Concerning the Name

by Jodi McMaster and Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Ælfwyn æt Gyrwum and Arval Benicoeur

Last updated 17 May 2000

The name Abdul is commonly believed to be an Arabic given name. In fact, it is not a name at all in Arabic, but rather a part of one of the many Islamic devotional names that begin with the phrase 'abd al "servant or devoted of the".

An Islamic man, both in the Middle Ages and today, often has a "laqab" or devotional name, in addition to his given name (or "'ism"). This epithet was often bestowed upon medieval Muslim boys at birth, and usually conveyed a religious message [Ibn Auda]. Men's laqabs were commonly formed from one of the attributes of Allah, prefixed by 'abd al. For example, 'abd al-Alim means "servant of the all-knowing" [Mustapha]. That name can also be transliterated as Abdul-Alim. In modern use, the prefix was mis-interpreted as a separate name Abdul, but we have found no evidence that the name was so used in the Middle Ages or Renaissance.

It was not uncommon for a man in the medieval Islamic world to be known by his laqab rather than by his 'ism. We aren't sure whether there were men whose only given name was one like 'abd al-Aziz or 'abd ar-Rahman, but there were certainly men who were primarily identified by such names [Sublet]. A list of some medieval laqabs can be found on the web in The One Hundred Most Beautiful Names of God [Mustapha].

The use of Abdul as an independent name appears to have arisen in the United States in the 20th century, perhaps among African-Americans who turned to Islam in the latter half of the century [Dunkling].

In summary, we have found no evidence that Abdul was used as a given name before the 20th century, though it was quite common as part of masculine laqabs like Abdul-Alim.


Ibn Auda Da'ud ibn Auda, Arabic Naming Practices and Names List, _Compleat Anachronist_ #51, The Islamic World. Milpitas: SCA, Inc. Autumn 1990; WWW: J. Mittleman, 1998.
Mustapha Mustapha al-Muhaddith ibn al-Saqaat, The One Hundred Most Beautiful Names of God, The Caidan KWHS Proceedings. Milpitas: SCA, Inc. 1989; WWW: J. Mittleman, 1999.
Sublet Sublet, Jacqueline, Nom et Identite/ dans le Monde Musulman, pp.97-108 in Bourin, Monique, Jean-Marie-Martin, and Francois Menant, eds., L'Anthroponymie: Document de l'Histoire Sociale des Mondes Méditerranéens Médiévaux, Collection de l'École Française de Rome, 226. Rome: École Franc,aise de Rome, 1996.
Dunkling Dunkling, Leslie and William Gosling, The New American Dictionary of First Names. New York: Signet Books, 1983, s.n. Abdul.