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Your Daughter’s Name says something about you

Boys should have strong names – names that convey meaning and history. Their names should serve as a constant reminder of who they should grow up aspiring to be.

Not to mention that one of the rights of a child that parents must fulfill is his or her right to a good name.

That’s why my husband and I chose the name “Bilal” for our unborn child. His story is the stuff of legend – a slave lying on the hot desert sand being continuously tortured by his owner. Yet, he did not recant his faith. This was just the start of his journey to freedom, to righteousness, and to supporting the message of Islam.

We wanted our child to grow up trying to embody the strength of faith that Bilal (ra) demonstrated so well. We surely would have fulfilled our child’s right to a good name by naming him “Bilal.”

Our extended family all loved the name Bilal.

But the moment our baby was born, we found out he was actually a she. (Side note: don’t always trust ultrasounds!)

We named her Ruqaya, after the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his wife Khadijah (ra). She was a product of their commitment and love, raised in the kindest and most generous of homes, and she was a righteous believer. Surely, a girl should also be given the right to a good name – a name that has history attached to it, a name that exudes strength and righteousness.

But some of our extended family didn’t quite agree. I still remember their words clearly: Ruqaya? That’s such a severe name! Why don’t you name her something lighter? Cuter? Perhaps it was the strong “Qaf” in the middle they didn’t like.

You see, according to some people’s culture, girls should have soft, easy, cute names. Pretty two syllable names that roll off the tongue and are suitably girly. There’s no need to burden them with strong names. Khadijah? Too heavy on the tongue! Nusaybah? No no, much too serious! Sumayyah? Who can even pronounce that?

But we threw the naysayers’ words into the wind and named her Ruqaya anyway.

***

The way daughters are treated – like fragile, simple, soft creatures to be spoiled but not empowered – starts at birth. Sometimes it even starts with a name.

Certainly not all females with strong names are treated with respect by their families. And certainly not all women with “cute” names are disempowered by their families. That’s not a reasonable conclusion.

But I ask parents of little girls – why did you name her the name she has? Was it because you wanted her to seek inspiration from its beautiful meaning (whether it’s Arabic or not)? Was it because you named her after an important historical figure? Was it because you wanted her to live up to the strength of that name?

Or was it just because it sounded cute?

The names we give our daughters convey our intentions for how we wish to raise them – whether those intentions are conscious or not. It illustrates our beliefs about what girls can and can’t do and be. It suggests whether we thought they were worthy enough to warrant a true discussion about what to name them without being influenced by whatever names are currently trendy.

Above all, our daughters’ names tell us something about our own values. Unfortunately they sometimes highlight our hypocrisy…

We name our daughters “A’isha” after one of the smartest, most educated women in the faith – but we refuse to really educate them. We name our daughters Sumayyah, after the first martyr in Islam – but we recoil when we learn they want to stand up for what they believe in. Don’t make waves we tell them. We name them Aasiya, Maryam, Hajar, Safiyyah and yet we want them to sit at home and do nothing.

A flower by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Yes, a woman destined by God to be strong and faithful will be strong and faithful, regardless of what she’s named.

But as parents we set the stage for our daughters by naming them. Through their names, we are asking them to be a certain kind of person.

What kind of person do you want your daughter to be?

Image taken from our book Yasmine’s Belly Button, which can be found on the store page.

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