During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims across the globe—about a quarter of the world’s population—fast from dawn to sunset for the month. Observance of the fast, which forms one of the Five Pillars of the Islam, helps Muslims get closer to Allah. As Muslims ready to mark Ramadan on May 26, let’s take a closer look at some awe-inspiring, and perhaps surprising, names that come from Arabic, the original language of the Koran and spoken by many millions of the faith.
If you’re looking for an A name for your baby girl, Aaliyah is a “sublime” choice. This name is the feminine form of Ali, meaning “lofty” or “sublime” in Arabic. Popularized by the late singer Aaliyah, the name has reached “exalted” heights indeed, climbing to the 53rd most popular girl name in the US for 2016, according to Social Security data. Personalize the name with one of its many variants, including Aliyah and Aliya.
For many Westerners, Aida probably calls up Verdi’s tragic opera—not Arabic etymology. The opera’s starring character, Aida, is a Nubian princess enslaved in Egypt. Her name comes from an Arabic root meaning “returning” or “visitor,” perhaps fitting for a woman held captive away from home. Aida has not sung her last note yet, though, with room to rise at her spot at Number 594 on Nameberry.
Aisha is another name many may not realize hails from Arabic, where it literally means “alive” or “prosperous” and was the name of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives. This girl’s name is “doing well” indeed: It ranked at Number 501 in the US for 2016 and has a wealth of variants such as Ieesha and Ayesha to bestow on your newborn.
All parents have high “hopes” when their baby greets the world, and Amal is the perfect name for that truly special experience. It means “hope” or “aspiration” in Arabic. It suits men as well as women, notably Amal Clooney, who certainly exceeded a lot of great “expectations” in her accomplished career in international human rights law. Consider Amal if you’re hoping for a unique baby name: In 2017, the name only hit Number 4089 on Nameberry for girls, Number 5711 for boys.
This name, and its more popular sister, Layla, get many parents singing—and not just Eric Clapton’s hit single of the same name. Layla has itself proven quite a hit among babies (and baby boomers), belting out Number 30 in the US for 2016. (Leila, meanwhile, came in at Number 199 on Nameberry). For all their bright future, Layla and Leila both go back to the Arabic for “night.”
Barack ultimately comes from an Arabic word for “blessed,” an apt namesake for a new boy—regardless of your politics. Of course, President Barack Obama gave this name a whole new level of public attention and over the course of his career helped boost it, otherwise uncommon in the West, to Number 1431 in 2017 on Nameberry.
Idris, which can boast the name of British actor Idris Elba, derives for the Arabic for “interpreter.” Idris is the name of a prophet mentioned in the Koran, making “interpreter” a fitting title for a divine mouthpiece. The growing popularity of Idris, though, is something that needs no “interpretation”: This boy’s has mounted up to Number 380 in 2017 on Nameberry, ascending yet higher in England, where it reached Number 280 in 2015.
Jamal is a “beautiful” name for a beautiful new boy—and indeed, it means “beauty” in Arabic. While somewhat past its popular prime in the US, the luster of the name has by no means faded: Jamal was the 696th most popular boy’s name in 2016 for the US.
Malik is a name fit for “king,” which is exactly what it means in Arabic. Many actual rulers in the Middle East have been so titled Malik throughout history, and al-Malik, or “the King,” is one of the 99 names of Allah in Islam. While it doesn’t quite reign supreme, Malik did enthrone itself at Number 382 in the US for 2016. Try Malikah, or “queen,” for girls.
Omar isn’t just popular in Muslim families: Claiming the Number 223 overall spot for boys in 2016 in the US, you might say this name is “flourishing.” And etymologically, you wouldn’t be wrong, as Omar, a form of Umar, means “populous, flourishing, or life” in Arabic. The Arabic Omar also shares a name with the Biblical Omar, via a Hebrew root meaning “talkative” or “eloquent.”
You’d be “rightly guided” to name your boy Rashid, though down at Nameberry’s Number 5652, as that’s what the name literally means in Arabic. Like Malik, al-Rashid, roughly translated as “the Guide,” is also one of Allah’s 99 names in Islam. Rashida, as in actress Rashida Jones, is a female alternative. Closely related (and slightly more popular on Nameberry at Number 3147) is Rashad, or “good sense/guidance” in Arabic.
Vega is a name that looks up to the stars—and back to Arabic. The brightest star in the constellation Lyra, Vega is also the fifth brightest star in all the night sky. It comes is from the Arabic phrase al-nasr al-waqi (with waqi the source of Vega), often translated as the “swooping eagle” or “the descending vulture.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary: “The star is so called because the constellation which it forms part of was represented as a vulture in ancient Egypt, and as an eagle or vulture in ancient India.” While only reaching Number 1574 on Nameberry in 2017 so far, Vega has been very popular in Spain, where it soared to Number 31 in 2015.