no touchy, my name is my identity

DEBRA: GENDER: Feminine; PRONOUNCED: DEB-rə

Is your name “Thor” or “Zeus?” Does it have a polytheistic meaning like “I worship the sun god?” No? Then why do you feel the need to change your first name when you become a Muslim? I am a convert and I have met many converts (mashAllah) and this is always a conversation that comes up. “Do I have to change my name when I convert to Islam?”
I have friends who have kept their name, friends who changed their name and friends that are perpetually changing their name. None of these are wrong, but I just want to be clear: nowhere in the Sunnah or the Quran does it say that someone has to change their name when they become a Muslim. Unless your name means something polytheistic or something like “man, I am a pious person,” you can keep it. If your name is Persephone, however, you had better start shopping around for a new name.
When we meet, a likely conversation will include what the meaning of your name is. Not because I am the haram name police but just because it is something that interests me. I find it interesting that my name, some normal, seemingly random part of me actually means something in another language. When people ask me if I changed my name or “what is your Muslim name?” I cringe, no I didn’t change my name.
Although our name seems random I believe that people often times identify knowingly or unknowingly with theirs. You can know a lot about a person from their name, take my name for instance. My name is Debra. It is a Biblical name that can be found in the Torah and the Bible. It is a Hebrew name and means “bee.” From this you might know a bit about my background and where I am from. I personally identify with my name and what it represents. Debra was a strong and intelligent woman and she possessed many characteristics that I too wish to emulate. Another reason that I didn’t change my name is because it matches the name of chapter 16 of the Quran, Surah al Nahl. Please tell me, why on earth would I change my name when it is a title of a Surah? In addition to these reasons, I also feel strongly against changing my name out of respect for my parents. I love them, they brought me in to this world and chose the moniker for which I will be forever known. I do not want to change my name.
I am not sure why some people go crazy over this subject? It’s like I killed their mother or something. One time I brought a dear friend to the masjid so that she could experience an iftar. Uh, what a mistake that was. This woman brought up the subject and was convinced that it’s haram to keep your name. I tried to reason with her but of course my words fell on deaf ears and my friend was convinced we are all nuts. I don’t bring non-Muslim friends to the masjid anymore.
If you think that the names I used at the beginning of this article are extreme, please know that this was intentional. These names are as extreme as changing your whole identity to fit into what a Muslim is “supposed” to look like. Although I am willing to work hard to improve myself and be the best Muslim I can, I don’t think it should be at the cost of my identity. Al humdulileh I was raised by good people and I became a reasonable adult. Just because I have taken on a new religion doesn’t mean that I have to erase my past. Islam has made me whole and has improved me as a human being. It is not haram for me to keep my name, so please stop making me feel as though I have done something wrong because this simply is not true.

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About sabr33n

Debra Schubert is pursuing a bachelor of Social Work at the University of Regina, where she is also a research assistant in the Department of Religious Studies. She is a blogger and focuses primarily on social justice issues from an Islamic perspective. She is an activist in her community and dedicates much of her time to community engagement activities. She is a Muslim convert from a Jewish and Roman Catholic upbringing. She is one of the founding members of the “Federation for Canadian Muslim Social Services” that was established in 2014 and currently sits as secretary on the executive board. She is a member of the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan’s social committee and also serves on the programming and youth organizing committees for NAIN 2015. View all posts by sabr33n

6 responses to “no touchy, my name is my identity

  • souskueaizen

    Maybe, when one reverts, their old name reminds them of what they were, so hence the name change is to lose that old identity. 🙂

    • sabr33n

      Salam, yes I can respect wanting a new beginning. But I also think that it is important to remember our past. We all have something unique to bring to the table. Also, Allah puts things in our path so that we can learn a lesson. Maybe a persons struggles can help someone else in the future in some way so we should never try to disregard it. If there is something that we have done that is bad or haram, of course we should make taouba for it, but then we can examine it and use it for future references.

  • Marco Winningham

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  • Karimah

    My given name I have never really liked because 1) people never seem to pronounce it right even though they speak english 2) and it makes them break out into spontaneous song 😦

    What name is that you may wonder? It’s Caroline. Often wrongly pronounced as Carolyn even though LINE is in the name! And yes I forever hate Neil Diamond for his song Sweet Caroline which everyone feels the need to sing to me.

    When I first began studying Islam, my Muslim friend at the time had nicknamed me Karimah. I liked the meaning behind it and I felt like coming into Islam was a new start on my life and what better way to start one’s new life than with a new name? I felt like that person Caroline in the past was no longer who I am today.

    Sorry this kinda got long. One more thing I wanted to mention was that you talk about how in practicing Islam we cannot just throw away our whole identity So true! In fact I am reading a book that basically talks about this. Its called Believing as Ourselves and you can find it on amazon.com for fairly cheap.

  • AA battery

    Agreed ! Some people just think that converting means getting a complete make-over. Choosing a set of values to live by, doesn’t warrant an identity change. Your name is your identity & you shouldn’t have to change it unless it has an offensive meaning etc.

  • James Green

    i may not follow the Muslim studies thoroughly but i do follow some and believe in a lot of the messages as i do the same in the Christian faith but i agree in not changing your name for reasons that are not highly importatnt. My parents named me James and to keep it means to honour my parents and their reasons it also brings characteristics to my well being and spiritual side. God loves you with what name you have not what you change it to.

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