Why did Saudi Arabia ban 51 baby names?


Saudi families gather in front of a castle made from mud as they arrive at the Janadriyah Heritage and Culture Festival in the village of al-Thamama, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 22. (Fayez Nureldine/ AFP via Getty Images)

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry made an announcement: Saudi parents could no longer name their child Sandi. Or, for that matter, Basmala or Binyameen. In fact, according to English-language newspaper Saudi Gazette, there were now 51 names "banned" by the Saudi state.

The Civil Status Department reportedly said that some of the names were banned because they were not in line with "social traditions." Others were apparently banned because of religious connotations or because of their foreign origin. However, Gulf News, a newspaper based out of Dubai, writes that not all of these names fit that pattern. Abdul Nasser, for example, appears to have been chosen due to its links with Gamal Abdel Nasser, the famous nationalist leader in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia is far from the first place to ban names. Last year New Zealand shared a list of names with CNN that its government had refused to improve. Among those names: "Lucifer," "4Real" and "Majesty." In Sweden, the names "Ikea," "Veranda" and "Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116" (pronounced Albin) have all been rejected under Sweden's naming law.

Sweden introduced it's name law in 1982 in a bid to stop non-nobles receiving (or giving themselves) noble names, but nowadays the law is justified as a means to prevent names that could cause offense or could cause discomfort for the person using it. It's a similar system to that used in New Zealand, as well as Germany, Denmark and Norway.

In some ways, the ban on names in Saudi Arabia seems similar: Although Basmala might sound benign to English-speakers, Arabic speakers would know it has religious connotations (it means "in the name of God"). However, the Saudi name ban comes in a time increasing repression in the country, Gregory Gause, a professor at the University of Vermont, explains, pointing to the recent announcement that the Muslim Brotherhood was a "terrorist group" and a number of other measures. "It's part of a broader crackdown on everything," said Gause, who studies Saudi Arabia.

Here's the full list of names, via the Saudi Gazette:

Malak

Abdul Ati

Abdul Nasser

Abdul Mosleh

Nabi

Nabiya

Emir

Somu

Al-Mamlaka

Malika

Mamlaka

Tabaraka

Nardeen

Maya

Linda

Randa

Basmalah

Tuleen

Arm

Nareej

Rital

Als

Sandi

Rama

Maleen

Eleen

Alas

Ainar

Loran

Malkiteena

Lareen

Kibriyal

Laureen

Binyameen

Narees

Yara

Sitaf

Aileen

Loland

Tilaj

Barah

Abdul Nabi

Abdul Rasool

Jibreel

Abdul Mo’een

Abrar

Milak

Aiman

Bayan

Baseel

Rilam

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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