When I just became Muslim in 2008, I met a Muslim man whom I interviewed for my work. While talking, I disclosed to him that I had become Muslim a few weeks earlier. And the first thing he asked was: “What is your Muslim name?”
His question puzzled me. I did not know that I needed a Muslim name. But then I did not know anything about Islam at that time. I did not cover, did not know how to pray, did not know about the whole halal meat thing.
A Muslim Name
This man seemed very excited and stressed again:
“Well, you need a Muslim name.”
I told him that I did not know any Muslim name for women.
“You never heard any Muslim name?”, he asked.
We sat in a small Muslim owned restaurant and travel agent in Cambodia. I looked around the place. And I saw a name on the name card on the office table of the travel agent that read ‘Azizah’.
“I like that name”, I told him.
“Azizah. That’s a good name”, he said. And that is how I came to my Muslim name.
It was, like many other incidents in my life, not really a matter of choice but rather a matter of destiny (if that is the proper word to use here). Only quite some time later, did I know the meaning of ‘Azizah’. But when new people and especially Muslims would ask my name, I answered with confidence ‘Azizah’ and everybody seemed pleased with me having a Muslim name.
Why Do You Need An Additional Name?
Yes, everybody except my non-Muslim family. My mom, especially, was upset about me having an additional name. She did not understand why I had to change the name that she had carefully chosen for me. I told her that in the family I will still be ‘Claudia’. But that was not enough for her. She did not like me writing under my Muslim name and she did not like it when my Muslim friends called me ‘Azizah’. My husband, to respect and honor my parents, chose to use my German name. He does until now.
Two Names For Two Selves?
However, in a strange way I felt that having a Muslim name created something close to having two identities. I was Azizah with my Muslim friends. I was Claudia with my non-Muslim family. Did Claudia also pray? Or was it Azizah that prayed? Was Claudia even Muslim? Was Claudia expected to be different to Azizah?
My awareness of the dilemma of using two names for different circumstances grew slowly. When I met new Muslim people, I would introduce myself with: my Muslim name is Azizah but my German name is Claudia. So, was Azizah not German? I don’t know if anybody else ever felt this kind of name issue. But at same point, it became difficult for me to bring the two names together.
I was not being less Muslim when I used my German name nor was I more Muslim when I used my Muslim name. Nevertheless, at one point I felt that I did not actually need a Muslim name to state my Muslim identity.
But because many of my Muslim friends already knew me by ‘Azizah’, I could not really drop that name altogether. And in a way, the name ‘Azizah’ defined part of me similar to the name ‘Claudia’ and similar to other names ascribed to me like ‘Mama’ or ‘doctor’ or ‘teacher’.
I guess it is a part of the process of becoming more mature that we can also accept ourselves more. We accept our different roles and the names ascribed to us by others.
For me, realizing that ‘Claudia’ is fully and wholly Muslim was an important step. I can be Muslim with a German name. There is no problem with that. Having a Muslim name is part of my conversion process. However, at one point during my conversion process having a Muslim name was very important to me. Today, I like to use both names. Especially in Muslim circles I like to use Claudia Azizah.
Re-embracing my German Name
Re-embracing my German name was important to consolidate my German identity with my Muslim identity. I am a native German, born to German parents and I grew up in Germany. My German name is part of that personal history which eventually led me to Islam.
It was Claudia who accepted Allah’s call to follow His beautiful religion. Why should I drop this name altogether? Growing in age and being away from my home country, I also discovered that certain features of my culture are very dear to me. And that being a German Muslim is who I am.
Don’t Follow Other People
I felt a need to share the issue around my names because other converts might face similar issues. Everybody needs to find his/ her own way in approaching this name issue. We can always change our preferences. We do not have to follow other people’s preferences.
So we can keep the name our parents gave us as long as it is a nice name with a good meaning. And we can adopt a Muslim name. Or we can have two names. It is just important to keep in mind that our decision has an effect on our surroundings and especially on our family.
Recently my mother told me that she saved my Indonesian phone number under ‘Claudia Azizah’. SubhanaAllah!