Arabic Names from al-Andalus: Notes on Honorific Names and Harem Names

by Juliana de Luna (Julia Smith)

© 2008 Julia Smith; all rights reserved
last updated 19Feb08

There are two kinds of names commonly found in medieval Arabic contexts that are currently considered not registerable for reasons of presumption; they are not names given at birth, but are granted as signs of recognition and honor. Both are compound names, created from a phrase of two words.

Male honorific names are formed with a small number of second elements, which generally refer to the state or the religion: al-Dīn (of the faith), al-Milla (of the religion), al-Islam (of Islam), al-Dawla (of the government), and al-Mulk (of the state). The first elements are somewhat more mixed, but include physical objects ('sword'), desirable concepts ('pride') and the like. Figures like Saladin are known primarily through this honorific byname. In al-Andalus, these names are limited to kings and to individuals highly regarded by rulers. Some examples from al-Andalus include:

Royal women, whether wives or concubines, tended to abandon their birth names in favor of harem names. These names are different from all other women's names in that they are compound names (consisting of a phrase of two words) and that the names were carefully selected to be harmonious both in sound and meaning. Here are several examples (with meanings) from al-Andalus: