Connect with us

Opinion

What’s In a Name? -Ruth Nasrullah

Published

My last name, Nasrullah, is actually my husband’s first name, the result of trying to fit a south Asian-style name into a western configuration. Of course, I didn’t have to take his name when we married. I did so because it better reflected my identity than my surname at the time we married, which belonged to my ex-husband. That name was Sullivan.

Between my first husband, a lapsed Muslim, and my current husband, a practicing Muslim, I married a lapsed Presbyterian named Sullivan. I myself was a lapsed Muslim at the time. When I returned to practicing Islam in 2001, my name was still Sullivan, although my husband and I had separated. By keeping that name I joined the small group of Muslim converts who carry European names and are thus not readily identifiable as Muslims except in person.

Had I had a Muslim first name, I wouldn’t have had to wait till I remarried to be recognizable as a Muslim just by name. However, I never seriously considered taking a Muslim name. I’ve never understood it to be required or strongly recommended, unless of course you have a “god’s” name like Olympia or Radha. I have the name of a strong and loyal woman – Ruth of the bible – who was a staunch monotheist.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Some of the reasons I kept my name are petty. I worry that I’m just not smart enough to remember to answer to a new name. And there’s the paperwork. Mundane things, but significant enough to diminish my enthusiasm for a name change.

If I did change my name, I would change it to Safiyyah, after the Prophet’s (SAW) wife . I came to love her after listening to Sh. Suhaib Webb’s lecture series “Mothers of the Believers” and hearing the story of this Jewish princess who was picked on frequently by his other wives, sometimes for being Jewish and sometimes for being very short, as I am. The Prophet (SAW) always defended and protected Safiyyah, and the stories involving Safiyyah highlight his kindness and fairness, especially as a husband.

But would I be Safiyyah Nasrullah? Or was it a mistake to take my husband’s name in the first place? If I opted to go back to the name I was born with, I would have two choices – I would be either Ruth bint Nuh or Ruth Cohen. And Ruth Cohen is a strange name for a Muslim! For now I’ll stay with what I’ve got.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Amad

    May 11, 2007 at 10:50 PM

    Safiyyah Cohen… very Jewish-brotherly love there :)

  2. Abu Bakr

    May 11, 2007 at 11:08 PM

    I’m not making any suggestions here, but many of my convert friends go by their new Muslim names amongst their Muslim friends while retaining their previous names for legal purposes and for work as well.

  3. Mujahideen Ryder

    May 12, 2007 at 1:19 AM

    You should have kept the name Cohen and if you were to represent a Muslim organization and needed some type of government stuff, your last name would have probably helped.

    haha. okay sorry. it was a sad attempt of a joke.

  4. Muslim Apple

    May 12, 2007 at 8:07 AM

    Asalamu alaykum,

    I’ve always kept my Ibo name but did for a time go by a “Muslim” name in Muslim circles. The name was given to me by some brother I met on a bus. Last year, I decided and went through the process of re-asserting my original name which has no negative connatotations whatsoever.

    I think changing names re-inforces the stereotype of Muslims as “the other” when the reality is that Muslims are “us” and I love seeing that diversity reflected in our names.

  5. Ruth Nasrullah

    May 12, 2007 at 9:57 AM

    “Safiyyah Cohen… very Jewish-brotherly love there”

    ASA, Br. Amad – brotherly love…as in the city of brotherly love…as in the “Philly Jews”??? LOL. (Those who read the relevant post from a month or so ago will understand – although was it modified in the end?)

    Muslim Apple, I remember your post and I think it motivated me to write about this topic in the Chronicle. I tend to agree with the idea that changing your name reinforces the view of Muslims as somehow “foreign.”

  6. Amad

    May 12, 2007 at 10:11 AM

    ASA/ Though it tends to reinforce the view within a convert’s own psyche that he or she is now part of the Muslim ummah. Not that I am saying that it can’t happen without it… I guess it depends on how much the person wants to scream about his or her Muslim identity. For sisters, the hijab screams louder. For brothers, the name go further… wallahualam..

  7. iMuslim

    May 12, 2007 at 11:11 AM

    I think it is fine, and in fact good, to keep your name as is, Ruth. As you say, it was the name of good, believing woman, mashallah. Also, i think it is a funny form of dawah: it shows that becoming Muslim doesn’t mean one has to reject ones roots, and adopt the Ay-rab culture. Accepting Islam is about nurturing whatever good you have within you, and simply weeding out the bad. That goes for all Muslims!

    I am a ‘born’ Muslim, but my first name isn’t very Muslim sounding. It just sounds ‘foreign’. :)

  8. Abu Bakr

    May 12, 2007 at 4:07 PM

    The funny thing is, once I was discussing with a brother who had just newly become Muslim and was thinking of adopting a Muslim name. I told him it’s not necessary as there is nothing wrong with his current name, however, its totally up to him.

    The funny thing is that there was another convert brother sitting there who had changed his name completely (first and last), even on his legal papers when he became Muslim. And he was really encouraging the brother to change his name, and the brother himself was quite adamant about his desire to change his name. Now, I wasn’t trying to discourage him, only make sure that he understood that he’s under no obligation to do so, its entirely his choice.

  9. AnonyMouse

    May 12, 2007 at 5:09 PM

    I have several convert/ revert friends, and they have different approaches to the name issue…

    I know one of them who has changed her name legally; the others will use a Muslim name around other Muslims or their close friends, and use their ‘real’ names for everyday business.

  10. AbdurRahmanX

    July 15, 2007 at 11:15 PM

    as salaam alaikum,

    I agree that a lot of this falls in the area of individual interpetation. Qur’an and hadeeth say keep the name of your father. However, in western culture, your father’s name is sometimes debatable. If you have a long clear blood line, like what is envisioned in Arab culture, you should retain your last name so that you maintain yourself in your family tree. this is basic Islam, but to say that a bastard child who doesn’t know his father or his people has the same obligation as someone with clear bloodlines is to totally ignore the context of the instructions of Qur’an and Sunah on name changing. And in the end, we as individuals have to live with the names we decide to live with as well as answer to Allah as individuals on the day of judgement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Trending