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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

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  • Afghan names traditionally consist of a first name/personal name alone – without a ‘middle’ name or surname.
  • However, many who have contact with the Western world may adopt a surname. This is more common among educated or wealthy families living in urban areas.
  • In the instances when surnames are used, they are usually selected to represent one’s tribal affiliation, place of origin or ethnicity, e.g. HUSSAINI (generally of Hazar origin), TURTUGHI (of Uzbek origin), KARZAI (from Karz in Kandahar).
  • When surnames are used, children adopt the surname of their father.
  • Afghan women do not traditionally adopt their husband’s surnames when they marry. Some may do so in English-speaking societies to conform with western naming standards, but it is not typical.[1]

Given Names

  • This personal name may be a compounded name, such as Ahmad Khan, in which case the two words equate to a single name rather than a first and second ‘middle’ name. This format is more typical for males.
  • In compounded names, people generally use the name that is less universally known to refer to the person. For example, a man named Mohammad Nabi would likely be referred to as Nabi to differentiate him from his peers. It does not matter whether this is the first or second word of the name.
  • Afghan female first names usually only have one word/component, e.g. Homa, Zeyba, Fereyba, Laila and Nasrin.
  • The use of middle names and surnames (i.e. family names) is not customary in Afghanistan.
  • Many Afghans give their children traditional names that have a religious, tribal and/or historical affiliation.
  • First names may signify the time or place that the child was born in conjunction with the Islamic calendar. For example, a boy named Eid Mohammad JAGHORI was likely born on the last day of Ramadan (Eid) in the district of Jaghori.
  • Afghan names often include an Islamic or Arabic component, such as names drawn from the Qur’an, e.g. Ahmad, Mohammad and Ali (males) or Khadija and Aaisha (females).
  • Female names may be derived from male Arabic names by adding an ‘a’ to the end. For example, Jamil becomes Jamila or Najib becomes Najiba.
  • It is also very common for women to be given Persian or Pashto names.
  • If someone has a compounded first name, it is common for one name to be an Arabic word and the other to be a Persian word.
  • Female names often refer to beauty and natural phenomena, e.g. Sitara (star).
  • Afghan names are written as they are pronounced in their respective dialects. Hence, the same name may be pronounced and spelt differently based on the geographic region within the country (e.g. Mohammad, Mohamed, Muhammad).

The lack of standardized spelling combined with a high level of illiteracy means there are many discrepancies in the transcription of Afghan names into English.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Afghan Culture: Naming", in Cultural Atlas,, accessed 16 March 2021.