Q. I would like to find out if a Muslim person has a non Muslim name, is it necessary for that person to change their name to a Muslim name? One of my friend is in this situation and don’t want to change her first name since it would be completely weird for her to be called by a different first name rather than the one she’s accustomed to.
A. If the name has a bad meaning then it is essential that she changes her name upon becoming a Muslim. The Prophet (SAW) himself changed some of the names of the companions which did not have good meanings. If the name does not have a bad meaning, then it is not essential that she change it, however it is best that she be called by a Muslim name seeing that she is a Muslim. The Prophet (SAW) said ‘keep good names for you shall be called by these names on the Day of Judgment.’ (Abu Dawood).
It is important to note that a name should reflect the true Islamic spirit and through it, one can be identified as a Muslim. Names that do not reflect this should be avoided. In a similar manner, names should not reflect bad habits, pride and haughtiness and should not reflect unIslamic ideas and inclinations. They should not convey any improper and bad meaning. Undesirable names and incorrect spellings which may distort the meaning should be changed.
Aisha (RA) says that the Prophet (SAW) used to change bad names for good ones. One of the daughters of Umar (RA) was named Asiyah which meant disobedient. The Prophet (SAW) changed her name to Jamila which means beautiful. Zainab bint Salama says, I was named Birra (Meaning Pious) and the Prophet (SAW) said, ‘do not claim piety, for Allah knows who amongst you are pious. Name her Zainab’.
It is also evident that the meaning contained in the name of a person affects his life. In this regard, it is narrated that Saeed ibn Musayyib relates from his father that his grand father went to the Prophet (SAW) and was asked, ‘what is your name?’ he replied, ‘Hazn” (meaning sorrow). The Prophet (SAW) said, ‘you are Sahl’ (which means contented). He replied ‘I will not change the name my father gave me’. Ibn Musayyih says, ‘Thereafter sorrow was always with us’.
Here, it is evident that each name bears a meaning which has an effect on the life of a person. This goes to show that a person should be called by a good name which he/she has been given, and must not be called by a shortened version, a westernized/anglicized form of the name. Using this manner of calling a Muslim name does not convey the true meaning or spirit of the name.
Muslims should also refrain from naming themselves and others with such names which may sound nice, but in reality, have no good meaning. Such names should not be kept. While choosing a name, one should do so with the intention that the person would be blessed with the blessings contained in the name and would also be influenced with the good meaning of the name.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan