Abu at-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi al-Kindi (ابو الطيب احمد بن الحسين المتنبي الكندي) was one of the greatest Arab poets. Nevertheless this post is not about his literary output but his long and difficult to pronounce name and about Arabic names and their meanings in general.
Let’s start from brief explanation. Unlike in Europe and western culture Arabs do not really have surnames or family names. Throughout the centuries they were using and still use chains of names instead, where usually the first word is the actual name of a person, followed by his or her father name, followed by grandfather and so on. Moreover giving a name to a new born child is quite important and very often reflects parents’ hopes for its character. It can be one of the common names which also carries specific meaning like Fawzia (victorious) or just a noun like Ibtisam (smile). What is confusing for many people not familiar with Arabic naming system is patronymic or it’s series. Words such as bin, ibn or ibnat, bint mean no more no less than son and daughter. In some cases becoming a parent for the first time changes the way people refer to one another and for instance Fawzia and Husayn can become Abu (father of) Hamza and Umm (mother of) Hamza alongside or instead of their given names. One of the most common Muslim Arab names is the combination of Abd (servant, slave) followed by one of the God’s name: Abd Allah (servant of God), Abd al-Latif (servant of the gentle). Additionally some people use an extra name (usually the very last one )to emphasise affiliation to their tribe or place of origin: al-Baghdadi (from Bagdad).
Frankly speaking combinations to name one person are endless. Thus no wonder it’s hard to remember some of them in full. But there is logic to this madness. Back in the days that was the only way to know where and which family one came from, was helpful while arranging marriages mainly because it prevented close relatives from starting a family and was also essential for instance in case of inheritance disputes.
However, coming back to al-Mutanabbi. What I hope, I correctly concluded his full name means: father of at-Tayyib (the good) Ahmad (more commendable) son of al-Husayn (diminutive of Hasan – handsome) al-Mutanabbi (nickname which means: the one who claimed to be, or wished to be a prophet) al-Kindi (name of the tribe he claimed to come from).
At the end some of my favourite Arabic names:
Usama – lion cub
Bashaar – bringer of glad tidings
Saddam – one who confronts
Saif al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi – sword of Islam long-lived Gaddafi (given name based on the قذف root which means: to throw, offend, insult or to row)