Understanding Iraqi Naming Conventions to Enhance Investigations

Iraqi naming conventions comprise four distinct parts:

  • Given name
  • Patronymic
  • Family name
  • Region-based surname

The family name is the equivalent of a traditional surname, while the region-based surname denotes the area of Iraq that an individual’s family originally hails from. 

Take the example of Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq:

صدام حسين عبد المجيد التكريتي

Saddam Hussein Abdel Majid Al-Tikriti

Abdel Majid serves as Saddam’s family name, while Al-Tikriti indicates that his extended family is originally from the Tikrit area. 

The same phenomenon occurs in the legal name of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS:

إبراهيم عواد البدري السمرائي

Ibrahim Awad Al-Badry Al-Sammara’i

Ibrahim, the son of Awad, is a member of the Al-Badry family unit, and his extended family hails from the city of Samarra, Iraq.

These region-based surnames often do not appear on official documents.

Iraqi Naming Conventions in Daily Life

It is common for Iraqis to use a two- or three-part name in daily life that consists of their given name, father’s name, and in some cases, their grandfather’s name. This practice explains why Saddam was known as Saddam Hussein and not as Saddam Abdel Majid or Saddam Al-Tikriti. However, it is unlikely that an individual would appear in official documents using only a two-part name. The three-part name is far more common in public records.

However, linguistic differences can cause some confusion. For example, Saddam Hussein’s surname ‘Abdel Majid’ is considered to be one word in Arabic. There are a handful of Arabic names that frequently appear as two words in English despite being a single word in Arabic. Names that begin with ‘Abdel’—such as Abdel Rahman and Abdel Majid—are examples of this phenomenon.

Nuances of Iraqi Names

Iraq is home to many minority ethnic groups, each of which may have their own naming conventions. The largest minority group in Iraq, the Kurds, have largely adopted Arabic naming conventions, in which the given name is followed by the patronymic and family name.

For example, two pieces of personally identifiable information can be derived from the Kurdish name Haval Diaco Barzani: First, he is a member of the Barzani family. Second, his father’s first name is Diaco.

Additionally, in Iraq it is uncommon for a woman to take her husband’s family name following marriage.

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