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Kunya (Arabic: كُنيَه) , in Arab culture, is used for those names which begin with prefix "Ab" or "Ibn" for men and "Umm" for women. They are generally proceeded with the oldest son's name which means "father of" or "mother of" a person. Kunya was mainly used as an honorable name, although it was also used for other reasons. Kunya was regarded as a decent and respectful name or title in narrations, while a number of kunyas were regarded disliked.


In Arabic culture, Kunya is a name which starts with "Ab" (father of) or "Umm" (mother of) and it is used as an honorable and respectful name. However Bint, Akh, Ukht, Amm, Ammat, Khal and Khalat are other kinds of Kunyas. Even sometimes Kunyas become more famous that names.

Reasons of Using

A number of reasons have been mentioned for using kunya:

Honoring: most of kunyas have been used in order to show reverence.

Good fortune: When a baby was born, a decent kunya was chosen for him or her, hoping he or she will grow up and have family and children. For instance, when 'Abbas was an infant, and did not have a son named Fadl, he was given the kunya Abu l-Fadl.

Mocking and Sarcasm: Sometimes kunya was used in order to mock or humiliate a person, as one of the uncles of the Prophet Muhammad (s) was named Abu Lahab in Sura Tabbat in the Qur'an. Also 'Amr b. Hisham was called Abu Jahl by Prophet Muhammad (s) and Hajjaj b. Yusuf was called Abu Wadaha (dung-beetle) by Ali b. Abi Talib (a). Ibn Abi al-Hadid mentioned Yazid b. Muawiya was called Abu Zana (father of monkey) since he had monkey and he was fond of it.

Taqiyya: Sometimes Imam Ali (a) and other Shi'a Imams were called by their special kunyas in order to save their lives; e.g. Imam Ali (a) was called Abu Zaynab. Ibn Abi al-Hadid admit this usage and said: "Banu Umayya prohibited praising Ali b. Abi Talib (a) so hadiths from Imam were narrated under the name of Abu Zaynab."


The last alphabet of Ab (father) is different according to different phrases. Therefore, it is called Aba, Abu and Abi e.g. Aba l-Hasan, Abu l-Hasan and Abi l-Hasan.

Although some believe Kunya is formed of two words (Ab + name), and it is regarded as one word then which should have only one permanent pronunciation. Also 'Allama al-Majlisi believed pronunciation of kunya is the same for two spelling of the same kunya.

In Islam

In Islam using kunya is recommended and Al-Shaykh Hurr al-'Amili has written a part about this topic in his book Wasa'il al-Shi'a.

In Narrations

According to a narration: "Prophet Muhammad (s) called his companions by their kunyas in order to win their hearts and even chose kunyas for those who did not have one. As a result people would call them by their kunyas. Even those who did not have a child were given kunya. Prophet Muhammad (s) sometimes gave kunya to children and became friendly with them."

Also narrated from Prophet Muhammad (s): "Having a kunya with name of your son is an admiring tradition."

Imam al-Baqir (a): "We choose kunya for our children from their childhood so that they are called by good kunyas later on."

Imam al-Rida (a): "If you are calling a person, call him or her by kunya if they are present and by their names of they are absent."

Disliked Kunyas

In Islamic culture some kunyas are regarded disliked. According to narrations Abu Isa, Abu l-Hakam, Abu Malik and Abu Mara and also Abu l-Qasim, if his real name is Muhammad, are among the disliked kunyas.

Difference between Kunya and Title

In Arabic language each person owns a name, kunya and also title. The difference between kunya and title is:

Title is represents characteristics and features of a person which can be admiring or critical such as Sadiq (Trustworthy), Kadib (Liar), Amin (Honest) or Kha'in (treacherous). While kunya is used mostly as an honorable name in Arabic.

Praising or disapproving is applied in the literal meaning of the word while kunyas don not literally praise somebody and only using kunya instead of a person's name is regarded praising.

Note: Sometimes kunya is used instead of title such as Amr b. al-Walid b. 'Aqabat b. Umayya, a famous poet, who was known as Abu Qatifa, while his kunya is Abu l-Walid.

Kunyas of Shi'a Imams

Imams are mentioned with their kunyas and titles in hadiths, which was mostly applied as Taqiyya. Recognizing kunyas of Shi'a Imams is significant in realizing and identifying their hadiths and narrators 'within the chain of narrators. Some believe Shi'a Imams had two kunyas.

Kunyas of Each Imam

  • Imam Ali (a): Abu l-Hasan, Abu l-Husayn, Abu Turab, Abu Zaynab and Abu l-Hasanayn.
  • Imam al-Sajjad (a): Abu l-Hasan, Abu Muhammad and Abu Bakr. Also according to Ibn Abi l-Thalj, Abu al-Husayn.

Common Kunyas

  • Abu Ja'far: It was a kunya for both Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Jawad (a); they are mostly used without mentioning the first or the second Abu Ja'far. Sometimes Imam al-Mahdi (a) was mentioned with the kunya of Abu Ja'far. Although it was not mentioned in the famous kunya's of Imam.
  • Abu l-Hasan: Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Kazim (a), Imam al-Sajjad (a), Imam al-Rida (a) and Imam al-Hadi (a) had this kunya. In narrations Abu al-Hasan was rarely used for Imam Ali (a). If it is used without any suffix, it means Imam al-Kazim (a). It is also used as the first Abu al-Hasan (Imam al-Kazim (a)), the Second Abu al-Hasan (Imam al-Rida (a)) and as the Third Abu al-Hasan (Imam al-Hadi (a)).

Because one kunya is used for different Imams, rijal researchers have figure out some ways in order to distinguish between them.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from کنیه in Farsi Wikishia.