Muhammad, meaning ‘one who is praised’, is the most commonly given name in the world. According to a Hadis, Prophet Muhammad is supposed to have said, ‘Whoever is named after me with the hope of being blessed, he will be blessed and will be in peace till the Day of Qayamat.’
According to the Mishkatu ‘1 Masabih, on the subject of names, the Prophet is supposed to have said, ‘The best name in the sight of God are’ Abdu’llah (the servant of Allah), ‘Abdu’r Rahman (servant of the merciful one.)’ ‘The vilest name you can give a human being is Maliku’l-Amlak or king of kings because no one can be such but God Himself.’
‘Call your children after your prophet but the names God likes best are, Abdu’llah (servant of Allah), ‘Abdu’r Rahman (servant of the merciful one) and the next best are Haris (husbandman) and Hammam (high-minded). The worst of names is Harb (enmity) or Murah (bitterness).
‘On the day of Qayamat you will be called by your names and the names of your fathers. Therefore keep good names.’
Shuraih ibn Hani relates that his father came to the Prophet with his tribe and the Prophet heard them calling him Abu’l Hakam. When the Prophet said, ‘Why do you call him so? Hakam, Ruler, is an attribute of God.’ And the prophet ordered him to call himself Abu Shuraih, the father of Shuraih, his eldest son.
What is the ritual that accompanies the birth of a Muslim child? According to tradition, the child is bathed and bound in swaddling clothes. He is carried by the midwife to a waiting assembly of male relatives and friends. There the chief Maulawi or an Alim or respected elder recites the Azan (summons to prayer) in the infant’s right ear, and the Iqamah (which is the Azan with the addition of the words ‘We are standing up for prayer’) in the left ear: a custom which is founded on the example of Prophet Muhammad who is said to have done so at the birth of his grandson Hasan (Mishkat book xviii c.iv.2). The Maulawi then chews a little date fruit and puts in into the infant’s mouth, a custom also founded upon the example of Muhammad (Mishkat book xviii c.iv.I). Alms are distributed, the amount of silver being of the same weight as the hair on the infant’s head-the child’s head being shaved for this purpose (Mishkat book xviii c.iv.2) and Fatihas recited for the health and prosperity of the child. The name of the child should be given on the 7th day (Mishkat book xviii c.iv.2), the child being named after a member of the family, or after some saint venerated by the family, or some name suggested by the auspicious hour, the planet or the sign of the zodiac. The names usually fit into these categories:
a. single name based on a mental or physical attribute or a natural phenomenon like birds, trees, planets, animals, clouds, sun, thunder, jewels, flowers, months, seasons or based on inventions like musical instruments or weapons, e.g. Nahid or the planet Venus
b. as the father or mother of someone, e.g. Abu Bakr or father of a young camel or Ummul Banin or mother of sons
c. as the son of someone, e.g. Ibn Alim or son of a learned man
d. a combination of words, e.g. Imamuddin or leader of the religion
e. trade or profession, e.g. Najjar or carpenter
f. the name of his birthplace, e.g. Madani or from Madina
Names reflect the concerns of a race. Some of our observations while compiling this book are: Arabic names are not on natural phenomena like birds, flowers, mountains or rivers but on qualities. Of these qualities, the mental are less stressed and the physical are emphasized-manly strength being the favourite. Persians, on the other hand, have far more names based on nature. Some names are not given to children anymore as they are considered inauspicious. For instance, Shimar and Yazid may have had other meanings to begin with but they now mean reprobate, impious, wicked, infamous and merciless as these historical figures are the murderers of Imam Husain.
Why have ‘Parsi’ names been included? The religion of Zoroaster has nothing in common with Islam. But we have not approached the book from the religious but the etymological point of view. As we penetrated deeper into the roots of many Persian, Turkish, even Hindustani (or what we call Urdu) names, we found their origins in yet other languages that were used in that region prior to the Muslim invasions and the spread of Islam in that area. These languages, Avestan, Pazand, Pahlavi, Old Persian, were languages used in Parsa or ParslFars or ancient Iran. In fact, the word Iran itself comes from the Avestan Airyana or path of the Aryans. The Arabs conquered Iran in the middle of the seventh century AD and Arabic became the official language of Iran. A new language emerged from the fusion of the old languages of the Iranians and that of the Arabs and that is generally termed Modern Persian or Persian. The word Parsi which was originally an ethnic term acquired a religious connotation and became restricted to the Zoroastrian residents of Pars or those who kept the traditional religion as distinguished from those Iranians who embraced Islam. We found it impossible to enumerate the royal genealogies or find historical and literary linkages without including the old languages. And since most of the old names were based on deities, festivals, months and old kings we had to include them. Many Muslim names have their origins in the Avestan language which now is only taught or read by the Parsis. For instance, Rustam is from the Pahlavi Rotastakhm meaning ‘as stout as steel’, Jamshed comes from Avestan Yima Khshaeta or the ‘brilliant Yima’, Iraj comes from Avestan Airyava or ‘helper of the Aryans’, Hormuzd is from the Avestan Ahura Mazda. The Persian word for man ‘Mard’ comes from Avestan ‘Maretan’. Many of the names written as (H) or Hindustani are Urdu spoken in India and Pakistan. We have put them down as Hindustani rather than Urdu because a large number of the root words are from Sanskrit or other old Indian languages. Many of these names have found their way into Sikhism. According to orientalists, the religion of Nanak was really intended as a compromise between Hinduism and Islam.
The entries have been divided into three categories: 1. the actual meaning 2. construed meaning 3. history or mythology connected with the name. In this section are included plants and birds as well. For instance: The actual meaning (1) of Kalb is ‘dog’. This is construed (2) to mean ‘loyal’ or ‘faithful’. He was (3) the ancestor of an Arab tribe, his full name being Kalb bin Wabarah.
Unfortunately, the meanings of many words are not available or are disputed. Adnan, the earliest ancestor of Prophet Muhammad, is a case in point where no etymological dictionary will risk a meaning. Some scholars will hazard a guess that it comes from Adn or Eden. Likewise, the meaning of many of the Avestan names have been lost in time.
We would like to thank Dastur Hormazdyar Kayoji Mirza for his patient and wise instruction. Begum Shahanshah Husain, Mrs Nasreen Sharma, Mohd. Baqer Karimian, the Cultural Counsellor, and Mohsen Shojakhani, the Publications Incharge of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Akhtar Mehdi of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Shahabuddin Ansari, Chief Librarian of the Dr Zakir Husain Library, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, Mrs Homai N. Modi, the Honorary Secretary of the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute, Bombay, and Prof. M. Abu Baker were of enormous help in providing research material and guidance.
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