A Convert By Any Other Name: Why I Didn’t Change My Name

A Convert By Any Other Name: Why I Didn’t Change My Name


Written by Theresa Corbin

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away—I changed my name to Mariam.

what is in a name

I only told those closest to me, thinking I would let them get used to it. Then, I thought, naturally more people would incorporate it as those closest to me addressed me as “Mariam”.

The best laid plans of mice and Mariams oft go … where is it they go again? Ah, yes, they go to that same place my “Mariam” name went. Those who knew me could not get used to my name change. I would try to ignore them until they addressed me by my new name, but when I failed to remember it myself, I gave up.

Oh well, what the hell, I guess I will be Theresa–I resigned myself.

What is in a name? Does a “Theresa” by any other name smell as … umm, err, … *coughs*. Does a “Theresa” by any other name behave any less Muslim? Does a “Theresa” by any other name pray any less regularly? No and no. InshAllah.

I was, as is common, wrapped up in the zeal of my newly Islamicized life. I had always liked my “Theresa” name. And I guess it was my tender affections toward “Theresa” that led to my apathy of enforcing “Mariam”.

Many new converts to Islam change their name, feeling that with a new direction in life they need a new name.

I agree with this only if the name-changer does the name changing for the following reasons.

Good reasons to change your name:

1. You hope to adopt the good qualities of the former bearer of that name.

Hurray: If you admire the original “Mariam”–when Anglicized it is pronounced Mary (MEh ree) the virgin mother of Jesus (peace be upon them)—and you wish to be more like that Mariam, then change it. My hope was for my new name “Mariam”, to be a reminder to strive for perfection, because Islamic tradition teaches that she was one of the few people to ever reach human perfection.

2. Your name means something that is incongruent with your Islamic beliefs.

Yup: Think about the meaning of your given name. If your name’s meaning is something un-Islamic, for example if your name is Christian, with its obvious meaning that you are Christian. Or if your name is Kafir, which mean disbeliever, by all means change your name.

But if your given name already has a good meaning, why not keep it? When I thought about what Theresa means (harvester). I decided it was pretty perfect for me. To me, this is a better reminder than to be perfect (because I am far, far, far from it). It is a reminder that I will harvest or reap what I sow, so I should sow only good things.

I disagree with this name changing craze if it is done for the following reasons.

Bad reasons to change your name:

1. You want to enhance your apparent Muslims identity by adopting an Arabic name.

An Arabic name does not enhance your Muslim identity, you can and should behave in Islamically through your actions. Besides, Arab does not equal Muslim.

2. You want to distance yourself from your old identity.

You should not shed your old identity. Just improve upon it. You will always be you. You are uniquely made up of your experiences, style, personality, and quirks. Embrace that and incorporate the endlessly beneficial teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) into your life and manners.

why not be bob?
why not be Bob?

But why not keep your name and make it a Muslim name. If your name is Bob and you are a Muslim. Then by the transitive property, Bob is now a Muslim name. Viola! You are breaking down barriers between the West and Islam. And that is pretty cool.

I enjoy the surprise that the disparity between my traditionally “Christian” name, and my obvious Muslim appearance provides. People get all kinds of confused when they learn my name or see me for the first time in a headscarf. It is fun to watch.

Now, after bearing the name Theresa, wearing the headscarf, and presenting myself as a Muslim since 2001, Theresa is a Muslim name. And your name can be too!

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