In the News: Religious Conversions and Name Changes

This past year, there have been several celebrities and public figures who have announced that they have converted to Islam. As a personal choice, some people who convert also adopt an Arabic name, since Arabic is considered the sacred language of the Qurʾān and many political and religious leaders throughout Islamic history have also had Arabic names.

In our “Islamic Law in U.S. Courts” collection, there is a 1956 decision from the City Court of the City of New York (now known as the Civil Court) in which an American woman who had converted to Islam petitioned the Court to be able to change her name from Eloise McCloud Wing to Zakiyyah Ashraf, and her 11-year-old daughter’s name from Cheryl Ann Wing to Hafsah Ashraf.

The Court stated that while an adult’s name change should be approved, a child’s name change should be approved only if it is in the child’s best interest. The Court found no compelling need for Cheryl’s name change, and noted that such a change might actually have an “adverse effect”: the proposed name would “set her apart and seem strange and foreign to her schoolmates and others.” The Court stated that the petition for Cheryl’s name change could be renewed when Cheryl turned 16, and was therefore old enough to make a mature decision about it on her own.

Read the full decision here.