Arabic Naming Primer
6/20/2014
Your Arabic ancestors' names offer family tree clues. Here's how to find them.
Like immigrants from many other countries, Arabs often took different names upon entering the United States. Some Americanized their names to avoid discrimination, some were misunderstood when giving their names to customs officials and some may have been unsure how to spell their names using Latin letters. There's no standard system for translating names from Arabic to English, which is why you often see names of Arabic public figures spelled a variety of ways. Even the Islamic holy book might be rendered as the Quran, Qur'an or Koran, depending on the source.

Your ancestor's last name post-immigration might well be similar to his or her original name, such as Peters for Boutros, or Owen for Aoun (a family name connected to the town Jezzine in southern Lebanon). Many last names correspond to—or at least appear more frequently in—specific villages or regions, so knowing where your ancestor came from can help you narrow the possibilities for pre-immigration family names. (Some surnames are the town of origin; see below.)