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Search Tips: Finding People in Arabic Records

04/02/19 5 minute read

One of the most common hurdles faced by analysts conducting open source research is knowing how to search effectively. You have the name of your research subject – how do you search for that name and return meaningful results?

This challenge is compounded when searching in Arabic, thanks to the many linguistic and cultural nuances that characterize records from the Middle East.

We have compiled some of our Middle East and North Africa team’s best search tips for navigating name spelling and word order variations in Arabic. Follow these guidelines, and you will be able to identify the full range of results that apply to your research subject, whether you are utilizing Google, Sayari Search, or any other open search Arabic-language resources.

Spelling Variations in People’s Names

There are a number of common spelling variations that are important to keep in mind while searching for individuals in Arabic public records. Building spelling variations into your searches can bring back completely different – but entirely relevant – sets of results.

In order to ensure that your search is comprehensive, try spelling names that end in ة with an ه or an ا. Adham Hussein Tabaja, a Lebanese businessman who was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for his ties to Hizballah in 2015, spells his name at least two different ways in Lebanese company records:

ادهم حسين طباجة
ادهم حسين طباجه

He has family members who spell the same last name with an alif at the end: طباجا.

Similar logic applies to the following spelling variations and common typos:

ي and ى
(عطوى \ عطوي)

ا and أ and إ
(احمد \ أحمد)
(ابراهيم \ إبراهيم)

Names that begin with ‘abd may be spelled with or without a space between ‘abd and the second element of the name:

عبدالله \ عبد الله

It’s also always worth a try to spell last names with and without the definite article, alif lam:

قطرانجي \ القطرانجي

Word Order Variation in People’s Names

Patronymic naming conventions form the standard in the majority of the Arabic-speaking world. Each country has varying norms for how many names are recorded when an individual appears on a public record (e.g. shareholders on a company document).

As we discussed in detail in a previous post, Lebanese records typically list three names: given name, father’s given name, and father’s surname or family name. In Jordan, it is more common to include four names: given name, father’s given name, grandfather’s given name, and family name.

Exceptions to these rules exist, and some people disclose four or more names on Lebanese company documents. Exceptions often derive from the prevailing norms in that person’s country of origin. But the reason isn’t always so clear: sometimes one member of a family confusingly uses four names – tracing her lineage to her grandfather – while all other family members use only three.

For these reasons, it is crucial to search a number of name order variations to ensure that your queries are comprehensive.

It is always best practice to begin your search as broadly as possible when trying to identify an individual in public records sources. If your dataset allows Boolean or complex queries, this might mean placing the given and surnames in quotes and using an AND operator.

To search again for Adham Hussein Tabaja, your first search might look like this:

“ادهم” AND “طباجة”

If this returns too many results, which it often does, next try adding the father’s given name:

“ادهم” AND “حسين” AND “طباجة”

If the components of the person’s name are common and continue to return too many results, then search the following strings:

“ادهم طباجة”
“ادهم حسين طباجة”
“ادهم حسين” AND “طباجة”

This series of searches ensures that you catch any results that only include an individual’s given and surname, the more common three-component name, and the individual’s given name and father’s given name separated from the surname, to catch any other possible names they may use which you weren’t previously aware of.

It is also preferable to leave out any instance of بن or ابن in these searches; people do not use those components of their names consistently, and including them tends to bring a lot of clutter to your results.

Put these tips to work on the public records data available through Sayari Search! If you’re curious how this data could drive insights for your team, please reach out here.

(Photo courtesy of Ramsey Nassar)

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