KURDISH PERSONAL NAMES: A Sociolinguistic Perspective

JI: Kovara Kanîzar, hejmar 5


Lezgîn Baranî, Assistant Professor

Esma Bamernî, Lecturer

Dilgeş M. Şerîf, Assistant Lecturer

Department of English School of Arts University of Duhok



The paper tackles personal names among the Kurds in Kurdistan of Iraq and regards naming as an important aspect of the Kurdish society. The paper looks at the Kurdish names within the perspective of linguistics anthropology. It considers names as not  being arbitrary labels but sociocultural tags that have sociocultural functions and meanings. It is found out that the Kurds have always given personal naming a great deal of importance generation after generation. They borrow personal names from different cultures due to religious, political and ideological reasons ; however, they have always clothed them in the garments of their national ideology. It is also realized that the Kurdish names after the First World War became the mouthpiece of the Kurds’ call for freedom, independence and revolution. The paper discusses the typology of Kurdish names. These include (1) family names (2) rhyme and rhythmic names, (3) unique names, (4) death prevention and survival names, (5) nature and  place names (6) occupational and achievement names, (7) circumstantial names, (8) honorifics names, (9) beauty names, (10) flora and fauna names, and (11) non-Kurdish names.

Keywords: personal names, sociolinguistics, anthropology and Kurdish culture


The Kurds are a people of Indo-European origin and members of an ethnic and linguistic group native to parts of what are now Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, and Syria. They have been living for millennia in Kurdistan which is divided today among five countries: Turkey (15 million), Iraq (5 million), Iran (8 million) Syria (1.5 million), and the Caucasus of the former Soviet Armenia (500, 000). These estimates  place the total number of Kurds at somewhere between 27 and 36 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurds). The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state. In Iraq the Kurds form about 23% of its population; they live mostly in the vicinity of Duhok, Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah. The area of northern Iraq where Kurds predominate is a region of about 83, 000 square kilometers. Smaller ethno-linguistic communities of Assyrian-Chaldeans, Turkomans, Arabs, and Armenians are also found in Iraqi Kurdistan (Van Bruinessen, 1992; O’Leary, 2002:1). Since the creation of the modern state of Iraq, the history of Iraqi Kurdistan has been one of underdevelopment, political and cultural repression, destruction, ethnic cleansing and genocide http://www.kurd.org. However; it is only in the post-1991 period that the  people of Iraqi Kurdistan have experienced self rule and democratization. This emerging Kurdistan identity allows Kurds, Assyro-Chaldeans and Turkoman to maintain their respective ethno-linguistic identities and, at the same time, to establish a wider sense of collective identity. For the first time in Iraq’s modern history, the cultural and political rights of all communities were truly guaranteed (O’Leary, 2002:1)



Despite the influence of the neighboring cultures and the displacements of  populations, and despite the campaigns of open or covert assimilation, Kurdish identity asserted itself by use of the Kurdish language. Kurdish is an Indo-European language of the western Indo-Iranian branch. Kurdish is characterized by a distinct grammar and syntax and by its own rich vocabulary. There are three main Kurdish dialects: the Kurmanji, spoken in Turkey and in the northern part of Iraqi Kurdistan; the Sorani, used in Iran and in southern Iraqi Kurdistan; and the Zaza, also spoken in Turkey. The largest number of speakers is Kurmanji which is spoken by about three quarters of Kurds today. Kurmanji is divided into North Kurmanji (also called Bahdinani) and south Kurmanji (also called Sorani).The former is the language of most of the Kurds of Turkey and almost all of the Kurds of Syria and the former Soviet Union, as well as being the predominant language of the Kurdish enclave in northern Khurasan in Iran. The latter, south Kurmanji, or Sorani, is the language of a plurality of Kurds in Iran and Iraq with about 6 million speakers (see Izady, 1992:172). Since the Kurdish people are subjected to national borders, the Kurdish language is written in three different types of characters: the Latin, or Roman, alphabet in Turkey and Syria; the Arabic alphabet in Iraq and Persia; and the Cyrillic alphabet in the former Soviet Union.



The data for this paper were collected from primary and secondary school registers in Duhok, Zakho, Amadia, Sheikhan districts and the surrounding villages. We also collected some names from Duhok University registers; mainly the College of Arts and the College of Education. A greater part of the names were also selected from the food ration records in Duhok, Zakho, Imadia, Sinjar, Sheikhan and the surrounding villages.


1.3 Theoretical Background

The study of personal names is referred to as anthroponomy. Anthroponomy is related to genealogy, sociology and anthropology. Anthroponomy falls under the umbrella of onomastics that deals with the study of proper names including their forms and use (see Algeo, 1992: 727). In Kurdish culture, as in other cultures, people


name in order to differentiate, to recognize and finally to know; no one is born without being given a name that identifies its owner (Al-Dilaimy, 2006:3; Crystal, 1989:112).


The topic of names is a multidisciplinary field that has occupied the attention of  philosophers of language, anthropologists, linguists and ordinary people. Personal names can best be analyzed by a combination of both philosophical and anthropological notions (Agyekum, 2006: 207). The Kurds attach importance to names and naming practices. The knowledge about Kurdish names can give insight into Kurdish culture, philosophy, thought, environment, religion, language and culture. In logical and philosophical sense, a name refers to a different element of human experience i.e. to an individual or a collective entity, which it designates or denotes.  Names are therefore purely referential (see Rey, 1995: 26). Some philosophers and linguists have attempted to characterize names logically in the absence of social contexts. Names are only considered as arbitrary labels that refer to certain signified entries, therefore the signifier and the signified may not share certain intrinsic qualities (cf. Agyekum, 2006:207).


The paper suggests that Kurdish names are not arbitrary but they are based on socio-cultural and ethno-pragmatic contexts. The current paper is a contribution to linguistic anthropology and to the study of Kurdish anthroponomy and sociology as well as to the general theory of onomasiology by scholars like Agyekum (2006) Obeng (2001), Asante (1995), Crane (1982), Chuks-orji (1972), Suzman (1994), Ulman (1972) among others. According to the literature on anthroponomy Kurdish names are quite different from the western societies where people take their fathers’ last names. While western names are predictable, Kurdish names are generally not predictable, for until the child is born and under what circumstances it is born, the name cannot be determined with accuracy. However, there are rare cases where the parents or the family decide a name  before the baby is born.


In every culture, names have cultural and social contexts that identify the bearer. This is to say that every person in this world has a name that solely identifies and marks him/her from all other peoples in the world. Algeo (1992: 728) aptly points out that

“People are almost invariably named, indeed, a human being without a name would  be socially and psychologically less than a fully man.” In Saussure’s notion, the name is the sign and the dentate is the signified. Simply put, the name is a label that refers to a person.


Sign ——————— signified [-animate] [+ Human, ] (cf. Agyekum, 2006:208)


Frege (1949) and other scholars also consider names to have attributes and therefore consider names to be attached to referents. They also believe that names (proper nouns) have reference by means of the descriptive value they have about their referents; the relation of denotation between a name and a referent is deeply rooted in the sense of that name..This theory was also adopted by Russel (cf. (Al-Dilaimy, 2006:2). This is exactly what pertains in the Kurdish culture where the social and cultural context analyses of personal names strongly reveal the power of names to emphasize social relationships. Personal names are iconic representations of composite social variables that indexicalise and relate to the name and the person. However, Searle (1980:7) believes that the reference of a noun cannot be achieved by means of descriptions, as it is not essential to the definition of a name. In effect, what happens is that people expect the inherent power of words in names to reflect the lives of people either positively or negatively. Therefore the individual’s name is of concern to the society as a whole. People are named after professions, events, personal traits or animals; children are also named after unpleasant notions to evict evil spirits by making them look ugly or unpleasant (cf. Crystal, 1989:112; Murad, 1986:175). For example, some of the Kurds expect a child named after a dignitary or a chief to behave himself properly so that nobody makes derogatory remarks about the name in attempt to denigrate it. It is for these same reasons that children named after grandparents, parents and chiefs are addressed accordingly, such as Barzan, Soran, Zebar, Aaisha, Kawa, Kurda and so on. Such children are also advised to behave well so as to avoid tarnishing their names. Names can thus be clearly understood when placed in socio-cultural context. Analysis of proper names should therefore concentrate more on the functional theory bearing the society and culture in mind, for names are not arbitrary as perceived. Names are important indicators of people’s behavior and ways of life. Since Kurdish names can be best understood and interpreted under context, people who know the language and culture of the people are able to interpret such names accordingly.




This paper is an aspect of linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics. It is based on the theory that there is a strong interface between a people’s language and their cultural practices. It mirrors on (a) how language is used as cultural resources and practices, and (b) how language is viewed as a powerful tool used to view and understand the worldview and philosophy of a particular society. One can therefore use language as a microscopic lens to view and understand the social practices and day-to-day activities of a society. As a microscope, the language travels beyond what is expressed and settles on what is practiced in the real sociocultural world (cf. Agyekum, 2006:209). Foley (1997: 3) states the role of linguistic anthropology and its instrumental function as follows:

Anthropological linguistics is that sub-field of linguistics which is concerned with the place of language in its wider social and cultural context, its role in forging and sustaining cultural practices and social structures. It views language through the prism of the core anthropological concept, culture, and as such seeks to uncover the meaning behind the use, misuse or non-use of language, its different forms, registers and styles. It is an interpretive discipline peeling away at language to find cultural understandings.

According to Duranti (1997: 2) “Linguistic anthropology is the study of language as a cultural resource and speaking as a cultural practice.” The language of the people is inextricably interwoven with their culture and thought. In linguistic anthropology, language is considered as a social tool. Language has the power to evoke realities beyond the literal linguistic content of what is been talked about. It is a set of symbolic resources that enter the constitution of social fabric and the individual representation of actual or possible worlds (see Duranti, 1997: 1-3; Agyekum, 2006: 209-210). It is a cultural practice and verbal activities that link and fit verbal activities to the real world. This is also true of Kurdish personal names.

A society’s world is fitted to words and words may also be fitted to the world. There is a strong relationship between the world, which is reality, and the word, which is language. Linguistic signs are therefore representations of the word and to a greater extent the world (see Duranti, 1997: 337). In our current study the Kurdish names are the linguistic signs, and the sociocultural interpretations of the names represent the real world. Since the world and cultural practices are dynamic, the naming system of the Kurdish people is also affected by this dynamism.

According to Mey (1993:132), “through the use of words I make the word fit my language and changes the world in accordance with my directions as given through the use of language.” The language of the people is therefore the exit valve through which their beliefs and thoughts cognition and experiences are articulated. The limit of one’s language is therefore the limit of his world, and man is at the mercy of his language (see Farb, 1993: 168; cf. Agyekum, 2006: 210).

The language is a manifestation and description of the complexity and diversity of the peoples’ way of life and practices. The language of the people is manifested in their naming systems and practices (the centre of this paper), marriage, family, kinship, political, economic, occupational, health systems, religious beliefs and practices, law, funeral activities, etc. The language of the people also depicts the social stratification of the society.

Linguistic anthropology uses general theoretical frames in specific sociocultural contexts. It focuses on how language allows for and creates differentiations between groups, individuals and identities (see Duranti, 1997: 7). Naming can be considered as a universal cultural practice. Every society in the world give names as tags to its people, but how the names are given, the practices and rituals involved and the interpretations attached to the names differ from society to society and from one culture to another (Agyekum, 2006: 210 -211)

In discussing the theoretical concerns of contemporary linguistic anthropology, Duranti (1997: 14-21) discussed three interconnected analytical notions that help to understand the function of language in culture. These are (i) performance, (ii) indexicality and (iii) participation. Of these three the most important one to the discussion of Kurdish naming system is indexicality.

Indexes are signs that have some kind of existential relation with what they refer to spatial, temporal, social or personal (see Agyekum, 2006:212). In indexicality, language is used as a tool through which our socio-cultural world is constantly described, evaluated and reproduced. If we say that words are indexically related to some objects and reality of the world it implies that words carry with them a power that transcends beyond mere identification and tagging of people, objects and properties (cf. Duranti, 1997: 19; Agyekum, 2006:212). Kurdish naming system is an aspect of cultural indexicality. In this theory, linguistic expressions or tags such as Kurdish personal names are connected to some aspects of the sociocultural context of the Kurds. Indexicality are applicable in Kurdish names since they have sociocultural interpretation. Some Kurdish names refer to personal, temporal, spatial and social deixis.

We can find, as in this paper that Kurdish names have personal deixis because there is always a person whom a child is named after. The Kurds refer to such a person as grandfather or grandmother, which may either be biological or distant. One can always point to an elderly person in the society whether dead or alive whose name a younger child bears. With regard to temporal deixis, we can find Kurdish names that point to the day of the week that s/he was born such as Jomaa (Friday in Arabic but also used in some Kurdish dialects in Iraq), months of the year such as Gelawizh (July), Gullan (April), Khezan (October) and Befran (December), Rejab (a name of a month in Islamic calendar), the season of the year a girl child was born such as Behar (Spring) and a national or religious event such as Newroz (new year) and Ramathan (the month of fasting among Moslems).There are also spatial names referring to localities within the Kurdish society where people were born or originally the family come from such as Zakholi (from the town of Zakho), Shekhani (from the town of Sheikhan) Aqrawi (from Aqra) Atrushi (from Atrosh) Erbili (from Erbil), Bamarni (from Bamarni), Sinjari (from Sinjar), Bardarash (from Bardaresh), Zawiti (from Zawita), Rawanduzi (from Rawanduz) and Sorani (from Soran). It is worth to mention that all the names put between brackets are place names, i.e. cities, town or villages. In this regard, we think that names inspired by places light a spark of imagination, nostalgia and special taste every time the name is said ; these names will be an “ambassador” of a place (in this study Kurdistan) every where its holder goes.

Social deixis refers to the social centre (SC) that is the social status, power and rank, of the addressee or referent (Cf. Agyekum, 2006:212). Some names in Kurdish clearly depict that the bearer comes from a socially or religiously high family or has some affiliation with them such as Nexşebendî, Berzencî, Hefîd, Mizûrî, Birîfkanî and Hekkarî. We can find many names referring to the tribes like Barzan(î), Zêbar), Goran, Berwar, Rêkan and so on which clearly reflect the attachment of the Kurd to his/her tribe. In this regard Izady 1992:192 states that “the Kurd has found his identity, his security and his livelihood in the tribe”. The social deixis may also cover all deference vocabularies such as honorific and address forms that show the status, rank and power of the bearer of the name such as Agha, Beck, Khanem, Khatoon, Sayda (professor) and Mamoasta (teacher). Indexical modes like personal names therefore link language and speech to the wider system of sociocultural life of the people.




This section deals with the typology of Kurdish personal names. It is an empirical and sociocultural descriptive study of names that exist in the community. It considers both purely traditional and contemporary names. We will give the translations and the ethnography background of the names wherever it is feasible.


People very rarely name their new-born babies randomly. There must be a specific factor(s) that motivate(s) them to choose certain names. Such reasons range from the credible to the incredible. Undoubtedly, it is not always possible to cover all the factors that affect naming because there may be reasons, for example, behind people’s having the same names. One family, for example, may name their child Ahmed because it is one of the grand names of the prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) whereas another family may use such a name after a dear person called Ahmed and lost to the family for one reason or another. However, the same name could be used by another family because it rhymes with his old brother whose name is Amjad and so on. The following are the major factors determining the Kurds’ choices understudy of names:


  1. Family Names. Some families tend to name their new-born babies after someone dear who has died. This could be a grandfather, a grandmother or a young dead brother or sister. This type of naming is either for the memory of those people or in the hope of having the qualities they admire in the dead person be transmitted to the child through the name (see Murad, 1986:185 and Tawfiq and Hamad, 2006:8). This can also imply that the Kurds are attached to their near relatives and have strong family ties.


Since we talk about family names and as our main concern is sociolinguistics, we think it is worthwhile to shed some light, here, on the Kurdish family. A traditional Kurdish family is a peasant family. A Kurdish household is a patrilineal lineage, assembled around the male head of the family. Such a lineage depends on mutual support and defense while living in the same ancestral village. The Kurdish household is a corporate entity whether the extended family lives under the same roof, xanî, or breaks into nuclear family sub-units—consisting of mother, father, and their children—in the family compound. Kurds tend to see having large families as the ideal. The extended Kurdish family includes not only parents and unmarried children, but also married male children, their wives, and their offspring. Unmarried sisters and brothers of the male head of the family may also live with them.


We can conclude that the social relations in Kurdistan, especially the family and the relatives relations and connections are strong and tight The relations between a wife and a husband, parents and children and relatives in the Kurdish society are healthy and fair (see Sadiq, 2003:92).


  1. Rhyme and rhythmic names. What we mean by rhyme and rhythmic names are those names that either have the same rhyme or the same rhythm within the same family and they usually follow the rhyme or the rhythm of the oldest boy or girl in the family or sometimes they rhyme or rhythm with either names of the parents. For instance Viyan rhymes with Hozan, Dîlan, Şîlan etc. Parents name their children who were born after Viyan on the same rhyme. However, it happens that names have similar initial sounds; for example when the oldest child in named Dilxwaz, the parents may give the rest of their children names that begin with the letter(s) (d) or (dil) such as Dilş0ad, Dilvîn, Dilgeş, Diyar etc.This is to create a sort of musicality and beauty for the names which usually the parents are proud of or happy about. (cf. Murad, 1986:155-158; Tawfiq and Hamad, 2006:9). The sociocultural implication for this type of naming could be that some people are interested in having musical and beautiful names from the part of the parents for all their children. In this regard Sadiq (2003:71) postulates that the Kurdish people since the oldest times have been fascinated and impressed by songs, by wonderful voices and pleasant tunes which we think are reflected on their naming patterns.


  1. Unique names: Unique names refer, in this study, to names which are used for the first time in the community and have never been used before. For example, parents try to find names for their children which distinguish them from the rest of the community. The name of one of the writers of this paper (Lezgîn) is an example for this. His grandfather chose him this name and no one in the village at that time held this name; his grandfather got angry when his neighbor gave the same name to a newly born child who was born one year after. This could have both psychological and sociological implication where some people like to be distinguished by having a name not been given to someone else before him /her.


  1. Death prevention and survival names. It is believed that certain names may have magic power which can defeat evil. Crystal (1989:112) believes that children are named after unpleasant notions to evict evil spirits by making them look ugly or undesirable. In our study we have found that a mother whose babies die soon after birth or who despairs of giving a birth may name her new- born baby after an animal or give it unpleasant name in the belief that such names can protect the baby from an early death or an evil eye.We have found names such as Mişko (a mouse), Maro (a snake), Girdo (a rat), Kirêtt (ugly), Ziblo (animal shed) etc. (see Murad, 1986:157-158). However, Al-Dilaimy (2006:4) states that the name of a dead person is normally avoided among the Masia of Africa. It has to be changed into another name when the possessor of that particular name dies. This sort of practice in naming can reflect people’s belief in magic and superstitions which is a point that can be broadly investigated. Sadiq (2003:87) believes that many of the Kurdish traditions have been influenced by religion.Their backward and useless elements were set by ignorant and unconscious citizens. Within the unnecessary and harmful imposed traditions is naming in the past. This backward social phenomenon is due to the misunderstanding of religion and low standard of consciousness.


  1. Nature and place names. These are the names taken from the nature and landmarks of Kurdistan especially mountains. In Kurdish as in other cultures it is customary to give names from nature or after elements of nature. We have found so many names bearing the names of the mountains in Kurdistan such as Metîn, Sefîn, Kosêrt, Hindrên, Helgurd, Zozik, Aras, Azmar, Goyje etc. which are male names ; Şaxewan (mountain climber) ; Çiya (a mountain) is a name used for both males and females. This type of naming reflects the attachment of the Kurd to his natural environment. “To a Kurd the mountain is no less than the embodiment of the deity: mountain is his mother, his refuge, his protector, his home, his farm, his market, his mate and his only friend” (Izady, 1992:188). This intimate man-mountain relationship shapes the physical, cultural and psychological landscape of Kurdistan more than any other factor (Ibid).It is also the most important natural phenomenon that has shaped the Kurdish history, people, tradition and culture. Mountain names also reflect the people’s admiration and support for those forces and the revolutionary causes they fought for because these mountains had the Peshmarga (Kurdish Guerillas) forces stationed on. We have found that some families choose names that reflect natural phenomena such as Befran (snow), Baran (rain) Roj (the sun), Heyv (the moon) and Birûsk (lightining) (see Murad, 1986:158). These names may well go back to the roots of Kurd’s way of treating nature as she inhabits the mountains, like a loving treatment of one’s living mate. The rocks, the waterfalls, the animals, plants, the spirits, and the personage who inhabit them are each a constituent part of nature’s whole that in its totality a Kurd seeks to simulate as a mirror image. Many of these elements are revered and held in religious aspects, (see Izady, 1992:237). As for names of women, the fascinating natural beauty of Kurdistan inspired the Kurdish people with names such as Sûlav and Bêxal (two summer resorts in Kurdistan of Iraq), Hîran, Bane etc. (see Tawfiq and Hamad, 2006:9). Names of Kurdish towns and villages were also chosen as names of women such as Bane, Merîwan, Rajan, Çoman, Kurdistan, Hiran etc. This as said above reflects the love and the attachment of the Kurd to the beautiful landscape and nature to an extent that can be reflected socially onto their children’s names on one hand and to their love and attachment to Kurdistan. On the other hand, as we mentioned before, we think that names inspired by places light a spark of imagination, nostalgia and special taste every time the name is said; these names will be an “ambassador” of Kurdistan everywhere its holder goes.


  1. Occupational and achievement names. We have found that those families who have inherited their professions and occupations from their grand grandfathers and those who have literary and /or arts interests as well as national and political achievement tend to use names that reflect such interests. These we labeled as “occupational and achievement” names. We found names like Nêçîr (hunt), Şivan (shepherd), Bêrîvan (the woman who milks the sheep), Cotyar (farmer) and Gavan (cattle shepherd) are famous in Kurdistan. This reflects the life style of the Kurds in their long history who were mostly sheep keepers and fond of shepherding. In this regard, Izady (1992:184) states that the term Kurd used by the ancient, classical and medieval sources was not ethnic designator but rather a general term meaning “shepherd”; a designator of life style. We have also found a name by Nozdar (physician, doctor). On the other hand, names like Hozan (poetry), Şano (drama), Stran (song), Helbest (poetry) reflect “achievement” typology. The Names of Mem and Zîn, very often used by Kurds, were taken from the epic drama of Mem û Zîn by the famous Kurdish poet Ehmedê Xanî (1650 -1706) embodies a wealth of mythological and historical events in the national life of the Kurds. Kurdish fighters , politicians, and revolutionaries adopted names that harmonized with the aspiration and type of activities they carried out. They adopted names such as Şoreş (revolution), Azad (free), Rizgar (liberator), Aştî (peace), Serbest (free), Saman (folklore), Pola (steel), etc. (see Murad, 1984: 171-172). We can infer here and say that generally, names chosen after1960s imply a sense of national self-awareness of revolution, folklore and respect for those who sacrificed themselves for the sake of Kurdistan land. They voiced people’s willingness to maintain their national identity as Kurds.


  1. Circumstantial names. Names that reflect historical and /or personal events such as uprisings, revolutions and disasters we labeled as circumstantial names because they reflect the importance of those events on the social life of the Kurds. A baby is sometimes named after a national or a patriotic day if the birth coincides with the time of celebrating the occasion (see Murad, 1984:157). Names like Kawa (the Kurdish hero who revolted against the tyrant Duhak) and a female name like Newroz (a new day), if they are born on the 21st of March which is the date of the Kurdish new year, can be often seen among the Kurds. Newroz is the most important national festival of the Kurds where the ceremony may stretch over a period of one week or more. Many specific foods and condiments are prepared for the occasion, new clothes are worn, bonfires are lit on the rooftops and at the top of the near mountains or in the streets to mark the passing of the dark (winter) season, and the arrival of the light (spring) season. (Izady, 1992:242). Such names are frequently used among them. Other names like Rêber (a leader) a male name and Parlaman (parliament) a female name which came into existence after 1992 can reflect the political and social changes that occurred in Kurdistan in 1992 and after. Also, names such as Bêlan (homeless),  Kawar (where is my home), Seferr (traveling), Xerîb (a stranger) for men and Xerîba (a stranger) for a woman came to appear after the mass exodus of the Kurds in Kurdistan of Iraq in 1991 reflect sadly the tragic disaster that happened that year. Other examples of this type of names are Lêşaw (a mass of people), Gilepe ( flame), Karesat (a disaster), Çawrawan (waiting) and Deçol (to expel a person),  Şilovan (hailing) among many other examples. Thus names can be a proven echo for historical events, good or bad, experienced by people; in this context the Kurds. When a baby is born, for example, shortly after the death of his father, he is named Paşbab (fatherless), or Rondik (tears) or Xemn (sad) or Kovan which means (sad) also. But sometimes the baby is given his father’s name so that he keeps the same name as mentioned in 1 above with the family names.


  1. Honorifics names. These are names of famous figures (religious, political, historical, and literary, etc.) that have an effect upon the people for one reason or another. Names like Xidir, Zerdeşt, Gîlan, Çolî, and Muzafer which are names of religious figures are common in Kurdistan. The Kurd respects religious figures such as pirs, shaykhs, mullas and the like, as part of the hierarchical pyramid of social respects, as he also respects tribal chiefs or members of local princely houses (

Izady, 1992:188). The name Xidr from Nebî Xidir (the prophet Khider) “the living green man of the ponds” is well-known among the Muslim Kurds and the Cult of the Angels (especially the Yezidi Kurds).The Muslims have connected the lore of Khider to that of Prophet Elijah, who like Khider drank from the Fountain of Life, is also ever-living. Khider appears among the people who call upon him to grant them wishes. The feast of Khider falls in the spring, when nature renews itself. The Yezidi Kurds fast three days preceding the feast as reverence for Khider and they call it the fasting of Xidir Ilyas. As a matter of fact all the Kurds both Muslims and the followers of the Cult of the Angels observe the feast (Ibid :139). Zerdeşt is a Kurdish name derived from Zoroaster the founder and Prophet of Zoroastrianism; the early faith of the Kurds.  Gîlan is a name taken from Abdul-Qadir Gilani; a Sunni Sufi whose order is followed by the Kurds. Many important Kurdish religious families are presently, or are known in the past to have been, members of this order (Ibid: 160). Choly and Muzaffar are two religious figures respected by the Kurds and have shrines in Kurdish cities like Erbil (Tawfiq and Hamad 2006:8). The name Zakariya was registered many times under the effect of the famous Kurdish singer Zakariya Abdullah whom the Kurds like and fond of his songs and his character. We also found that children were named after great Kurdish poets such as Guran, Pîremêrd and Bêkes. It is worth to mention here that Kurdish is rich of literature, written in different Kurdish dialects, extending back into pre-Islamic times (see Izady, 1992: 175f). When the Kurdish patriotic and liberation movements developed, people began to name their children after whichever place witnessed the revolutionary activities of the Peshmarga forces (See Murad, 1984: 154).Names of mountains such as Metîn,  Sefîn, Kosêrt, Hindrîn, Zozik became popular for men because these names reflected the admiration and honors for these forces because they were places where

the Peshmarga stationed on (see 5 above).


  1. Beauty and names of love. Some parents use certain names for their children out of admiration for the beauty of the noun or the meaning it implies especially names of flowers and their connotations. Names like Helel (a flower in Spring) Yaemîn (Jasmin) Nesrîn (a flower), Nêrgiz (narcissus), Gulistan (rose-land) Gulizar (rosegarden) Gulçîn (a person who plants flowers) are common in Kurdistan and reflect the love of the Kurds to the beauty of their flora. It is worth to mention here that Kurdistan has been known since ancient times for its wealth of luxurious flowers. It was probably the site of domestication of many bulb flowers, such as, tulip, hyacinths, and gladioli, and medical herbs such as valerian and cowslip. Its abundance of aromatic flowers and herbs may be the source of renowned pleasant scent of Kurdistan’s dairy products (see Ibid p.20). The national preoccupation with flowers, or rather their colors, is one of the strongest traits of the Kurdish national culture (Ibid, 237) which has been well reflected in names. The Kurds also use adjectival names i.e. adjectives used as personal names such as Jiwan (beautiful), Shadman (

happy), Bextiyar (lucky), Kameran (successful in life) as well as noun names like Evîn (love), Awaz (music) and Darya (sea). Kurds are romantic and often reckless in love and this attribute is reflected in Kurdish naming. Names like Evîn (love), Dilxweş (good heart) and Dilwaz (heart in love), Dilnaz (delicate heart), Dilvîn (heart of love), Kavîn (where is love) are good examples on this sort of typology. The two very famous names Mem and Zîn also are famous among Kurdish names and they are good examples on the fond of the Kurds of love. “Mem û Zîn” is an epic drama versified by Ehmedê Xanî (1650 – 1706) influenced so many Kurds to name their children by these two names. Mem of the Alan clan and Zîn of the rival Buhtan clan are two lovers whose union is prevented by a certain Bekir of Bekran clan. Mem eventually dies; then, while mourning the death of her lover on his grave, Zîn falls dead of grief and is duly buried next to him. Fearing of his life when his role in the tragedy is revealed, Bakr takes sanctuary between the two graves. Unimpressed, the people slay Bakr. A thorn bush soon grows out of Bakr’s blood, sending its roots of malice deep into the earth between the lovers’ graves, separating the two even after death (Izady 1992: 176). It is worth to mention in this regard that it is still common among the Yezidi Kurds to call a person who separates between two lovers or friends “Bekroke” from Bekir in Mem û Zîn.


Sadiq (2003:88) believed that after the first half of the twentieth century the naming of the Kurdish children by the pleasant and meaningful Kurdish names has become widespread. The Kurdish short and musical names have become popular such as Dana, Zana, Tiwana, Hana, Aza, Azad, Renc, Rend, Mend, Tirîfe, Tara, Naz,  Nazik, Raz and hundreds other names. We can finally conclude here that Kurdistan’s beauty and charm ; its birds wonderful voices with the vitality enthusiasm, feelings and sentiments of its citizens have much influenced their naming phenomena.


  1. Flora and fauna names. These are personal names derived from the names of plants and animals. Kurdistan has been known since ancient times for its wealth of fruit trees and luxurious flowers which is reflected in the naming phenomenon. The following female names which are mainly names of fruit are found mostly among Yezidi Kurds: Hinar (pomegranate), Sêv (apple), Xox (pearch), Mêwîj (raisin) and a male name like Gindoar (musk melon/antelopes). We also found names of flowers, as mentioned in 9 above, such as Gul (flower), Nêrgiz (Narcissus), Helel (a rose in Spring), Nesrîn (wild-rose) Yasemîn (Jasmine) etc. The fauna still retains its richness, with an abundance of black bears, wolves, hyenas, boars, foxes and other animals, in Kurdistan. (See Izady, 1992:20). Names like Şêr / Sêrko (lion), Şêrdil (heart of lion), Piling (tiger), Heftiyar (jackal) and Gurgo (wolf) were found among our population i.e. Iraqi Kurds.


  1. Non-Kurdish Names in Kurdish

Sadiq (2003:88) asserts that in the old times when the Kurdish nation was free, the names of the entire Kurdish citizens were Kurdish. According to Kurdish folk tales and old writings some Kurdish names were :Swar (knight), Şivan (shepherd),  Pirma (), Bapeer (grandfather), Meriwan () Brzo () Serdar (), Memend (), Ar(flour), Shirwan (), Gul (rose) among many other names. But like other nations throughout history the Kurds have borrowed names from different cultures.In fact; non-Kurdish names are almost always present in Kurdish naming. Religious, political,  ideological, westernization (immigration to the west), education, technology and media are all factors behind this phenomenon.


Islam contributed greatly to the spread of Arabic names among the Kurds who followed the new religion to the extent that their religious feelings became stronger than their feelings of nationalism. As a result so many Arabic names began to be used and sometimes preferred on the account of purely Kurdish names. It is worth to mention, at this point, that Kurdish names did not make a noticeable appearance until after First World War (1914- 1919) when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the peoples of the Middle East asked for independence. (Tawfiq and Hamad 2006:12; Murad 1984: 150 – 154).Until then, Arabic Islamic names were prevalent and dominant among the Kurds because of the Islamic influence of the Ottoman rulers. However, some Kurdish names did appear from time to time. For example, Salahaddin el- Eubi (1137- 1193), the famous Kurdish leader, had an uncle whose name was Şêrko (a lion in Kurdish). When Kurds converted to Islam the new religion had a radical effect on every aspect of their life (Murad, 1984:149) and personal names were involved in that effect simply because names echo any change experienced by the people. They found it honorable to name their children after religious figures such as those of the Prophet Mohammed, Ahmed, Mahmood and Mustapha. Also the ninety-nine attributes of Allah that begin with Ebdd (slave): Abdullah, Abdulqadir, Abdulrahman, Abdulkareem etc.The names of the four Islamic caliphs; Abu Baker, Omer, Othman and Ali became preferable. Furthermore, names of non-Arab prophets mentioned in the Holy Qur’an were to be commonly used by Kurds such as Zakariya, Musa, Ismael, Isaa (Jesus) and Yousif etc.Thus,  non-Arabic names were also borrowed under the influence of Islam. (Tawfiq and Hamad, 2006:20). Furthermore, names of non-Arab prophets mentioned in Qur’an were also common such as Zekerya, Mûsa, Ismaîl, Îsa (Jesus Christ), Xelîl and

Mîkaîl among several other sacred names. On the other hand Sadiq, 2003: 87 has a different point of view. He believed that Kurds named their children by Arabic names in the past and some of them nowadays because of unnecessary and harmful imposed traditions.” This backward social phenomenon has been pursued due to non-understanding [of] the religion and low standard of culture and consciousness. God worship has nothing to do with naming of children by a certain language “.


We have also found that the Yezidi Kurds also use Arabic and Islamic names. This can be attributed to at least two reasons. The first reason is that the Yezidis often develop some special relationship with the other communities, especially Muslims. When a Yezidi family decides their male child to be circumcised, they usually invite a Muslim for the child to be operated on that stranger’s knees. This event provides a very important relationship, Kirîvantî, which raises far-reaching and life-long obligations of mutual help and support. Some of them chose to name their children the same name as of the “Kiriv” or one of his family members being proud of this relationship. The second reason is a socio-geographic one. Sinjar which is considered the main centre for the Yezidi gathering is surrounded geographically by Arab tribes and it is usual that their relations, due to neighborhood, with Arabs throughout history influence the naming of their children by borrowing names from their Arab neighbors.


As for women, certain names were favored especially those of the Prophet’s wives and his daughters. Such names are Fatîma, Um-Kalthum, Roqaya and Zeyneb (the daughters of the Prophet), Xedîca, Hafsa, Eyş (the wives of the Prophet), Amîna (his mother), Helîma (his foster mother). (See Murad, 1984:150).


Arabic–Islamic names remained dominant until after the First World War when such names began to be increasingly replaced by Kurdish names. It is worth to mention at this point that purely females Kurdish names preserved their “Kurdishness” more than male names. This is a point that needs more investigation as it has to do with socio-religious and political reasons. (Tawfiq and Hamad, 2006:3ff).


After the uprising of 1991 Arabic Islamic names began appearing significantly instead of Kurdish names. On this occasion, the choice of such names was contemporary. That is to say, an Arabic name was the deliverer of the message or ideology of those Islamic parties and movements that appear in Kurdistan in 1991. According to Twafiq and Hamad (2006:14-15) such parties did not, or could not, regard the Kurdish national culture as their own and named their children accordingly choosing only Islamic names.. As a result, new Arabic –Islamic names appeared in addition to the old ones, i.e. names of the prophet and the ninety nine attribute of Allah. Most of the new names are words taken from the Glorious Qur’an and were never used before as personal names. Such names are Risala, Thuha, Ilaaf, Marwa, Sidra, Madeena,  Sumaya, Suhayb, among others.


It is also believed that the Kurds borrowed Arabic names without been aware of their meanings. The meaning was usually determined by the Arabs beliefs and their social culture. Tawfiq and Hamad (2006:5) believed that the Kurds had created their own reasons for the Arabic form in a way that suits their social culture. For example,  Arabic names such as Othman (a blind snake), Affan (an ugly donkey), Fatima (the mute), Bakir (the baby of a camel), Khadija (premature), Nahida (a girl whose breasts have been newly grown) were used by Kurd regardless of their meanings whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. They were chosen only because of their religious connotations ; Khadija is the name of the Prophet’s wife, Othman Ibn Affan was the third Islamic caliph and Fatima is one of the Prophet’s daughters. Some Kurds would name a son by Resûl (a messenger in Arabic) after the Prophet Mohammed, but they will never use its equivalent in Kurdish (Pêxember). The reason behind this could be that they are encouraged and they feel safe to do so by the fact that it is used by the Muslim Arabs. At the same time they are not quite sure about the use of the Kurdish word which it is more sacred than the Arabic name for the messenger, (Ibid).


During the late Islamic period Turkish and Mongolian names began to appear among the Kurds such as Dursan, Yaşar, Turkan, Guzel (which are Turkish), Teymûr

and Cengîz (which are Mongolian) (See Murad, 1984:151).The tendency towards such names was due to the weakness of the Islamic state at that time (Zêbarî, Pişdarî and Tawfiq, 2006:121ff). On the other hand, during the reign of the Ottoman empire, the Kurds chose Arabic names that were used by the Turks and seemed as if they were Turkish such as Sa’adat, Xurbat, Ismet, Ref’et, Hikmet,  Fikret, Hidayet, Şewket, Tel’et and Fikret among many other names (Murad, 1984: 151).


However, Sadiq (2003:88) thinks that due to spread of education and rise of Kurdish people’s standard of consciousness, reasonable and scientific thinking and thought have taken the place of superstition and backward ideology. More concern has been given to nationalism and national culture. After the first half of the twentieth century the naming of the Kurdish children by the pleasant and meaningful Kurdish names has become widespread. The Kurdish short and musical names have become popular among them.





This paper is an aspect of linguistic anthropology and based on the theory that there is a strong interface between a people’s language and their cultural practices. It mirrors on (a) how language is used as cultural resources and practices, and (b) how language is viewed as a powerful tool used to view and understand the worldview and philosophy of a particular society. We have argued therefore that language is used as a microscopic lens to view and understand the social practices and day-to-day activities of a society.

Kurdish personal name system and practice is a marker of the people’s belief, ideology, religion, culture, philosophy and thought. The names are best understood and analyzed when one has insight into the ethno-pragmatics, socio-cultural norms and the language and culture of the Kurds. The Kurdish personal names are therefore an aspect of linguistic relativity. In the philosophical sense, Kurdish names refer to elements of Kurdish human experience and ways of life. This paper has claimed that names are not mere arbitrary and meaningless labels but rather have indexical relationship to socio-cultural meanings and functions, places, time, people and events. The individual’s name is of concern to the society as a whole, for the individual performs and participates in the society. Kurdish names may show group identification and reveal some aspects of the cultural patterns and behavior of the culture concerned.

Kurdish typological names indicate various contexts. These include (1) family names (2) rhyme and rhythmic names, (3) unique names, (4) death prevention and survival names, (5) nature and place names (6) occupational and achievement names, (7) circumstantial names, (8) honorifics names, (9) beauty names, (10) flora and fauna names, and (11) non-Kurdish names.

Kurdish personal names are a multidisciplinary area of study for scholars in sociology, history, religion, anthropology, linguistics, ethnography, politics and philosophy. It is an important area of the Kurdish culture that should not be ignored in any sociolinguistic and anthropological studies.



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