Do I have to change my name? Is it obligatory or not?
You do not need to change your name unless it has a negative meaning, or is the name of a deity in another religion (ex: Gautam, Ram, Shiva, etc). Names of any of the Prophets are acceptable names such as Jesus (Isa), David (Dawud), Mary (Maryam), Moses (Musa), etc.
You are NOT permitted however, to change your family surname, it is forbidden in Qur’an. You do NOT change it for any reason, whether that reason is accepting Islam, or taking a husband’s last name. It is not permissible in either scenario.
Many new Muslims do not officially change their names, but just go by an Islamic name with their friends. This is up to you about what you want to do, if you want to officially change it or not. It “may” be obligatory for you to change it (later), especially if it is a non-acceptable name, when you apply to go for hajj, or to marry a Muslim. They may require proof of your conversion (which you can obtain from an Islamic center or mosque near you at any time), and they can advise you about how to go about changing your name if you are needing to do it.
When is a name change required vs. not required?
If you are not having a name that does not have to be changed, and you choose to keep your birth name, you may have a lot of Muslims frustrating you over it, but we have the solution for you.
If any Muslims make an issue about changing your name, telling you that It is obligatory, when your name is not one that requires changing, you can provide them with this fatwa (scholarly Islamic ruling) that explains when a person needs to change their name and not. Do not feel pressured to change it if you do not wish to. Your name does not make you ‘more’ or ‘less’ Muslim than anyone else, although, there will be many Muslims that try to tell you this.
Muslim Names Directory
You can select a Muslim name for yourself, it is not obligatory for someone else to choose for you. You can search for names alphabetically by name, or by meanings of names, as well as sort by male or female (HERE) or search for Qur’anic names (HERE)
You Should Never Change Your Family Surname
Allah tells us "Call them after their fathers. That is most just in the sight of Allah. If you know not their fathers, then call them your brothers in faith and your patrons. There is no blame on you if you make a mistake but you are accountable for what is done intentionally. Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Qur’an 33:5)
“…'Ali reported Allah's Apostle pbuh as saying, If anyone makes a false claim to paternity, or being a client of other than his own masters, there is upon him the curse of Allah, the angels, and all the people. Allah will not accept from him any recompense in the form of obligatory acts or supererogatory acts.” (Muslim Book 15, Hadith 531)
The Prophet pbuh said: “On the Day of Resurrection, each betrayer will have a banner raised beside him, and it will be said, this is the betrayer of So and so the son of So and so.” (Bukhari 5709, and Muslim, 3265).
What About Women Taking Their Husband’s Surname?
On the basis of the above, there is no blood tie between the husband and wife, so how can she take his surname as if she is part of the same lineage? Moreover, she may get divorced, or her husband may die, and she may marry another man. Will she keep changing her surname every time she marries another man? Furthermore, there are rulings attached to her being named after her father, which have to do with inheritance, spending and who is a mahram, etc. Taking her husband’s surname overlooks all that. The husband is named after his own father, and what does she have to do with the lineage of her husband’s father? This goes against common sense and true facts. The husband has nothing that makes him better than his wife so that she should take his surname, whilst he takes his father’s name.[i]
Ramlah bint Abi Sufyan, one of the Mothers of the believers, the wife of the Prophet, pbuh, married the Prophet before her father himself became a Muslim. Yet, she did not change her name and the Prophet pbuh did not order her to change it, although he was one of the Prophet's strongest enemies at the time.[ii]
In other various religions, such as Christianity for instance, the Bible teaches that the wife is the property of her father, and that once she marries, she becomes the property of the husband. This is a disrespectful thing to women, to attribute them to someone with no blood ties. We are taught to oppose the traditions of the disbelievers that follow such things in their faith’s teachings, which are not having any foundation in Islam.
Should I Choose an Arabic Name?
“When the child is born, one of the first ways in which he is to be honoured is by giving him a good name, because a good name will have a good impact on the heart when it is first.” (al-Mawardi, Naseehat al-Mulook)[iii]
There follows some advice which it would be good to think about before choosing a name.
1 – It is not recommended to adhere to all the names of male and female Sahabah, because some of their names were known and accepted in their society, but would be strange in other societies.
Al-Mawardi mentioned something in the book quoted above about that which is recommended when choosing names, which is:
“That the name should have a good meaning and be appropriate for the one who is so called, and it should be common among people of his class and community.”
A name should not be weird or odd in the society in which they live, because having an odd name may cause the name or its owner to be made fun of, and he may feel too shy to mention his name before people.
The one who wants to choose a name like that of the Sahabah, Prophets or righteous people should choose a name that suits him and suits his society and people.
2 – Non-Arabs do not have to give their children Arabic names. What is required is to avoid names that are used only by the followers of other religions and which are usually used by the followers of those religions, such as George, Peter, John and so on. It is not permissible for Muslims to use these names, because that is imitating the Christians in the names that belong uniquely to them. End quote from Ahkaam Ahl al-Dhimmah by Ibn al-Qayyim (3/251).
But if the non-Arabic name has a good meaning, there is nothing wrong with using it and giving it to one’s child. The Messengers and Prophets (peace be upon them) had good names and gave good names to their children, which they took from their customs and traditions, and they did not stick to Arabic names. Examples include Israa’eel (Israel), Ishaaq (Isaac), Moosa (Moses) and Haroon (Aaron).
3 – One should avoid ugly names or those that praise their owners. Al-Tabari (may Allaah have mercy on him) said, as quoted by Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Baari (10/577):
“One should not use names that have ugly meanings, or names that imply praise of a person, or names that have insulting meanings, even though names are just markers for people and are not intended to be a description of them. The reason why this is disliked is that when a person hears the name, he will think that it is describing the person named. Hence the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) changed names to something which, if the person was called by it, was true.”
Among the female names that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) disliked was the name ‘Aasiyah (meaning disobedient), which he changed to Jameelah (beautiful), as was narrated by Muslim (2139).
Other disliked named which are widespread in some Muslim countries are names which include the words al-Deen (or uddin/uddeen) and al-Islam, such as Noor al-Deen and ‘Imaad al-Deen or Noor al-Islam and so on. These names are disliked by the scholars for both males and females, because they suggest exaggerated praise of their owners.
Shaykh Bakr Abu Zayd (may Allaah preserve him) said:
“That is because of the high status of these two words, al-Deen (the religion, the faith) and al-Islam. Forming names that include these words implies a false claim that is almost a lie. Hence some of the scholars stated that they are haraam, but the majority are of the view that they are makrooh, because some of them suggest meanings that are incorrect and cannot be applied to a person. Initially they were titles that were added to names, then they started to be used as names.“ Tasmiyat al-Wulood (p. 22).
4 – With regard to female names, it is essential to avoid names that carry meanings that provoke desire, such as Fitnah or Faatin (meaning tempting) or Naahid or Naahidah (which means one whose breasts are prominent).
It is also essential to avoid giving females the names of angels, because that is an imitation of the mushrikeen who thought that the angels were the daughters of Allah.
Shaykh Bakr Abu Zayd (may Allaah preserve him) said:
“With regard to giving girls the names of angels, it seems that this is haraam, because it is an imitation of the mushrikeen who regarded the angels as daughters of Allaah, exalted be Allaah above what they say. Similar to this – i.e., in that it is haraam – is calling a girl Malaak or Malakah (meaning angel).” from Tasmiyat al-Mawlood (p. 24).[iv]
When the family surname name is not acceptable, should it be changed?
Short answer – No.
Look at Safiyyah bint Huyay. Her father Huyay ibn Akhtab was a Jew. When she became a Muslim, the Messenger of Allah pbuh married her, and she did not change her father's or her grandfather's name even though everyone knew that they were non-believers, and that they were the enemies of Allah and his Messenger pbuh. More than that, Safiyyah used to visit her family, and when Umar ibnul Khattab heard that she liked the Jews, he asked her about it. She replied that they were her family, and that as a Muslim she was supposed to keep her kin ties strong and, that that was the reason for her visits with them. Look at this example! Safiyyah did not forsake her family ties and never abandoned her family's name. She did this because she knew that her name would not hurt her or weaken her faith and belief in Allah.[v]
Just because your father’s name is a non-Muslim one, it doesn't affect you in any way in this life or in the Hereafter. You are not asked to change his name even if his name is among the names that are forbidden or dislikable in Islam. The fathers of most of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh were not Muslims. The names of some of their fathers meant the devotion and slavery to idols or other things not to Allah the Almighty. More than that, some of the progenitors of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh had such names and he didn't change their names.[vi]
[iii] Al-Mawardi, Naseehat al-Mulook, p. 167