Arabic Naming Protocols

How does an Arab go about adopting a name prefix such as Abu-(father of-), Ibn/Bin-(son of-), Om-(mother of-)?

Do you pick your firstborn? Firstborn son? Favorite child?
Is there a prefix for “daughter of-”?
Do you adopt the name yourself or is it assigned by others as a sort of “nickname?”

And…as for use of the Ibn/Bin- prefix, which son gets to use it? Or is open for every son because they keep their given name and use the Ibn/Bin- name as their “last name?”

Traditionally it was the firstborn son, although I don’t know how it “gets assigned”

And yeah, daughter of is bint X, where X is the name of the dad. The Ibn/Bint thing is traditional, so yeah, everyone would get it. I think just about every country though has adopted fixed family names.

Its often a pet name or a family name, not necessarily meaning first born son. No real order to how its assigned. Daughters are Bint.

All children can use the suffix
Osama Bin Laden; Osama of the Laden Family,
Like his bother
Salman Bin Laden; Salman of the Laden family.

Is that where the British use of “bint” to mean a young woman comes from?

I am by no means an expert but due to circumstances I happen to be dealing with a lot of Arabic names right now. And I know it is a bit different depending on what country you are in. For the most part there are no last names as we know them in the west. The exception is with very prominent families like the Laden family. What we would consider a last name is actually a tribal name. Saddam Hussein’s tribal name was al-Tikriti. When we deal with identifing Arabic names we try to get all of them which include the first name, grandfather’s name, mother’s tribal name, their tribal name and a few others. The individual in question can choose any of those to be called and all will be valid names. They can also aquire names as they go through life. Such as names which translate to “the baker” or “the watchmaker”. So this individual can put their name down on two forms and it is completely different but they are not lying. Add to that differences in spelling due to translation and it can be quite confusing. At least this is the way it is in Iraq.

My wife is from Egypt and Egypt uses family names but they might not always be “fixed.” Her second cousin took his father’s first name as his last name, which is probably a nod to the “ibn” but he doens’t actually use “ibn.” This is his legal name, on his business card, etc. It is not common IME, however. His brother chose not to do this and uses the same family last name his father uses.

I am not familiar with practices other than Egypt, although my wife’s father’s side is Iraqi and her ancestors there certainly use what we would consider conventional family names. Her last name is the same as her father’s and grandfather’s and the whole family has used that name consistently. However, getting away from Baghdad, Iraq has a tribal social structure and this practice might not be typical in that country.

Tribal names are common all over the Mid East and S Asia. In many areas the name may well be used as a de facto last name; the tribal affliation may well be nominal. So Pakistan’s President; Asif Ali Zaradri; he is from the Zardari tribel hence the name. Yet he was born and raised in Karachi, and his affliation is nominal.

For Arabs, rural areas are different from urban.

This is all true historically but my understanding is national governments have largely, for bureaucratic reasons instituted ‘family names’ - I am sure it varies from place to place, but bureacracy since the 1950s I am led to understand has won out over ancient practice, even in Iraq.

This surprised me, but the OED confirms this. Apparently it came from British servicemen stationed in Egypt and other Arab countries during the World Wars.

Well I can’t read Arabic so I can’t say for sure what it says on their national ID card. I do read documents that are translated into English. I looked over a few today. When last name/tribal name is asked for (in Arabic) there is always the tribal name. In several cases that I looked at today what they are actually called is First name Father’s name Grandfather’s name. Sometimes they refer to themselves as First name Tribal name. For instance Saddam Hussein’s full name was Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti. I haven’t been here too long but I haven’t seen bin bint or ibn. I think it may be more of a Saudi thing.

Other countries have a much different cultural history. I’m sure it is much different in Eygpt for instance. Like I said I am not an expert but I have deal with a large number of Arabic names in this one part of the world.