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How Names Can Affect People’s Personalities

Dr. Abū Wāʾil Musa Shaleem

This piece discloses how a person’s name can have a prolific effect on his personality and his character.

A person’s name can have a prolific effect on his character. Saʿīd ibn al-Musayyab (رحمه الله) relayed:

My father [i.e. Al-Musayyab] (رحمه الله) said that his father [i.e. Saʿīd’s grandfather] (رضي الله عنه) said: “I visited the Prophet (ﷺ). He said: ‘What is your name?’ I responded: ‘[My name is] Ḥazn [which means harsh/rough/tough/always serious].’ The Prophet (ﷺ) said: ‘You are Sahl [which means gentle and easy going].’ I responded: ‘I will not change the name my father gave me.’” Ever since, we [i.e. Saʿīd and his father, Al-Musayyab] have always had an aggressive personality.1

Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) always loved a good sign. Anas ibn Mālik (رضي الله عنه) narrated: “The Prophet (ﷺ) said: ‘Superstition and evil omens do not exist, but a good sign pleases me.’ They said: ‘What is a good sign?’ He (ﷺ) responded: ‘A pleasant word [is a good sign.]’”2 As a result, the Messenger (ﷺ) tried to change the name of Saʿīd’s grandfather to Sahl, since this name exemplifies a good sign, for the Messenger (ﷺ) would have hoped that someone called Sahl would have been gentle and easy going, as his name suggested. Ibn al-Mulaqqin (d. 804 AH) (رحمه الله) said: “The Prophet (ﷺ) would recommend a name change because a good sign always pleased him.”3 However, Ḥazn (رضي الله عنه) refused to change his name. Consequently, his successors—who include his son, Al-Musayyab (رحمه الله), and his grandson, Saʿīd (رحمه الله)—felt the effects of this name. Therefore, we should try to give our children good names.

Ibn al-Qayyim (رحمه الله) mentioned: “If you would like to see the effects of a person’s name on his personality, ponder the Ḥadīth of Saʿīd ibn al-Musayyab (رحمه الله).” 4

This does not mean that everyone who is named, for example, Ḥasan which includes the meaning good and beautiful will display good character or that everyone who is named Ḥazn will have an aggressive personality, for there are people who have these names, yet the meaning of their names is not reflected in their behaviour and in their attitude. Therefore, this effect is inconsistent, since a name is simply a word used to identify someone, and this word loses its regular meaning when used as a name. Many boys are named Asad which means a lion, but when the word asad is used as a name, it no longer means a lion. It simply becomes someone’s name.

Al-Ṭabarī (d. 310 AH) (رحمه الله) further explains: “Choosing a name that praises or ridicules a person or choosing a name whose meaning is repulsive should be avoided, even though a name is simply used to identify someone and does not have a meaning. Consequently, there are many sinners named Ṣāliḥ [which means righteous], as there are many Muslims who display terrible character named Ḥasan.”5

Regardless, we should give our children good names, as a good name exemplifies a good sign which was pleasing to Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ), for perhaps the meaning of a good name may reflect in our children’s attitude and in their behaviour.

Names affect people.

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim [d. 751 AH]

1 Reported by al-Bukhārī (6190) and (6193).
2 Reported by al-Bukhārī ((5756) and (5776)) and Muslim (2224).
3 Al-Tawḍīḥ, vol. 28, pg. 614.
4 Tuḥfah al-Mawlūd, pg. 121.
5 Fatḥ al-Bārī, vol. 10, pg. 577.
6 Zād al-Maʿād, vol. 2, pg. 307.

Published: December 12, 2022
Edited: February 11, 2023

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