Arabic Names Are Going Mainstream
Arabic baby names are a huge, diverse treasure trove. They range from names with deep significance in Islam, like Muhammad and Khadija, to some you might not even realise are Arabic, like Layla, as well as cross-cultural names like Adam and Sara.
Arabic names have never been a staple of the American name charts – unlike, for example, England, which has a larger Muslim population. There the Top 200 includes Fatima, Zainab, Ibrahim, Mustafa and five spellings of Muhammad.
However, things could be changing. Many Arabic names are on the rise in the US today, influenced not only by Arab and Islamic culture but also by pop culture. Leading the trend is musician and internet legend DJ Khaled. His son Asahd (meaning “lion”) was born in 2016, and the following year Asahd was the top debut name on the charts. It rose steeply again in 2018.
Now DJ Khaled has welcomed another son, Aalam. His name, meaning “world”, was only given to five baby boys in 2018. But watch this space for 2020, because we predict that where Khaled goes, other parents will follow.
Other Arabic names boosted by pop culture include Eissa, Janet Jackson’s son, and Hakeem from the TV show Empire. The biggest success story of all is Aaliyah: almost twenty years after the singer passed away, her name remains in the Top 100, and spelling variants abound – read about some of them below.
We can also see Arabic influence in the spellings of modern creations like Kamiyah and Jaliyah. It shows that many parents have a taste for the style and sound of Arabic names, if not for the traditional names themselves.
Here’s our pick of sixteen of the hottest genuine Arabic names. Some are popular, others are below the radar, and all are on the rise.
Amir — Names with royal meanings are a big trend today, and Amir fits in perfectly – as does Sultan, another rising Arabic name. At number 149, Amir is the most popular it has ever been, and alternative spellings Ameer and Ahmir are also in the Top 1000.
Bilal — One of the prophet Muhammad’s closest companions, Bilal ibn Rabah was famed for his beautiful singing voice. The animated film Bilal: A New Breed of Hero gave this gentle name extra popularity when it came out in the USA in 2018. Its meaning, “moistening”, is very important in a hot climate.
Hamza — With a similar sound style to Ezra, a great meaning and a long history, this is one we can see going even more mainstream. Hamza is very popular in Turkey and the Balkans, and a Top 200 name in UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Imran —Smooth-sounding Imran shot into the Top 1000 in 2018. In Muslim tradition, this is the name of the father of biblical Mary. Modern bearers include Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and former cricket star.
Rafi — This cheeky little name, meaning “exalted”, is truly international and even more laid-back than Rafferty or Rafael. It was only given to 24 boys in the States last year, making it and undiscovered gem. Similar in style and also on the rise is Rami, as in Oscar-winning actor Rami Malek.
Rayan — A unisex name, Rayan probably owes its success to its similarity to Ryan, making it a convenient cross-cultural name. Its ecological meaning, “land that is lush and rich in water”, adds to the appeal.
Zayn — We can thank Zayn Malik for the popularity of this zippy name, although the spellings Zane and Zain were already rising before One Direction hit America. Zayn is another unisex name in Arabic and means “beauty, grace”.
Alia — As Aaliyah falls in popularity, the more timeless and streamlined Alia has been rising. This feminine form of Ali, meaning “exalted”, has the same appeal as Aria. Alia Shawkat, aka Maybe on Arrested Development, is one noted bearer. Alya is rarer but also on the rise.
Amal — No prizes for guessing who made this name popular! International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin entered the spotlight in 2014 when she married George Clooney, and her name – which is unisex and means “hope” – has almost doubled in use for girls since then.
Dua — This small but mighty name, meaning “prayer”, combines the mini-appeal of Mia and Leah with a distinctive sound. British-Kosovan singer Dua Lipa put it on the map: in 2018 it almost doubled in use in both the US and the UK.
Inaya — This name, meaning “help, care”, fits into the same pool as names like Amaya and Elora. Drawn from various cultures, they all have liquid sounds that appeal to parents today. We predict we could see Inaya in the Top 1000 within the next few years.
Kamilah — This name bounced into the Top 1000 in 2018, thanks to a TV character in The Good Place. There’s no doubt it was helped by the popularity of similar-sounding Camila, but Kamilah is a bona fide Arabic name from a word meaning “perfect”.
Noor — If you like Nora but think it’s just a bit too long, Noor could be the answer. A favorite of name lovers, this name meaning “light” is starting to get the love it deserves. It entered the US Top 1000 in 2015.
Which Arabic names would you like to see more of? Let us know in the comments!
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on January 31st, 2020 at 6:18 pm
I love Arabic names, probably because I’m from a Middle Eastern background myself. I’ve made a list of Arabic names I love/like (I have more female names than male) :
Yasmine/Yasmeen/Yasmin- my name 🙂
Dana/Danah- (pr. daa-na, not day-na) a unisex name meaning “wise, experienced, educated”
Zayna- the feminine form of Zayn
Zaynab- the name of a flowering plant, it’s also been associted with Arabic zayn meaning “beauty”. It’s also associated with Zenobia, the Hellenized form of Zaynab; Zenobia was a 3rd century queen of Palmyra who went to war with the Roman Empire, captured Egypt, and ruled over a large multi-ethnic and multicultural empire of her own before her defeat and capture by Emperor Aurelius. I believe she’s a popular figure in Syria but I’m not sure.
Aya(h)- meaning “sign, token” and “verse” (such as the verses in the Quran); Ayat is the plural form of the name
Amira- the feminine form of Amir, it means “princess”
Amina – means “truthful” or “honest”, though it could also mean “safe”, “to feel safe”. If you want historical references there was a female warrior queen in Nigerua known as Amina who was a renowned military warrior and queen
Aisha/Ayeesha- meaning “alive, living”
Reem – gazelle” and which is used to refer to the Arabian sand gazelle *this is one of my favorite names, probably because it reminds me of the word ream 🙂
Lina/Leena/Lena- means “soft, tender, gentle”
Liyana- means “soft, tender, gentle”, from the same root word as the name above; could also be spelled Liana
Lana- means “soft, tender, gentle”, from the same root word as the two names above
Arwa- refers to a female ibex (a type of mountain goat) and thus conveys meanings of “softness”, “lightness”, “agility”, “beauty”, and “liveliness”, in reference to the ibex’s grace and beauty. Arwa al-Sulayhi was a powerful queen of Yemen who ruled for over 50 years during the eleventh or twelfth century.
Samina- a variant transcription of Thamina, possibly meaning “healthy”, “precious” or “invaluable”. It’s also a feminine adjective meaning “fat” though in the context of something that is fertile; or it could mean “chaste, eloquent” or “excellent language” referring to someone with good speech or words. Nicknames include Sam or Mina.
Ghazal- the name of a type of poetry in Arabic poetry
Hala- means “halo”, likely in reference to the circle of light visible around the moon, and in some cases the sun. Hala also means “aura” in Arabic.
Samar- pronounced like summer, it means “evening conversation” or “night companions”
Soraya- Persian form of Arabic Thurayya meaning “rich” and “wealthy”; it’s also another name for the Pleiades
Suha- the name of a star in the constellation Ursa Major, it either means “forgotten, overlooked” or “little star”. Also spelled Soha.
Maha- means either “wild cow” or “oryx” essentially meaning “beautiful eyes” for the beautiful eyes of the creature.
Farrah- means “joy, happiness”
Shakira- means “thankful, grateful”
Basima- means “smiling” or “one who smiles”. Another variant is Basma Nadia/Nadiyya- means “moist, tender, delicate” or it means “caller”.
Ruqayya/Rukiya- an Arabic female name which means “rise, ascent” or “spell, charm, incantation”.
Hina- the Arabic form of henna, the name of a dye that is used as a temporary body art in the Middle East
Jana/Janna- a variant of Jinan meaning “garden” or “paradise”, the plural form of janna(h) (garden; paradise, heaven)
Ramla- an Arabic female name meaning “sand”
Dalia/Dalya- the Arabic form of the dahlia flower; I’ve also seen it listed as coming from an Arabic root word meaning “grapevine”
Asma- means “exalted, supreme, high”
Israa- means “night journey”, “night travel”
Asala/Isala- means “originality, genuineness, authenticity”
Naya- a very multicultural name, it’s an Arabic feminine name likely derived from Persian nay or ney, referring to a musical instrument, an end-blown flute, that has been in Middle Eastern music for about 5,000 years.
Qadira- the feminine form of Qadir meaning “powerful, capable”.
Roya- a Persian female name meaning “dream, vision”
Emtiyaz- a unisex Arabic name meaning “distinction” or “privilege”. It’s related to another name, Mumtaz, as in Mumtaz Mahal, a Mughel Empress whose husband built the Taj Mahal for her. Em or Emmy are possible nicknames for it.
Yusra- means “wealth, ease, comfort”. It’s also related to a root word meaning “left”.
Lubna- an Arabic female name meaning “storax (tree)” in Arabic, storax being a type of tree from which a liquid balsam could be obtained from it, used in perfumes and medicine. There’s a 7th century Arabic love story of Qays and Lubna
Zakia- the feminine form of Zaki with 2 possible meanings- “pure” or “intelligent”
Hadiyyah- means “gift” as well as also being a variant spelling of Hadia, the feminine form of Hadi meaning “leader, guide”.
Alina- means “delicate” or “soft, gentle”, which comes from the same root word as Liyana and Lana
Jinan- an Arabic unisex name meaning “paradise” or “garden”. Jannah is a plural form of the name
Sadaf- means “seashell” or “mother of pearl”. Pronounced su-duf
Sabeen- means “follower of another religion”; it sounds just like Sabine, and Sabina is another possible form
Habiba- means “beloved” or “darling, sweetheart”
Hiba- means “gift”. Another spelling is Heba
Dina- a feminine form of Deen meaning “religion”; also spelled Dena and Deena
Nasreen- a Persian feminine name referring to either the wilde rose, eglantine, or white narcissus
Raiyah- a female name meaning “banner, flag, emblem”.
Danya/Dania- meaning “close, near” in Arabic. Mentioned in the Quran referring to fruits and the shade of the trees in Paradise and how they are always close and within reach.
Badriya- means “like the full moon”
Salma- means “safe”, “to be safe”, could also be spelled Selma
Ruba- means “hill”
Tahira- feminine form of Tahir meaning “virtous, pure, chaste”. Tahirih is also the title of a woman (her real name was Fatimah Baraghani) who was a major influence in the Babi faith in Iran
Abdullah- means “servant of Allah”
Abdulrahman- means “servant of the merciful”; Rahman can also be used as a name on its own
Ali- means “high, exalted, lofty, sublime”; its feminine form is Alia
Hussein- means “handsome, beautiful, comely, good, goodly”; Hasan is a variant of the name
Haider- means “lion”
Khalid- means “eternal, immortal”
Sami- means “elevated, sublime, supreme, high, lofty”
Mahmud- comes from the same root word as Mohammad
Malik/Malek- means “king”
Saleh- means “virtuous, good, pious”
Yusuf- the Arabic form of Joseph
Issa/Essa- the Arabic form of Jesus
Ayman- “right-handed, lucky, blessed” and literally “on the right side” Nadir- means “rare, unusual, strange”
Jamil- means “beautiful, handsome; Jamila is the feminine form of the name
Jamal- it means “handsome, beauty” and comes from the same root word as the name above
Faris- means “knight, rider; horseman”
Marwan- of unknown meaning though it could be related to a word meaning “quartz”
Sufyan – of uncertain meaning though it could possibly mean “light, nimble, fast-moving”
Haytham- means “young eagle”
Anwar- means “bright, luminous, shining”
Jibril- the Arabic form of Gabriel
Tariq- means “to knock, rap, pound” in reference to a nocturnal visitor, hence its other meaning “night visitor”.
Idris- means “to study, learn”
Laith- means “lion”
Zafir- means “victor, triumph, success”
Deen/Dean- means “religion”
Amir- means “prince, commander, chief”
Adil- means “fair, honest, just”
Salim- means “safe, intact”
Latif- means “gentle, kind”
Mustafa- means “the chosen one”
Firdaus- means “paradise”
Saladin (or Salah al-Din)- means “righteous of the faith” and the name of the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty
Shihab- means “meteor; shooting star”
Shahin/Shaheen- means “falcon”, referring to the Barbary falcon
Karim/Kareem- means “generous, noble”
Hamada- comes from the same root word as Muhammad meaning “praiseworthy”
Intisar- this one is a unisex name meaning “victory, triumph”
Salem- (pr. sal-em, not say-lem) means “peace; safe, intact, unharmed”- comes from the same root word as Salim
on January 31st, 2020 at 11:08 pm
Yasmine, your list is stunning. Thank you for sharing. I will read and reread it.
on February 7th, 2020 at 11:40 pm
Thank you for the kind comment, Ruanne 🙂
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