Why do converts to Islam change their name?


Lately, it seems like people have been asking me this question. Most of the people who keep asking me the question are those who were “born into Islam” and from other countries. I was in a meeting for a Muslim organization and this brother (who apparently didn’t realize there were several converts in the room) asked, “Why do they change their names? What’s wrong with names like Jack or Karen? And what about their family lineage? They’re erasing it when they change their names!” The brother whom he was speaking to responded by saying, “I don’t get it either.” Since I’ve never been one to stay quiet, especially when I feel like someone is addressing me- after all I changed my name once I converted to Islam- I told them that people have different reasons for doing so. Some of it depends on the person’s culture, life experience and who gave them dawah before they converted. Here are the reasons why I personally chose to change my name:

Cultural reasons:
Most of my ancestors were brought to the United Stated and the West Indies as slaves. When they arrived, the slave masters changed their African names. Not only were slaves given European/American first names but their surname was changed to the slave master’s surname. Once I learned this bit of history I didn’t see why I should carry on the legacy of a man who not only owned my family but deprived them of their freedom and deliberately erased their cultural and religious heritage. I did not feel any connection to my surname.

Life experience:
As for my first and middle names, I never liked them. When I was five years old I told my mother that I was going to change my name. I’m sure everyone thought it was so cute when I said that. They didn’t know how serious I was. I knew I was going to do it someday I just needed the means and of course, a name I felt comfortable with. I also did not feel an attachment to my first name because I seldom went by it. Like many West Indians (as well as African-Americans) I had another name I went by. My father called me “Phil” (a long story, trust me), my grandmother and other members of my Jamaican family called me “Sweetie” (as in the British way of saying candy) and my friends called me “Fee Fee” (please don’t ask.)

Dawah:
Lastly, when I converted to Islam, people not only assumed that I would take another name, they told me I should. They said I had to depart from my kaafir name. I was Muslim now and I needed to have a “Muslim name.” Whether I believed that or not, I’d already decided to do it anyway. I thought to myself, what better time. I’m becoming a new person. Why not take a name to reflect my new identity? So I chose one and didn’t legally change it until 2001.

So there you have it, my own personal reasons for changing my name. Once I finished telling the brother the aforementioned reasons he was forced to rethink his perception of converts who change their names. I also reminded him that some people change their name because of its meaning or what it stands for. For instance, a friend of mine was named after a Greek goddess. Once she became Muslim she didn’t feel comfortable having that name anymore (hence the reason for her name change.)

So, tell me, have you changed your name? Why or why not?

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21 responses to “Why do converts to Islam change their name?

  1. Salaams Sis:

    Many people wonder why converts change their name to a “Muslim” name because doing so is not a requirement of Islam. Allah (swt) tells us in the Quran to carry the names of our fathers. The Prophet (saw) often changed the names of the people when, like you said, the name had a negative meaning.

    I kept my birth name when I came to Islam. I use the name “Safiyyah” with Muslims, so I am called both Safiyyah and “Sharon” (my birth name).

  2. As Salaam Alaikum,

    I changed my name primarily for the first and third points you mentioned. I was in the NOI before I accepted Islam and therefore thoroughly rejected my surname. I didn’t really have problems with my first or middle names but when I left the NOI I chose to just change the whole name. I felt I was a new person so I wanted to start fresh.

  3. Nah I didn’t, as I’m sure you probably already know, although I was heavily pressured into it, and still get that pressure. If one more person asks me what my muslim name is, and then tries to lecture me that I need to change it, I’m going to scream.

    I didn’t change my name because I didn’t believe it was required. Most of the sahaba didn’t change their names. If Khadija could be Khadija before and after her conversion, well then I’ll just be Jennifer.

    Plus, it would have greatly offended my parents, who were already way put off by my conversion. I guess I’m just a wuss, and didn’t want another thing to explain to them on top of the hijab, praying, and marrying an egyptian.

  4. I haven’t changed my name. I don’t think I will either. My name has always been so unique and it really has become a part of me. I completely understand your stance on feeling like a new person, and totally agree. But for me, I am the new Jovi. And I haven’t quite found a Muslim name that suits me. If I do though, I will know it and I may just change it. Maira has been a name I have been thinking about though…..

  5. I changed my name because I simply hated having a slave name! I would’ve done it even if I wasn’t Muslim. Jones, Snipes or whatever, I could never trace my ancestors back to Europe(well maybe I could, lol!) legit I meant. I’m not Afrocentric, Eurocentric or whatever the names people use today. If I couldn’t have the name of my African ancestors, then I surely wasn’t going to walk around with the slave masters name also. It just a legacy I would soon bury and the name was the first for me.
    However having your father’s first name as your surname suits me fine, because he has the name of one of the prophets of Islam. I also would like to have my own family one day inshaAllah with members who don’t call themselves Muslims but practice shirk, inshaAllah.
    My children name will be their father’s first name. I have my father’s first name as my last name. Alhamdullilah!

    What bothers me is sisters taking on their husbands surname. Most times he is named after his father or grandfather, so, instead of his mother named “Mrs Mohamed Salem” the daughter in law is walking around with the name; “Mrs My father in law” It really creeps me out!

  6. Salam alaykoum

    I have not changed my name since Ghislaine exists in arabic (mostly morocco and algeria etc) meaning – plural for of gazelle.

    Now, people must first understand that there is a difference between an arabic name and muslim name. I strongly suggest that everyone read sunnah hadiths and/or fatwa concerning proper names.

    And in response to UmmAbdRahman, a child need not be named after his father. This is cultural. And I have actually not seen that happen very often. (might depend on the country)

    Best names for boys are AbdAllah, AbdurRahman etc. after that are the names of the Prophets (peace be upon them), and after that names of some noble people, i.e. companions of the Prophet Muhamed (saws) i.e. Omar, Bilal etc.

    For girls, best names are the names of the Daughters of the Prophet (saws) and/or his wives. i.e. Zineb, Fatimah, Aishah etc. After those the best names are of noble women in islam : i.e. Nusaybah (Naseebah), Meriem, Aasia, Summiya etc.

    But wether converts (reverts since we are all born muslim) change their names or not, it is a personal choice.

  7. Brother, I think you are forgetting another major reason why converts to Islam. They want to emulate Muhammad Ali and Yusuf Islam by changing from their Christian names:
    http://www.ukdp.co.uk/pages/religiousconversion.php#Islam

  8. UmmMohebyAlIslam

    Here is the verse from QURAN saying to call children by the names of their fathers.

    “Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just with Allaah”

    [al-Ahzab 33:5].

    Also on the day of judgement we will be called by our fathers names. Aisha bint Mohammed for example.

  9. Sallam Sis,

    There are quite a few great points in your post on reasons for a name change.

    I love my first name and am fiercely proud of my Scotts-Irish grandfather after whom I am named. He was a true Christian who loved God’s love every day. He raised 6 amazing kids who strove for good lives and helping others. He was a Professor who reached out to his students. When he passed away (God rest his soul, he died months after I had found Islam and moved home to care for him), stories were told of how he anonymously helped those he knew in need among students and church members. I realized he was one of my archetypes of a true God focused lifestyle, and I would never change my name from the honor of being named after him.

    My middle and last name come from my father’s family I love them as well even though I used to think my 1st and middle name made me sound like an Idaho girl in overalls in a garden of fresh veggies. That was true when I was young actually.

    I was nicknamed/given the name Aisha shortly after finding Islam and taking Shahada. It was related to the fact that I had a ton of youthful questions regarding everything in Islam as I searched for The Truth. I also had a lot of inner conflict on the history of young Aisha… and this was symbolic for me.

    When I found that (as I like to put it) if you take 50 convert women into a room and say “Hey Aisha!” at least half of the women will turn around. There are so many Aisha’s it was nearly confusing. “Which Aisha? The Latina? Umm Jibreel? The short one?”

    While 1/3 of people in my life call me “Aisha”, others call me Erica or both. It was not about a Muslim name… it just was.
    I’ve never legally added “Aisha” but I’d like to as a 2nd middle name. I planned to when I married but I never did.

    Speaking of names… I loved how as a Muslim woman there was no pressure to change my last name. I’ve had it for a lifetime, and I love all of my names.

    Good post. Sorry I’m wordy.

  10. I didn’t change my name, but I took a nickname (almost 9 years after I converted). I didn’t really do it for religious reasons. More because I was spending time overseas and my name doesn’t go over too well with people who have had more exposure to British English than American English…

    But I like my nickname and sometimes go by it now.

  11. Salaam,

    I was also wondering why people change their names when converting to Islam. Not everyone does, I know, but some of them do – I really loved your insight; I never thought of it that way before!

    I know when my dad converted from Christianity to Islam my mum told him he didn’t have to change his name. He decided to keep his first name (and I’m glad he did because Jack is one of my favourite names, go figure) but he changed his last name.

    My friend is thinking of embracing our religion. She’s just worried about changing her name though because she likes it so much (not that I blame her. It’s actually a really pretty one.)

  12. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    Jack is, I believe, a derivative of Jacob / Ya’qoob, one of the most mangled of all the Hebrew/Arabic names which are common in Europe – from Iacomus in Latin, it turned into Iago (as found in the play Othello), Giacomo, Jacques, Diego, Tiago, Jaime, James, Siams, Seamus and then there’s the nickname forms like Jim and Jack. Interesting how this name got changed so much compared to other Biblical names, and how most of the derivatives leave out at least one syllable.

  13. I did not change my name, because I didn’t want to and knew it wasn’t required. My parents put a lot of thought into my name and it seems disrespectful for me to change it. That’s just my personal situation, I wouldn’t claim it’s disrespectful for others to change their names! I feel connected to the past and identified by my name, and know several other sisters who also kept their birth names.

  14. I did change my name legally, but not until I had been Muslim for about 6 years. The only reason I did so was my name was an obviously Christian name (you can guess at one of the variants) and after having people not believe I was “really Muslim” (besides I fact I don’t wear hijab) I felt that a name change would help me feel “more Muslim” … anyway I didn’t choose a Muslim name per se, but it’s Turkish with the Arabic root in it since my hubby is Turkish.
    If my name would’ve been something like “Megan” or “Susan”, etc., I probably wouldn’t have changed it. I kept my middle name like it was before. 🙂

  15. I wrote about this on my blog recently as well, but my perspective was entirely different. I can understand your reason for changing your name though. It is a very personal and individual decision, which should be completely devoid of judgment.

    I didn’t change my name. Islam for me was about finding my niche. I felt Muslim all my life, I just never defined myself as Muslim. When I became Muslim, I felt like this is who I really am and was always meant to be. I didn’t need a new identity, because Islam just allowed me to be proud of who I was all along. (disclaimer – I’m not at all suggesting that someone who did change their name did not have the same experience)

    I toyed with the idea of changing my name, but it just always felt artificial to me. A part of me also feels that keeping one’s name helps to show the diversity of Muslims. I have met many Muslims who have a lot to say about me not changing my name, but I really don’t care what they think about my piety or “muslim-ness.”

  16. New m uslim Sister

    I’m a new revert, and im having a few problems with changing my name myself, I would like to change my name as i feel this is a new start for me a new beginning to my life.
    I dont have any problems changing my first name thats rather quite straight forward, But im slightly confused about changing my sir name, as its hindu and relates to a hindu god. And we Muslims know there is only one God Allah (swt) so i believe this surname to be harram.
    But then ive had advice from others and ive researched the internet and it states i cant change the name in which my father gave me,

    So what am i to do , Can any one help me

  17. Salam Jamerican,

    It was VERY important for me not to change my name because it is the name my mother gave me and my last name reflects my culture and history and those are things that I never want to erase. God willing, if I have children, I will give them names in my native tongue, that is VERY important to me. Personnally, I believe that there is a difference between a “muslim” name and an “arab” name, and we shouldn’t confuse the two. Obviously, certain names are not appropriate if the connote something that is “unislamic”. But other names are perfectly fine. There are plenty of beautiful names in my native tongue that carry beautiful meanings to them so I certainly don’t see a reason not to keep my name or name my children with our native names.

    I like what another sister said: ” If Khadija could be Khadija before and after her conversion, well then I’ll just be Jennifer. “

  18. I was Muslim for about a year before I changed my name (not legally or anything) but I went by that name to everyone other than family and non muslim friends. I was called by my new name for about 4 or so years before going through a sort of “identitiy crisis”. I felt as though I’d lost myself, who I was. I felt like I hadnt just gained a religion, I’d changed who I was completely and not necessarily for the best. So (much to everyones confusion LOL) I went back to my birth name. It took the community and those who only meet me after I had originally changed my name, a little while to get used to it but I feel like me again and it’s great.

  19. First of all, hi everyone. I am totally lost. Im actually a christians and i would like to converts but the fact to change my entire name even my last name scare me i wonder if i can keep my christians name and choose a muslim name when ill speak with muslim people or i really have to change it legally.
    And if i change it legally what happen with Diplome, Driving license and thing like that ^

    Thank you for letting me share this !

  20. Salam!!!

    I haven’t changed my name, and I’m a strong advocate against reverts changing their names, unless their first-names have Non-Islamic, or universally recognized negative meanings. This is because generally, the concept of Muslim-Name & name-change is an outright Bid`ah (religious-innovation). And, I can undoubtedly prove this with the following info.:

    1. It’s a violation of what Allah says in the Qur’an, about addressing people by their fathers’ names, and since we use surnames/last-names, the same rules apply in our modern-age, by addressing people by their respective surnames/last-names.(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.33, V.5)

    2. It violates the command of Allah, to respect the ties of kinship. If a person decides to change their name, especially if their name doesn’t have a Non-Islamic or universally recognized negative meaning, they arem by default, displaying ingratitude to Allah, for Him placing them in the families, with the family-histories that exists within those families, by cutting one’s self off from one’s own lineage, which is totally wrong, Islamically.(Chpt4., V.1)

    3. During the lifetime of Muhammad (Peace be upon him) himself, there were only a selected few Companions (May Allah be pleased with them), whom were commanded by him, to change their given-names/first-names only, and only because of their Non-Islamic/negative meanings. Among these Companions are the following: Abu-bakr, Abu-Hurayrah, `Abdullah ibn-Salam, as well as some others.

    4. It’s not even logical to use the whole “African-Diaspora/Atlantic Slave-Trade” bit, to justify changing one’s name, because, over the lengthy course of our Human existence, peoples have conquered other peoples, and subsequently, given conquered peoples their names.

    A classic example is the following: the name “Khan”. The name “Khan” is one of the most common surnames/last-names, the world, in Human history. Most of people who have this surname/last-name are from the Asian-Subcontinent region. However, this name “Khan” isn’t native to any Subcontinental languages in this region; rather, it’s origins are from the language of Mongolian. The name “Khan” was originally only used as a title of leadership/rulership, literally meaning “supreme-ruler” in Mongolian.

    It was latter adopted as the universal surname of all known descendants of Temudjin (better known historically as “Genghis Khan”). I say this to say the following: If a Non-Muslim, with the last-name Khan, were to become a Muslim, right now, and if anyone were to tell him to change their name, they would look at them like their dumb, which they should. In fact, the only people who fall for this “name-change” & “Muslim-Name” nonsense are Muslims from traditionally Non-Muslim countries, predominantly with the realm of the West/Western-Hemisphere.

    Furthermore, who said that a person has to change their given-name-first-name to an Arabic one? Who made the rule that Arabic names are so superior, to other linguistic names? I’ll give some examples: the name `Abbas, from the verb, `Abbasa, meaning to be misreable, from the verb, Abasa, meaning to frown, means a “miserable-person”. Now, what’s so “Islamic” or “Muslim” about a name like this?!!! Or, let’s look at the name, `Umar, from the verb `Amara, meaning to age, `Umar basically means “one who ages”. Aging is not necessarily always a positive for Humans, especially when it comes to becoming debilitated, because of aging, so, again, what’s so “Islamic” or “Muslim” about a name like this?

    This is what I vae to say about it.

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