Misused terms: Abu and Abdul

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.

Unusual Usage

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.

Female Kunya

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.



Abu Talha

I want to know can i keep my son name as Talha only instead of Abu Talha

Pls help me

plz give me the actual

plz give me the actual meaning of this name


My name is Ali Hassan I just wanted to knw if i can call my self as Ali Abul Hassan.



This is not correct. the definite article Al is not used with proper names. Proper names are already definite. In Arabic, like other languages nouns have definite forms and indefinite forms. For example, the indefinite form of house baytoon means a house. While al-baytu means the house. Arabic linguistically designated proper names as being definite. So, you wouldn't call me al-Eman. Eman is sufficient to indicate that you are referring to me. However, let's say you were from the tribe al-Hassan. Ali al-Hassan would indicate this. So Ali Abu al-Hassan, which you are spelling out phonetically as Abbul hassan, literally means the father of the Hassan. This is like describing yourself as a founder or father of the entire tribe al-Hassan.


Abul Hassan in the way your trying to use it is wrong. Abul Hassan is really not the linguistically correct way to describe the father of the tribe al-Hassan. That would be Abu banu Hassan in the nominative form. However, in my research I found that Shia sometimes use the term al-Hassan or al-Hussein to describe the sons of Ali bin Abu Talib rode Allahu anhu. And also will use this term when referring to there own sons to glorify Hassan and Hussein. However the general rule is that a proper name is already definite when referring mortal beings and thus satisfies the condition of definiteness to make idaafah construction definite and the mudadaafilayhi as a proper name is generally written without the al tarif ال. However, I guess it depends on the the way you view the proper name. So, I think it's correct Arabic to use an al tarif in front of a proper name if you are glorifying that name as in the names of Allah swt. I guess it would depend on your cultural interpretation. So abul Hassan would be correct in some cases depending on your believe of the status of Hassan. It might even be correct in the case of referring to the tribe of al-hassan if you are referring to Ali ibn Abi Talib rode Allahu anhu being the father of the tribe of al-Hassan. I'm really not sure.

meaning of my son's name

assalam alakum
pls can u tell me d real meaning of khalid and can i call my son abdul khalid.

Meaning of khaled

The root word of the name khaled is kh-lam-dal. This means enduring or immortal. Linguistically, there is nothing wrong with calling him abd al-Khaled. There are religious reasons why you might not want to do this because al-khaled is not a name of Allah. This goes beyond the scope of this blog and you might want to ask your religious leader about it. However, it is sound linguistically.

The definite article ال

I think the main confusion in translating the al tarif as "the" for people with limited understanding of Arabic grammar is that we translate it as "the" when there is actually no stand alone word "the" in Arabic. The al tarif or "ال" is really a prefix like the word de- in English meaning to undo. However de- is not a word on its own just like al tarif. But, trying to explain الاسم المعرفة (the definite noun) and الاسم النكرة (the indefinite noun) as being modified in terms of prefixes and suffixes might work. Also, we tend to spell our names phonetically in English because English speakers do not know the rules of pronunciation of Arabic. So, عبد الرحمن becomes abdur Rahman. If we told them it was abdu alrahman they wouldn't say it in correctly. Consequently, we have English people thinking abdur or Abdul is a name merely because we are making easy to pronounce and explaining the conspect of sun letters, moon letters and hamza al-wassal would be to complex. I got interested in this because the news had a man with a lastname Abdul and I've met many Americans with this as a first name.