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Arabic Names Are Going Mainstream

January 31, 2020 Clare Green
Arabic baby names

Arabic 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 realize are Arabic, like Layla, as well as cross-cultural names like Adam and Sara.

Arabic baby 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.

Arabic boy names

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.

Musa — The Arabic form of Moses, Musa is popular throughout the Islamic world, but it could also work as an interfaith name. In the US, it has risen steeply in the last 10 years.

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”.

Arabic girl names

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.

Samira — This flowing name sounds like a fresh take on Samantha. It’s a feminine form of Samir, which means “companion in evening conversation”.

Zahra — Meaning “flower”, Zahra is more culturally distinct and a little less popular than Zara. Both David Bowie and Eddie Murphy used it as a middle name for their daughters.

Which Arabic names would you like to see more of? Let us know in the comments!

About the author

Clare Green

Clare Green writes Nameberry's weekly round-up of the latest baby name news, including celebrity announcements, unusual naming stories, and new statistics from around the world . Clare, who has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, lives in England, where she has worked in libraries and studies linguistics. You can follow her personally on Instagram and Twitter.

View all of Clare Green's articles

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