Saudi Arabia: What’s In a Name?


Saudi Arabia is implementing more rules which specific apply to an individual’s name.  An expatriate’s name must appear the same way and same spelling on passports, iqamas and even the expatriate’s identification card from his or her home country.  If there are spelling errors or changes in the names as they appear from document to document, these changes must be corrected or the expatriate may risk forfeiture of employment.


I think the rule makes a lot of sense and should certainly be implemented worldwide.


However, while it sounds straightforward, that’s not always the case.  What’s in a name and why are so many names presented differently from country to country?


Take Pakistan for example which is also another country such as Saudi Arabia where its nationals must also have a national identification card.  Many Pakistani’s may have “Syed” listed in advance of their first (given) name.  For many, “Syed” is a name or rather term of honor and respect.  As a result, a national identification card may cite the name as Syed Tareq Mohammad Siddiqi for example.  It’s a legal name yet if you have to complete a document which asks for first name, father’s name and surname without compromise for hyphenated or double names, a passport or Saudi iqama may cite the name as Tareq Mohammad Siddiqi.


Arab names follow the format of first name (given name), father’s name and family (surname/tribe) name.  This format applies whether male or female and also is why the majority of married Arab women do not share the same surname as their husband or children.  My husband’s name is Abdullah Othman Al-Ajroush.  His name indicates that his parent’s chose to call him Abdullah, his father was named Othman and his surname/tribal name is Al-Ajroush.  Some Arab names will actually continue covering perhaps as many as eight generations.  The surname does not change but after the father’s name, the grandfather and great(s) grandfather’s names will be cited too possibly back to the beginning of that particular tribe.


My husband’s children whether male or female are known as (first name) Abdullah Al-Ajroush.  Again, if preferred, grandfathers names can follow after Abdullah usually with the word ibn or bin in between indicating “son of.”

Other expatriates in Saudi Arabia have other challenges when it comes to their names and official documentation.  Many Asians write their name with the surname followed by the first name.  Western names generally do not have the father’s name as a middle name and many Westerners may have hyphenated names.  These can be challenging factors when completing a Saudi application which asks for first name, father’s name and surname.


The bottom line is to ensure when completing or providing any data of a name is to confirm that the data matches before a document is processed.  A mismatched document pertaining to a name could take a long time to get corrected perhaps causing delays in getting paid or other essential issues.  In the worse case, documents with mismatched names could cause an expatriate to leave Saudi Arabia until corrections have been made and resolved.


8 Responses

  1. Pakistanis and other Desi Muslims use ‘Syed’ as an honorific, to signify that the individual is descended from the Prophet Mohammed. The importance they place on that is a holdover from the Hindu caste system that was in place before Islam was introduced to the region. I can’t feel too sorry for people who do it – they could just as easily have omitted the ‘Syed’ on their Pakistani ID, but chose not to because they believe it entitles them to higher social status and better treatment from government officials. That sort of lineage-based discrimination is forbidden in Islam (and morally offensive to decent people everywhere), and Muslims should know better than to do it. If they do it anyway, and it causes them problems down the road, well… good!

    The middle name issue is more of a problem. I’ve always found it strange that many Gulf countries actively seek out non-Arab workers, then can’t accept the fact that most other societies don’t follow the same format for naming their children children. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked a government official “Do you really want my father’s name, or do you want my legal middle name that’s on my passport?”, then stood there for half an hour trying to make the guy understand that they weren’t the same, I’d be rich.

    Their national airlines have it figured out just fine. Good thing, too, since the US will no longer allow people to fly if there’s any discrepancy between the name on their ticket and the name on their ID. If government-run airlines can handle different name structures with no problems, why can’t government offices?

  2. We had some trouble while registering our daughter’s name here in Malaysia. we wanted to simply have her name and her father’s name plus the surname but the officers here insisted we include according to my husband’s pasport! Well, according to Arabs, my husband’s passport had his name, his father’s name, his grandfather’s name and the surname so can you imagine how long our daughter’s name is? It includes her great grandpapa’s name along with the surname and all. The poor girl will have a long time in filling forms in the future!

  3. I remember a British man living in Jordan writing something about this and how they ended up writing his name as Daniel Green Green Green. 🙂

    I just found his post if you are interested. I found it amusing.

  4. In North Africa we haven’t this tradition. Our names are like Europeans. the last name and the first name and that’s all. we don’t refer to our father’s name. when we are married and become parents. People call us by our first name and not abou and oum. I don’t like to become oum “my daughter” or my “son” just because I am a mother.
    and as a wives we keep our last name, we don’t take the husband’s one.

  5. We have similar problems with our Saudi students. They often have their own preferred way to spell their names that do not match their names on their passports or on their Saudi driver’s license. People from the same family do not have matching surnames. In fact, we have a set of twins that do not share the same spelling of their last name. To make it easier, for us anyway, we insist on using the spelling as it is in their passports. But, students who have only recently gotten their passports and never, in their entire lives had their names spelled in that way, don’t like that rule at all.

    To complicate matters further, one of our students was picked up for public drunkeness. He didn’t have an ID on him and gave his name the way it had been spelled in English for his whole life. Unfortunately, it didn’t match any records with homeland security, so he was thrown in county jail where he remained for ten days despite all his friends’ efforts to get him out by bringing all his documentation. (once they let me in on it, I was able to get him out the same day, but still, what a punishment for a spelling problem!)

  6. Public drunkenness?

  7. Yep. A lot of them don’t follow all the dictates of their religion once they are free to make their own choice in the matter.

    And that is really all it was. It’s a matter of public record, so I just looked it up to be sure that the boys weren’t feeding me a line and it was something more.

  8. Susanne, i hv just read the post and it is so funny and exactly the predicament we faced when having to register our daughter’s name. She has even her great grand dad’s name! Imagine!

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