Majeed" or "Mejeed". The spelling can also differ depending on whether one uses contractions. For example, “Salah Aldin” could also be spelt “Salah Al-din”.

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