By: Louis Ginzberg
Arabic word meaning "father." With its different cases aba (accusative) and abi (genitive), as well as its abbreviated form bu, it is frequently used in Arabic as the first element in certain compound names. The relation between "Abu" and the succeeding name is either of genealogical, historical, or attributive nature, as Steinschneider designates it.
The genealogical relation is the oldest and most original, for in olden times Abu denoted the actual father of a son (more rarely of a daughter), upon whose own proper name the word Abu followed. Thus, when a man whose real name was Ibrahim married and had a son whom he named Isḥaḳ (Isaac) he would thenceforward be called Abu Isḥaḳ.
The use of Abu in the formation of names in those cases wherein some relationship in history or legend is to be expressed is called the historical relation of the word. When, for instance, any one of the name of Ibrahim (Abraham) receives the cognomen of Abu Isḥaḳ (Isaac), the particle Abu is intended to recall the particular Ibrahim mentioned in the Bible and Koran, who actually was Abu ("Father") of Isaac. Owing to the extensive use of these names among the Arabs and the great difficulty they offer to Europeans, the following list of historical names, called kunya by the Arabs, may be of service: (1) The usual cognomen for Ibrahim is Abu Isḥaḳ. (2) Isḥaḳ is Abu Ibrahim: in which Abu has entirely lost its original signification of "father." (3) Ya'aḳub (Jacob) is called Abu Yusuf (Joseph). (4) Yusuf again is called Abu Ya'aḳub. (5) Musa (Moses) has two cognomens, Abu' Imram (Amram) and Abu Harun (Aaron). (6) Harun's kunya is Abu Musa. (7) Da'ud (David) is called Abu Sulaiman (Solomon). (8) Sulaiman is called Abu Da'ud, or even Abu Ajub (Job).
Abu is used attributively in conjunction with adjectives or abstract nouns, forming names like the English "Goodman," Prettyman," "Longman," "Longfellow," etc., as, for instance, Abu al-Kheir, "Father of the Good." The following adjectives, according to Steinschneider, are those most employed by Judæo-Arabic writers in connection with Abu, either with or without the definite article:
Afia or Afiyya
Ḥasan or Ḥassan
S'ad or Sa'ad
Taur or Thur
- Steinschneider, in Jew. Quart. Rev. ix. 228-230, 616-630.