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Teknonym or Kunya (Arabic: كُنيَه) , in Arab culture, is used for those names which begin with prefix "Ab" (أب) or "Ibn" (إبن) for men and "Umm" (اُمّ) for women. They are generally followed by the oldest son's name which means "father of" or "mother of" a person. Teknonym was mainly used as an honorific. However, it was also used for other reasons. Teknonym was regarded as a decent and respectful name or epithet in narrations, while a number of teknonyms were regarded disliked.


In Arabic culture, teknonym is a name other than the original name of the person which starts with "Ab" (Arabic: أب; meaning: father of) or "Umm" (Arabic: اُمّ; meaning: mother of) and it is used as an honorable and respectful name.[1] However Bint (بنت; daughter of), Akh (أخ; brother of), Ukht (اُخت; sister of), Amm (عَمّ; uncle of), Ammat (عَمّة; aunt of), Khal (خال; uncle of) and Khalat (خالة; aunt of) are other kinds of teknonyms.[2] Even sometimes teknonyms become more famous than names.[3]

Reasons of Using

A number of reasons have been mentioned for using teknonym:

  • Honoring: most of teknonyms have been used in order to show reverence.[4]
  • Good fortune: When a baby was born, a decent teknonym was chosen for him or her, hoping he or she will grow up and have family and children.[5] For instance, when 'Abbas was an infant, and did not have a son named Fadl, he was given the teknonym, Abu l-Fadl.
  • Keeping away from danger (Taqiyya): Sometimes Imam Ali (a) and other Shi'a Imams were called by their special teknonyms in order to save their lives; e.g. Imam Ali (a) was called Abu Zaynab. Ibn Abi l-Hadid has acknowledged this usage and said: "Banu Umayya prohibited praising Ali b. Abi Talib (a) so hadiths from Imam (a) were narrated under the name of Abu Zaynab."[9]


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.

However, some scholars believe that although teknonym is formed of two words (Ab + name), it is regarded as one word (if the person has no other famous name) then it should have only one permanent pronunciation. Also al-'Allama al-Majlisi believed pronunciation of teknonym is the same for two spelling of the same teknonym.[10]

In Islam

In Islam using teknonym is recommended and al-Shaykh Hurr al-'Amili has dedicated a section for this topic in his book, Wasa'il al-Shi'a.[11]

In Narrations

According to a narration Prophet Muhammad (s) called his companions by their teknonyms in order to win their hearts and even chose teknonyms for those who did not have one. As a result people would call them by their teknonyms. Even those who did not have a child were given teknonym. Prophet Muhammad (s) sometimes gave teknonym to children and became friendly with them."[12]

Also it is narrated from Prophet Muhammad (s) that "Having a teknonym with name of your son is an admiring tradition."[13]

Imam al-Baqir (a): "We choose teknonym for our children from their childhood so that they are called by good teknonyms later on."[14]

Imam al-Rida (a): "If you are calling a person, call him or her by teknonym if they are present and by their names if they are absent."[15]

Disliked Teknonyms

In Islamic culture some teknonyms are regarded disliked. According to narrations Abu Isa, Abu l-Hakam, Abu Malik and Abu Mara and also Abu l-Qasim, if a person's first name is Muhammad, are among the disliked teknonyms.[16]

Difference between Teknonym and Epithet

In Arabic language each person owns a "name" (إسم), "teknonym" and also "epithet" (لقب). The difference between teknonym and epithet is:

  • "Epithet" 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 "teknonym" is used mostly as an honorific title in Arabic.[17]
  • Praising or disapproving is applied in the literal meaning of the epithet while teknonyms do not literally praise somebody and only using teknonym instead of a person's name is regarded praising.

Sometimes teknonym is used instead of epithet such as Amr b. al-Walid b. 'Aqabat b. Umayya, a famous poet, who was known as Abu Qatifa, while his teknonym is Abu l-Walid.[18]

Teknonyms of Shi'a Imams

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

Teknonyms 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 l-Husayn.

Common Teknonyms

  • Abu Ja'far: It was a teknonym 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 teknonym of Abu Ja'far. Although it was not mentioned in the famous teknonyms 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 teknonym. In narrations, Abu l-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 l-Hasan (Imam al-Kazim (a)), the Second Abu l-Hasan (Imam al-Rida (a)) and as the Third Abu l-Hasan (Imam al-Hadi (a)).

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


  1. ʿAmīd, Farhang-i Farsī-i ʿAmīd, 1371 SH, vol. 2, p. 1659.
  2. Badīʿ Yaʿqūb, Mawsūʿat al-ulūm al-lugha al-ʿArabiyya, 2006 CE, vol. 7, p. 431.
  3. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, 1403 AH, vol. 35, p. 52.
  4. Mubarrad, Al-Kāmil fi l-lughat wa l-ʾadab, 1388 AH, vol. 2, p. 104.
  5. Mubarrad, Al-Kāmil fi l-lughat wa l-ʾadab, 1388 AH, vol. 2, p. 104.
  6. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, 1403 AH, vol. 18, p. 237.
  7. Nahj al-balāgha, translated by Sayyid Jaʿfar Shahīdī, 1378 SH, p. 116
  8. Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, 1426 AH, vol. 7, p. 219.
  9. Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, 1426 AH, vol. 4, p. 54.
  10. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, 1403 AH, vol. 33, p. 524.
  11. Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 1409 AH, vol. 21, p. 397.
  12. Ḥusaynī Dashtī, Maʿārif wa Maʿārīf, vol. 8, p. 595.
  13. Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 1409 AH, vol. 21, p. 397; Hidāyat al-umma, 1414 AH, vol. 7, p. 317.
  14. Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Hidāyat al-umma, 1414 AH, vol. 7, p. 316.
  15. Ṭabrisī, Mishkāt al-ʾanwār, 1385 AH, p. 324.
  16. Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Hidāyat al-umma, 1414 AH, vol. 7, p. 317.
  17. Furati, p. 88.
  18. Iṣfahānī, Al-ʾAghānī, 1415 AH, vol. 1, p. 51.
  19. "Turathuna" Magazine, number: 17, p. 2931.
  20. "Turathuna" Magazine, number: 17, p. 2931.


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