Two commonly used names for Arabs in movies or in popular cultures are 'Abu' and 'Abdul'. These terms are incorrectly used. Read below to see why.
Abu: The Male Kunya
The word 'Abu' in Arabic is أبو. When used for a person, it often does not signify his real name, but the ancient Arab custom of 'kunya' كنية. This custom names the person as 'Abu ...' , meaning 'Father of ...', or 'Having something'.
The Arabs from ancient times commonly used the kunya as a nickname for someone, the second part being the eldest male son (if present), or the eldest daughter, so Abu Khalid means that the person probably has a son called Khalid.
Abu does not necessarily refer to the eldest son. In many cases, it referred to something associated to that person. For example, Abu Turab أبو ترابwas a nickname for someone who slept on his side and had dust (turab) on his clothes, Abu Hurayra أبو هريرة was a person having a small kitten, and Abu Dharr أبو ذر refer to ants.
In some cases, people with no children, and even little boys and girls were given a nickname as well.
Depending on the linguistic position of the word Abu in the sentence, it could take other forms, namely, Abu, Aba, and Abi أبو، أبا، أبي. This is too complex to explain, but basically related to classical Arabic grammar.
The term Abu therefore, never exists in isolation. It would be meaningless, since it is a partial concept. Modern contemporary usage in English and other Western languages is incorrect.
A rather unusual form of kunya is used in contemporary Eastern Egypt. In El Sharqeyya الشرقية, the term "X Abu Y" is used when X is a common name (e.g. Ahmed or Mohamed), and the Y is the father of X. For example, when saying Ahmed, it may be ambiguous, since there are lot of people named so, hence, to make it clear, Ahmed Abu Sameer means Ahmed Son of Sameer. This form is the exact opposite of the usual use of Abu elsewhere, but I observed it first hand in El Sakakra and surrounding areas in the late 20th and early 21st century.
Because of different dialects in different parts of the Arab world, Abu can be spelled and/or transliterated in varying forms. For example, in Egypt, it is mostly Abou, such as my maternal side of the family, Abou Youssef.
In the Maghreb region (Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco), it is more often spelled Bou. Hence Bou Regreg أبي رقراق is the river between Rabat and Sale, and Boutefliqa بوتفليقة and Bourgeiba بورقيبة.
The female equivalent of Abu is 'Um' or 'Umm', Arabic for أم, meaning 'Mother of ...'. The same rules above apply, but there are no varying grammatical forms.
Abdul: Another Partial
The term Abdul is also often incorrectly used. In Arabic, it is an amalgamation of a word and a preposition. ِAbd عبد means 'slave' or 'servant', and 'ul' is ال, which is 'the' in English. So Abdul means 'Slave of the'.
In Arabic, Abdul is always followed by any one of the name of God, for example, Abdul Rahman عبد الرحمن means 'slave of The Compassionate', and Abdul Raheem عبد الرحيم means 'slave of the Merciful'. Abdulla means 'slave of Allah'.
So, the usage of 'Abdul' alone is not correct, since it is a partial concept again.
Both 'Abu' and 'Abdul' must be followed by a name, otherwise it does not convery a complete meaning.