Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Qatari Names

All these years doing this blog I forgot to mention Arab names!

In the Gulf the Arabs’ names are pretty straightforward. Unlike the West, where first and middle names are typically chosen by the parents, in the Gulf only the first name is chosen by the parents. What we would call a middle name is always the father's name, any further middle names indicate the name of the grandfather, great-grandfather and so forth with the last name being the tribal name. So for example if you meet someone by the name Ali Mohammed Ahmed Al-Essa then you know his father's name is Mohammed and his grandfather's name is Ahmed (or more specifically his father's name is, at a minimum, Mohammed Ahmed Al-Essa).

Sometimes the name will have “bin” (for ladies there will also be “bint”) in-between the names. This simply means “son of”, or in the case of “bint”, “daughter of”. So in the example above the gentleman might go by the more formal Ali bin Mohammed bin Ahmed Al-Essa.

This can become important since Gulf Arabs tend to use a limited selection of names. Lots of Arabs are named Mohammed, Ali, Ahmed or Abdulla, and tribal names are not as diverse as Western last names so I'm willing to bet there are plenty of Qatari men named “Mohammed Al-Marri” or “Abdulla Al-Thani”, which would get very confusing without using the middle names.

If you are from the royal tribe (the Al-Thani tribe), then the middle names become very important in order to determine how you are related to important members of the Al- Thanis, such as His Highness the Emir, or his Excellency the Prime Minister. Al-Thanis tend to use more middle names than other Qataris.

So let's look at some examples:

This link will take you to the webpage listing the Board of Directors of Qatar's largest bank, QNB.

Here are the names of the first seven Board Members listed on the website:

H.E. Yousef Hussain Kamal
H.E. Sheikh Jassem Bin Abdulaziz Bin Jassem Al-Thani
H.E. Sheikh Hamad Bin Jaber Bin Jassem Al-Thani
H.E. Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al-Thani
Mr. Ahmad Mohammed Ahmad Al-Sayed
Mr. Bader Abdullah Darwish Fakhroo
Mr. Rashid Misfer Al-Hajri

So as you can see from this listing the Al-Thani Sheikhs all use the more formal “bin” whereas the other members of the Board do not. The Sheikhs also list two middle names, whereas only some of the other board members do. The middle names are also important because two of the Sheikhs are named, if you use the Western convention, “Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani”.

It is also possible that H.E. Sheikh Jassem Bin Abdulaziz Bin Jassem Al-Thani and H.E. Sheikh Hamad Bin Jaber Bin Jassem Al-Thani have the same grandfather (Jassem), which would mean they are cousins. If we were to see one additional middle name it would be safe to assume they are cousins if the next name also matched.

Let's look at some of the Qataris on the Board of another bank, Commercial Bank of Qatar:

Sh. Jabor Bin Ali Bin Jabor Al Thani
Mr. Abdulla Mohd Ibrahim Al Mannai
Sh. Abdullah Bin Ali Bin Jabor Al Thani
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Nasser Bin Faleh Al Thani
H.E Abdullah Bin Khalifa al Attiyah

Again all of the Sheikhs are using the more formal “bin”, and H.E. Mr. Al Attiyah is as well, but Mr. Al Mannai is not. We can also tell that two of the Sheikhs are probably brothers since they are both “Bin Ali Bin Jabor” but they are not closely related to the third Sheikh, at least on their father’s and grandfather’s side.

Speaking of which, what about ladies? Naming still follows the paternal line. According to Wikipedia, His Highness the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has many daughters, for example:

H.E. Sheikha Aisha bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani
H.E. Sheikha Hussah bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani
H.E. Sheikha Sara bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani
H.E. Sheikha Hind bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani

So after their first name the naming convention continues down the paternal line.

Unlike the West though ladies do not change their last names when they get married. Again according to Wikipedia, His Highness Sheikh Hamad has three wives:

H.H. Sheikha Mariam bint Muhammad Al-Thani
H.H. Sheikha Noora bint Khalid Al-Thani
H.H. Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Misnad

So two of his wives are from the Al Thani tribe whereas one is from a completely different tribe, the Al Misnads. As children are named after their father all the children will be “bin/bint Hamad bin Khalifa” regardless of whether their mother is an Al Thani or Sheikha Al Misnad.

A great example was brought to my attention with the new Emir and the new Prime Minister.

The Emir is Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
The PM is Abdulla bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani

So I made a comment to a post that at first glance they might be cousins (because both have a grandfather named Khalifa) but I took a look through the web and found that the former Emir, Sheikih Khalifa Al Thani, never had a son named Nasser, so the "Khalifa" in the Emir's name is different from the "Khalifa" in the PM's name.

However a Qatari commented on my blog that the Emir and the PM are related, you just have to go back further with more "bin":

The Emir is Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdulla bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani.
The PM is Abdulla bin Nasser bin Khalifa bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Thani.

Apparently the Mohammed in the names is the same person. Thus the Emir's great-great-great-great-grandfather is the PM's great-great-grandfather. Which I think makes them third cousins twice removed on the paternal side.

It may get confusing at first, but it becomes pretty straightforward once you get used to it. I like the fact that an Arab’s name can tell you a lot more detail about his history than a Western name.


Unknown said...

Glen, thanks for the inside.
One of your best post :-)

Glen McKay said...

You're welcome, glad you enjoyed it.

mneera said...

Also some tribes has sub-tribes like:
Al-Nabit Al-Marri
Al-Ali Al-Maadeed
Al-ghanim Al-Maadeed

Anonymous said...

Now I've learned that in "the West" ladies change their surname upon marriage. So I guess the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc. are not "the West"? Does the West speak English only? Oh my God. Luckily enough, this ignorant post WW II world view is vanishing!

Glen McKay said...

Sorry Anonymous but is there a need to focus on that small bit, which is not vital to the overall thesis? Did you expect an comprehensive survey of every country and culture in the West?

Tadeo said...

Well technically, canada is at the west of everything anonymous mentioned XD, europe is more like... The center.

Latinamerica have the same custom of women changing their last name when they get married, but is basically up to them.

I enjoy how ppl gets easily offended or overreacts to minor stuff, specially when they are online and anonymous.

Also, very nice information here

Glen McKay said...

Yep, I could probably post a video of a kitten clawing at yarn and it would offend someone on the internet.

Anonymous said...

Your use of the word 'yarn' rather than 'wool' offends the mighty Anonymous masses. ;)

Glen McKay said...


aishah said...

Good sharing !!!
I am going to use this for my
Thank you...

Anonymous said...

Super cool stuff here, things youd never learn living in a western country and not being affiliated to islamic culture and naming