By Ayisha Karim (Pharmacist)
Choosing a baby name can be one of the most daunting tasks for many, especially Muslim mums. I found it difficult to choose a name for my pet rabbit- never mind another human! I have always heard from others that when you choose a name for someone, they follow its characteristics. Whilst I’m not 100% sure about that, I do believe that a name can affect someone. What is a name anyway? I guess it’s something that you identify yourself with, something that everyone else will know you by. It’s a huge part of our identity and of our lineage. So, you can imagine the pressure I felt when choosing a name for my baby girl.
I come from a family with mixed views, from traditional Pakistani family members to westernised siblings. I had a whole list of Muslim boy names because I found them really easy- with lists of Prophets (peace be upon them all) and sahaba (May Allah be pleased with them) to go by. When I found out I was having a girl, I realised how difficult it was to find some names that I liked. I wanted a mix of both traditional yet modern names. I wanted something different yet not anything that would cause any bullying at school. Growing up as Muslim Women in the UK, we are not strangers to the abuse hurled from others about our identity. I thought of a baby name, “Arya”, I absolutely loved it. Arya is a Persian name, meaning “noble”. However, I was told it was too “game of thrones” so I knew that was a no go - although Arya Stark was a bad ass (as all you game of thrones fans would know).
Anyways, my search continued and although there are some lovely baby girl Muslim names out there, half of my huge family had already taken them!
Anyways, my search continued and although there are some lovely baby girl Muslim names out there, half of my huge family had already taken them! My husband also didn’t like half the names just because of other people with the same name too. It was definitely a challenge. I always liked the name “Ruqayat”- who was one of the Prophet Muhammud’s (peace and blessings be upon him) daughters. But again, my husband didn’t like the name so we kept having to decide.
I have a twin sister, and my dad wanted to call us “Selina and Sabrina”, but my Nana (mother’s dad) ended up naming us with more traditional names, “Mariam and Ayisha”, and I cannot imagine us with any other names. The tradition of grandparents giving names to the children is something that is quite common in South Asian families. I only realised how annoying this is once I had my own baby because I realised how much I did not want any influence on choosing the name apart from myself or my husband. I always thought, I’m carrying her in my belly, I get to choose (which was the case for me), however, for many other Muslim women, this is not the case.I have heard stories from other women who have named their own child something different to what their parents/in-laws wanted, and as a result, the grandparents call the baby whatever they want and ignore the actual name. In other cases, I have heard of grandparents convincing the parents to change the name on the birth certificate. In other instances, I have heard of parents not really having a choice and having the ‘expected cultural norm’ for the grandparents to name their child. This is something I knew would not happen to me, but I realised whatever name we discussed with anyone else (friends or family), everyone had opinions (of-course), and that influenced us. I therefore then decided at that moment, (with my husband) to not disclose any potential names to anyone around us, because I wanted to know we made that decision ourselves.
The name we ended up going for, was “Ilyana”. Yes - you might be thinking…what is that? Like many other comments I have had.
The name we ended up going for, was “Ilyana”. Yes - you might be thinking…what is that? Like many other comments I have had. I have even had people asking me if I could change it on the birth certificate. I have had other older uncles mention that it’s not an Islamic name so we shouldn’t have named her that. I think this is because it is not a usual name, and I understand why people think this-but I wish people would stop and think before commenting and research into it before making assumptions and judging it- because it’s actually a name from the Quran. Ilyana is a derivative from the word ‘Layyan’ which means ‘gentle’.
“And speak unto him a gentle word, that peradventure he may heed or fear. (Quran 20:44)”
I loved it immediately. My husband was the one who found it and loved it too. We knew it was what we would go for and we kept it on the hush as we knew how people like to give their opinions to us about these things. I have had people tell me it sounds Russian- but I loved it even more because of this! It was a mix of something from the Quran and something different. And it suits her. I cannot think of any other name for her now!
I asked a few friends about how they were named/how they named their children. I came across an interesting story of my friend who was named by her grandad. She mentioned that he decided the name by opening the Quran and then whatever page he would open, he would take the 7thletter from the 7thword, which ended up being an alif. So, they then decided a name beginning with alif and thought of “Asra”. However, they realised that this was technically not the correct spelling so changed the name to “Esra”.
I have a friend who is Kurdish and wanted to name her baby girl something Kurdish, but something that was easy for westerners to say. She named her beautiful baby girl “Heline” pronounced “Hel-een”. It’s a Kurdish version of Helen. I thought this was a lovely yet different name.
It’s clear how much of a challenge it is to name a baby. Not only that but trying to make extended families happy and also something you want can be a difficult thing to attain. People will always give their opinions and it will probably be negative- whatever name you/your family decide- make sure it’s something you like. I have listed some names at the bottom here of what I have come across that are unusual Muslim women names that I love- I hope this helps!
- Aliya - means 'high' or 'exalted'
- Alina - means 'beautiful' or 'light'
- Ayah - means 'sign'
- Amirah - means 'princess'
- Akira - means 'dark knight' or 'heavy rain'
- Amaliah - means 'aspiration'
- Layanna - means 'gentle'
- Leah - was the first wife of Yaqub Pbuh
- Esra - means 'the night journey'
- Ayeza - means 'noble'
- Heline - means 'spiritual light'
- Rosa - means 'rose'
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