Hi Duana,

I have a girl middle name problem. Well I have a girl first name problem too but that is easier to overcome than the middle name issue. My husband and I have agreed I get to pick the middle names of our children because I took his last name and so will our kids (something I was waffling on before we got married). For our boy there was a naming tradition that I always knew I would follow and so it was easy to pick for him.  For our girl though, I wanted to honor my dad’s Arabic background.

Now despite me having the decision making powers in the middle name category I don't want to pick something that will go horribly with an English first name (or the rest of our families names which are all traditional English or Welsh names), nor one that I know my husband is really going to take issue with. For example, I like the name Noor but I know my husband doesn't. It isn't worth it to me to pick that and say tough, you said I could pick so this is what I choose. In the end I can only see me choosing an Arabic version of a biblical name like Hana. It's easy, and I do think it is a lovely name, but I feel like I am missing out on a lot of other options. I was hoping you would have advice on where to look for inspiration because I'm plum out ideas, or suggestions of names I'm overlooking.


Oh, this one is challenging -  but I bet you can do it. Because the difference between English and Arabic names is that they don’t necessarily follow the same patterns that we’re used to. Some men’s names end in “a”, a lot of women’s names don’t.    Your challenge is to find something that, most importantly,  sounds more or less like a name spoken in English, without being a name that’s all the way adopted in the English parlance. Forget about the weird spellings, as they’re mostly phonetic anyway (and if we were going to get into weird spellings, I could point some fingers at the Welsh, too).

I can see why Noor would be a problem – starting and stopping on a consonant can be difficult, especially in the middle. But it doesn’t mean that you have to go all the way to something that, to the untrained ear, sounds “English”. Of course, there are those – Sarah and Hana, as you mention – and more that have been used so often they’re more familiar, like Fatima or Farrah. I don’t know what name you have in first position, but many Arabic girls names are most lyrical in two or three syllables, so let’s try some of those.

If you like Noor, the first thought that came to mind was Noha. Still starts with N, but has a more “traditional” rhythm. Or how about Zora? Not one that immediately comes up, but totally useable and acceptable. Zahra – with or without the h – if that’s your thing and you can stand the royal comparison.

To me, though, one of the things that makes an Arabic name so distinctive – especially for girls – is that “e” sound in the middle. In fact, I’ve seen that even those of Arabic extraction who don’t choose Arabic names like those same sounds. Deena.  Mia. If that’s what you’re craving, how about Rashida? Has the benefit of being known to a certain brand of culture vultures, in addition to being a lovely name.   Jalila? Samira? Many people also really love Laila…

Partly it depends how much or how little you want the name to scream “Arabic” – to me, you can’t go wrong – but then, I’m biased in this situation. It is because we share this, then, that I give you one of my favourite Arabic girls’ names – Aziza. Every time I see this name written it’s referred to as “zippy”, and who can really argue?   It’s easy to say and fun to hear, so why not?