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.