Screening Arabic Names

Of all of the different name types we have looked at in these articles Arabic names are the most different to western culture, and the most challenging in understanding, screening, and investigating them.

First a few words of warning:

•Not all Arabs follow fixed rules for names.
•Arabic culture has spread across a wide geo-diversity, and different cultures have adopted Arabic names in different ways.
•Arabic names are not intrinsically linked to Islam, there are Arab Christians, although relatively few.
•Religious zealots sometimes choose very traditional naming conventions that can be at odds with current culture.

That said here are the generics. A personal name is made up of any combinations of:

Kunya (paedonymic), Ism, Laqab, Nasab (patronymic), Nisbah.

Ism. This is the closet equivalent to a forename, this is the name that the family and friends use, examples would be: Hamza, or Fatima. This part would go first in a name.

Kunya. The Kunya can effectively replace the Ism in a man who has had a son. The Kunya is constructed of “Abu (Abou)” followed by the Ism of the son, an example would be “abu Hamza”, meaning “Father of Hamza”.

Laqab. This is a surname, in that it can be inherited across generations. It is often a description of the person such as: al-Rashid (the Rightly Guided).

Nasab. This is again like a surname, and it lists the Isms of previous generations. Sometimes only one of them, sometimes a long list. Each Ism will be prefixed by Bin (Ibn) or Bint for a daughter relation. For example: “bin Laden”, or “bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden”, or for a girl: “bint Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden”.

Nisbah. Another surname, this one is typically used to say where you are from, normally geographically but sometimes on a clan basis. An example would be: “al-Mazri” (the Egyptian).

Let’s look at some examples from the OFAC List:

•Ali Saed bin Ali al-Houri (Ism, Nasab, Nisbah)
•abu Hamza al-Masri (Kunya and Nisbah, Masri is Arabic for Egypt)
•abd-al-Rahman bin ‘Amir al-Na’imi (Laqab, Nisab, Nisbah, alNa’imi are people from the Ma’im tribe originally from Oman)

Note in this last name “abd-al-Rahman” is used. This in honour of Allah, the “abd-al” means servant of, and Rahman is one of the 99 names of Allah in the Koran. Here are some examples:

•abd-al-Rahman  – servant of the most merciful
•abdul Nassir  – servant of the helper
•abd-al-Ghaffar  – servant of the all forgiving

Don’t try to read too much into Arabic names. If you were trying to explain English names to an Arabian person you would say:

Jeremy Round  means  Jehovah Exulteth Fat Person

So what does this mean for screening?

Abu Hamza – should not match to – Hamza – one is the father of Hamza the other is Hamza.

bin Ali – should not match to – Ali – one is the son of Ali the other is Ali.

bint Ali – should not match to – bin Ali – one is the son of Ali the other is the daughter of Ali.

Knowing how an Arabic name works can be very helpful in getting your screening strategy right, and understanding how to investigate and eliminate.

At SQA Consulting we can not only give you hints and tips on screening effectively and data management, we are leaders in measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of screening. Please contact us to find out more about this article.

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