Some think that a new name signifies a fresh start, which is what you get when you become a Muslim. It is not so much that you are denouncing your old life, but that you are embracing a new one. People who advocate taking a new name generally think that it’s an important part of the conversion process.
Others think that you should stick with the name you were born with, since that is part of your identity. When converts re-name themselves, they usually pick Arabic names and if they’re not Arabs themselves, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Those who do pick Arabic names often do so to mark themselves as Muslim, in much the same way that Muslim women wear hijabs. But continuing to use your birth name also tells people, once they learn that you’re Muslim, that Islam is for all people, not just for Arabs.
I’m torn on the issue. If I’d been required to pick a new name when I converted, it might have been too big a change for me at a time when everything else was changing. It was enough that I was becoming a Muslim. I didn’t think that I had to take a new name to “prove” that I had become one. Besides, my birth name means a lot to me, since it is part of my heritage.
On the other hand, a new name might have helped me to take on my new identity more quickly.
Some new Muslims continue to use their birth names, but also take an Islamic name which they either incorporate into their birth name or only use on certain occasions. I’ve had people tell me, “I’m ______[birth name], but my Muslim name is______.” That seems like a good compromise, except I can’t help but wonder what the point is. It could be that most people don’t want to go to the expense of changing their names legally, so they just use their Islamic names informally. That’s probably what I would do, if I ever take a Muslim name.
I’ve considered it. I probably will if I can decide on the name that feels right to me. One possibility is to use an Arabic name that means the same as my birth name. My first name is Ellen, which means ‘light’ and that translates into ‘noor.’ I like the simplicity of that name, but it sounds almost too stark in combination with my last name, which is also one syllable (Keim).
Another possibility is a name that sounds like my birth name. Since there aren’t a lot of Arabic names that start with ‘E’, that’s been hard to find. The closest I’ve come is ‘Eiliyah,’ but I don’t even know how to pronounce it. Beside, its meaning would make me sound conceited if I picked it for myself: “The beautiful one to grow in peace and love with God.” I would like to think that describes me, but I know better!
I’ve also thought about using my middle name, because it’s in the Bible: Elizabeth. I’d like to find out how you would say that in Arabic. It means ‘God’s promise,’ but I don’t know how to translate that into Arabic.
Have any of my readers who are converts taken Muslim names? If yes, did they replace your birth names, did you incorporate them into your birth names, or do you just use them informally?
Also, do any of you have favorite names to suggest for me? I realize that most of you only know me through my posts, but I’d be interested in what you think would be a good name for me.
ADDED NOTE: I just learned that Muslims are only to change their first names when they have bad or wrong meanings. I’m very fortunate that my first name, Ellen, means “Light” and my middle name, Elizabeth, means “God’s promise.” I also learned that all Muslims, even women, are to keep their biological father’s last name. So there is feminism in Islam!