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How to Search Arabic Names and Find the Right People (Part 2)

05/20/19 6 minute read

Note: this is the second in a series of articles about searching for people in Arabic language records. You can find the first article on Arabic names here.

Naming Conventions in the Gulf States

As we noted in our last post in this series, naming conventions can vary significantly throughout the Arab world. The Arabic-speaking countries of the Persian Gulf have their own nuances when it comes to names. Whether you’re tracing assets or conducting a know your customer (KYC) check, these subtleties should inform your approach as you search Arabic names to locate individuals.

Understanding these naming conventions will be most useful for Arabic speakers conducting investigations in the Gulf states. However, non-Arabic speakers trying to locate individuals from the Gulf states in global public records also may find these tips helpful.

The Nasab in Arabic Names

The nasab is a string of male names indicating a person’s heritage that follows the given name.

For men, the nasab comprises the names of the father, grandfather, and other male ancestors separated by the word ibn (ابن) or bin (بن), both meaning “son of.” For example:

أبو عبد الله محمد بن عبد الله اللواتي الطنجي بن بطوطة
Abu Abdallah Mohammed bin Abdallah Al-Luwaty Al-Tanjy bin Batouta

محمد بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود
Mohammed Bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud

For women, the given name and father’s name will be separated by bint, (بنت), meaning “daughter of”:

نورة بنت فيصل السعود
Noura Bint Faisal Al-Saud

It is crucial to search for your subject with and without ibn, bin, or bint in Arabic and English. Some individuals rarely write their name with these words, while others use them consistently. Starting out by casting a wide net ensures you return all potentially relevant results.

The nasab separated by ibn, bin, or bint is most common in the Arabian Peninsula today. Analysts frequently find these constructions on public records from sources such as the Qatar Chamber of Commerce or the Bahrain Commercial Registry. Understanding how the nasab works also helps when searching Emirati shareholdings listed on corporate filings in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries in the region.

Nisba Adjectives in Arabic Names

There are also certain nuances to keep in mind when working to locate individuals whose last names are nisba adjectives. Nisba adjectives are formed by adding the suffix ي (-y) or ية (-iya) to a noun to denote relation or pertinence. Common examples of these last names include البغدادي (Al-Baghdady), الصعيدي (Al-Saeedy), and المصري (Al-Masry), all of which derive from place names. These names generally indicate the person has a distant connection to that place.

If you are searching for members of a family whose last name is a nisba adjective, remember that female family members may write their last name in its feminine form, using the suffix -a or -ah. In some cases, this may be true for both Arabic and English records. For example, Layla Al-Shamy (ليلى الشامي) may also go by Layla Al-Shamiya/Al-Shamya/Al-Shamiyah (ليلى الشامية) in English records.

Adapting Arabic Names Abroad

It’s also important to consider how individuals with Arabic names adapt to the practices of jurisdictions outside the Arabic-speaking world.

Because name length can vary significantly by region, abbreviations for common Arabic names are often used in countries where names tend to be shorter. Sometimes this is a necessary workaround for technical limits on the number of characters that can be entered in a name field.

For example, most Chinese citizens have names that are only two to four characters long. To get around computer systems created with this fact in mind, the first name Mohammed is often abbreviated as Mhd. or Mohd. on Chinese official records. In the United Kingdom, an individual named Mohammed Khaled Ahmed Khalfan may abbreviate his name as Mohammed Kh. A. Khalfan.

Of course, in light of the hundreds of Arabic names that begin with Kh. or A., analysts need to use other identifying information to ensure they have found the individual they’re looking for and not just someone with a similar name.

Stay Tuned: Searching for People in Iraq

In our next post in this series, we’ll discuss the unique naming conventions of Iraq—a key country of interest for professionals in the fields of terror financing, due diligence, antiquities trafficking, and many others.

Inspired to put these search tips to work for your own research? Try them out on the hundreds of millions of fully-searchable public records in Sayari Search! If you’re curious how this data could drive insights for your team, please reach out here

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