Naming people or things after Mohammed and Jesus.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 3 2007 6:09 PM

When Can Muslims Use the Name Mohammed?

Plus, why don't English speakers name their children Jesus?

On Monday, Sudan's president pardoned the British schoolteacher who had been jailed for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammed. What are the official rules for naming people and things after the prophet?

There aren't any; the subject of Mohammed's name doesn't appear in the Quran or in the hadiths, the prophet's sayings. But Mohammed is so venerated that worshippers all know to use his name in a respectful way. Proper etiquette excludes giving the name to objects or to animals, though broadly speaking, it may not go against Islamic principles to name a business after the prophet. According to the hadiths, deeds are judged based on a person's intent, so whether an act is an insult ultimately depends on motive.

Advertisement

In some Muslim countries, almost all males take a religious name, either Mohammed or one of the prophet's other names, Ahmed, Mahmoud, or Mustafa.  Out of reverence for the prophet and also out of practicality, men and boys named Mohammed often go by another first name instead. * In Egypt, the ubiquity of these compound names caused a major administrative problem in the mid-20th century, when the government introduced bureaucratic processes to manage state benefits. An Egyptian male's full name traditionally included his given name, followed by his father's and grandfather's names. If each of these relatives was called Mohammed-something-else, then the names simply grew too long and unmanageable. The practice of having compound names was banned in Egypt in the 1980s. *

Bonus Explainer: How come English-speakers don't name their children Jesus? In observation of the commandment against misusing God's name, English and American Protestants have historically taken a more conservative view on religious names and reserved the name Jesus for the son of God. In England, Mary was considered too sacred a name for common use until about 1300, and it wasn't until the past 100 years or so that naming a baby after an angel ceased to be sacrilegious. Around World War II, many Protestants started giving their sons names like Michael and Gabriel; before then, the bearers of those names would have been identifiable as Irish Catholics or German Lutherans.

On the other hand, Jesus has been a common first and last name in Iberian countries since at least the 14th or 15th century. For many Catholics from Spanish and Portuguese cultures, naming a child is considered a way to honor God rather than a violation of a commandment. (Similarly, Catholics differ from Protestants in their interpretation of the commandment against worshipping images.)

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Cleveland Evans of Bellevue University, Mohammad Fadel of University of Toronto, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid of the Council of the Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, and the Rev. Thomas Weinandy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Explainer also thanks reader Amelia Showalter for asking the question.

Corrections, Dec. 14, 2007: This article originally said that people in the Middle East don't call out "Hey, Mohammed" to friends on the street because the name is too sacred. That is incorrect. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

The article also said Egypt banned the practice of having compound names about 50 years ago. The ban was instituted in the 1980s. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Michelle Tsai is a Beijing-based writer working on a book about Chinatowns on six continents. She blogs at ChinatownStories.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.