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What's in a Name?

According to Israel's Population and Immigration Authority, Mohammad was ranked the most popular name given to newborns in Israel this past year, followed by Adam. Everyone knows that Mohammad was the Arabic founder of Islam, and even given that the Arabic population is only 20% of Israel's population, Mohammad is the most common name in Israel since Arabic baby boys have been named consistently for the last 74 years since Israel was founded. As for Adam, most Christians and Jews recognize Adam from the "Adam and Eve" story in the book of Genesis. However, the story of Adam is also listed in the Qur'an, and Adam is considered one of Islam's most recognized Prophets, next to David, Abraham, and Jesus.


Avigayil (Hebrew version of Abigail) was the top for the female names, followed by Tamar. Both names can be found in the Bible, with Abigail meaning "my father's joy" and Tamar referring to the date-palm tree.


As I rummaged through the Internet looking for the most common names, it was evident that countries with similar cultures also had similar tastes in aliases. For example, the Middle East countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE, Kuwait, Syria, and Lebanon, share several common names. The number one name in one country will not be the same in another country, but enough to recognize the similarities. So, with that in mind, let me list some regions where the cultures are similar and share the names that seem to be the most popular.


The Middle East

As you would expect, most names come from the Qur'an, which matches many Biblical personalities. For Saudi Arabia, the most famous names are Mohammad and Sara. If you remember, Sara was the name of Abraham's wife. The newer generations seem to break with the Quranic naming convention and find other names to use as first names. Other popular boys' names are Hani and Atif. Hani means "to move lightly," and Atif has Quranic roots meaning "the kind one." Other popular girls' names would include Maha and Eman. Maha is commonly used in Arabia and Egypt meaning "beautiful eyes." Eman is also widely used in Egypt and Arabia. It is sometimes spelled Eeman, an Arabic name referring to "faith." It is like the Imans assigned to the Mosque for Friday prayers.


In Egypt, the top baby's name is Ahmed for boys and Sara for girls. Ahmed is an Arabic term that means "highly praised or one who constantly thanks God." Many called Mohammad as Ahmed, but that was not his name. Ahmad is one of the world's most popular Arabic names among Muslim families.


Since the Muslim conquest of Persia in the seventh century, some names have been derived from Arabic, although most are Persian. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of all Persian names come from the Persian literature book, the Shahnameh or "Epic of Kings." It was written in the 10th century by a Persian poet and is considered the national epic of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Some names like Darius and Cyrus can be found in the Bible, but the most popular boy name in Iran is Ashkan, another name of an ancient Persian king. While Iran is Shia Muslim, you might expect the name of Ali, Mohammad's son-in-law, to be a preferred name. It did come in second, while Mohammad's name came in fourth. Zahra, Fatemeh and Mary came in the top three places for girls. Zahra and Fatemeh are variations of Mohammad's daughter's name, Fatimah al-Zahra. Mary, of course, was the mother of Jesus.


Asia

In Pakistan, the three most prolific names for boys are Ahmed, Ali, and Muhammad (spelled here with a u and not an o). For girls, the most common names are Ayesha (Muhammad's favorite wife), Fatima (Muhammad's daughter), and Zainab (Muhammad had two wives, one daughter and one granddaughter with this name). Due to Pakistan's large monotheistic religious contingency, traditional Arabic-Abrahamic names are the most prolific.


The three top male names in Malaysia are Ahmed, Muhammad, and Mohammad. This set of names, in particular, are especially popular in Malaysia. Usually, the name Ahmad or Muhammad is placed in the first part of a person's name, like Muhammad Adam or Ahmed Adam. So, from this name, people will call him Adam rather than Ahmed. For girls, the top three names are Nur, Aisyah, and Nurul. Nur and Nurul are Arabic and refer to bright or divine light. Aisyah is a variant of Muhammad's favorite wife, meaning "happily living."


Indonesia has the most significant number of Muslims, some 231 million people. The top three boys' names are Muhammad, Abdul, and Ahmad. Abdul is frequently used as a prefix meaning "servant of. " It is Arabic and Islamic in context. The top three girls' names are Siti. Sri, and Nur. Siti is a common name found in Indonesia and Malaysia and the most common woman's name in Indonesia. Sri is Hindu and comes from the Sanskrit root word shri, which is feminine and means "goddess of prosperity." With the exception of the name Sri, Islam has permeated the culture and influences the naming of children after personalities and events found in the Qur'an.


The Role Names Play

Our names are a significant part of our identity. They carry deep personal, cultural, familial, and historical connections. They also give us a sense of who we are, the communities to which we belong, and our place in the world. Most children's names are related to the Islamic culture in all dominant Islamic countries. In all non-Islamic countries, Muslims that reside there name their children following Islam. For example, Muhammad is the 35th most popular baby name in the United States.


The influence of Islam on culture is evident by looking at the most common and popular names given to their children. For example, Iran is proud of its heritage, and many people still use words and expressions that originated from ancient Persian empires. On the other hand, Egypt, like Persia, has had many ancient empires but recognizes few names from their ancient history. Islamic influence has filtered through such that a child's name, if not Arabic or Islamic, is rare.


Most Popular Name in the World

Several sources claimed to know the answer. I think the most common name as a given name or a first name would be Mohammad or one of the several variations out there. It is estimated there are 150 million people named Mohammad. As for the last name, surname, or family name, the most common is Wang, which is Chinese. As for women, the most popular name is Maria, or some version of it, like Mary or Maryam. It seems Muslims are more intent on revering their Prophet by placing his name on their children. While Maria has its origins in the Bible, the name is also recognized in the Torah and the Qur'an. It is easy to see why that name has worldwide recognition.


Researching names reveals that Muslims have more continuity and intensiveness in their faith than other religions. However, as new generations take the field, there will be an effort to move beyond Muhammad and Maria for unique and creative names to reflect their changing attitudes toward religion.


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