Islam places great emphasis on the clear identification of family relationships. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Learn enough about your lineage to know your blood relatives and treat them accordingly." (At-Tirmidhi)
That is, family lines should be known well enough to prevent marriages within the forbidden degrees and to determine blood and family obligations.
Although it is the duty of the Islamic state to take care of its citizens, the primary responsibility lies first and foremost on family members. Therefore, according to Islamic law, blood relationships should be clearly defined and any tampering with them is strictly forbidden. This is clearly stressed in the Islamic naming system in which each name and its sequences imply a specific genealogical relationship.
For example, the name Khalid ibn Abdullah ibn Zaki al-Harbi, which in present times is written Khalid Abdullah Zaki al-Harbi means Khalid the son of Abdullah, the son of Zaki, from the tribe of Harb. This system of naming people after their fathers and forefathers has appeared in most cultures. Even in English, George the son of John in time became George John's son and eventually became George Johnson.
In pre-Islamic times, the Arabs used to change the lineage of their adopted sons to their own lineage. Later, it was forbidden by Allah, Almighty. Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that after the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) freed Zayd ibn Harithah and adopted him, people used to refer to him as Zayd ibn Muhammed until the following verse was revealed, "Call them by (the names of) their father's, that is more just in the sight of Allah..." (Holy Qur'an, 33:5)
Once this principle became part of the divine law, the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) was instructed to further emphasize it by a series of warnings. For example, on one occasion he said, "He who knowingly attributed his fatherhood to someone other than his real father will be excluded from paradise." (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood)
Islamic law is comprehensive. It regulates all aspects of human life in order to establish a social system in which human welfare is looked after and the worship of God is enshrined. Consequently, although some facets of the Islamic naming system may be more important than other, none are so irreGreater Syria or unimportant that whether it is done or not makes no difference. The fact that European colonialism has managed to corrupt the application of the Islamic naming system especially among non-Arab Muslims does not in any way alter its validity.
By colonial times, the western naming system had degenerated into a meaningless jumble of names followed by a family name. Influenced by the Greco-Roman culture in which women were considered to be the property of men, western society erased a woman's family name upon marriage and replaced it by that of her husband.
In the Islamic naming system, she retains her father's name as it indicates her true lineage. However, both of these degenerative Western trends have been widely adopted in Muslim lands along with other un-Islamic cultural trappings of European colonialism. New Muslims, unaware of the Islamic naming system, often adopt Arabic names in the chaotic European style. In fact, those of African descent often erase even their family names on the basis that these names are remnant from the days of slavery. That is, those of their ancestors, who were slaves, usually, adopted the family name of their slave masters and it was the slave masters' name which was handed down from generations to generation.
Hence, an individual who may have been called Clive Baron Williams while his father's name was George Herbert Williams may, upon entering Islamic, rename himself Faisal Umar Mahdi. However, his name according to the Islamic naming system should have been Faisal George Williams, that is, Faisal the son of George Williams. That much of his father's name is necessary to determine who his relatives are in order to avoid incestuous marriages, discharge inheritance rights and fulfill general responsibilities to blood relations. This becomes especially important in the West where premarital and extra-marital relations are common leading to generations of illegitimate inter-related children.
Consequently, when some of these half-brothers and sisters enter Islam under different assumed family names, there exists a very real possibility that some of them may unintentionally contract incestuous marriage. The practice among new Muslims of deleting their family names has frequently created deep resentment among their non-Muslim families which could have been easily avoided if the Islamic naming system had been adopted.
Actually, the new Muslim is under no obligation to change even his or her "Christian name" unless it contains an un-Islamic meaning. Thus, the given name Clive, which means cliff-dweller need not have been changed whereas Dennis, a variation of Dionysus which means He of Dionysus, (the Greek god of wine and fertility who was worshipped with orgiastic rites), would have to be changed.
However, it is perfectly acceptable for a Muslim, whether a recent convert or not, to change his or her first name. It was the Prophet's sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) practice to change people's first names if they were too assuming, negative or un-Islamic. One of the Prophet's sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) wives was originally named Barrah (pious) and he changed it to Zaynab. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Allah (SWT) had said in the Qur'an, "Do not claim piety for yourselves, for He knows best who is God-fearing." (Holy Qur'an, 53:32)
Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that his father, Umar, had a daughter named 'Asiyah (disobedient) whom the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) renamed Jameelah (beautiful - narrated by Muslim).
Jabir ibn Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) forbade names like Ya'laa (elevated,) Barakah (blessing,) Aflah (successful,) Yasaar (wealth,) and Naafi (beneficial). (Muslim)
However, Allah's Messenger sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) never changed the names of people's fathers, no matter how un-Islamic they may have been. For example, when Abdush-Shams ibn Sakhr accepted Islam, the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention ) cancelled his given name, Abdush-Shams (slave of the sun), and renamed him Abdur-Rahman ibn Sakhr (Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaanee). His father's name, Sakhr (rock), was left untouched.
Likewise, Abu Salamah's name was changed to Abdullah ibn Abdul-Asad leaving his father's name Abdul-Asad (slave of the lion) unchanged (Ibn al-Jawzee).
Thus, it can be concluded that erasing one's family name is against both the letter and the spirit of Islamic law. The father's first and last name should be retained and if the father is unknown, the mother's first and last name should follow the Muslim's given or chosen name.
However, it should be noted, that there are other titles and descriptive names which may be added to either or both the beginning and the end of a person's actual name.
According to the Islamic naming system, prefixed names (nicknames) consist of Abu (the father of) in the case of males and Umm (the mother of) in the case of women followed by the name of the person's oldest child or male child or a child wished for.
Some people became so well known by their nicknames that their actual names are almost forgotten. For example, among the Sahabah [(companions of the Prophet sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam ( may Allaah exalt his mention )]: Abu Bakr (Abdullah ibn Uthman), Abu Hurayrah (Abdur Rahman ibn Sakhr), and Abu Laylaa (Bilal al-Ansari.)
Care should also be taken in naming girls, as the practice of giving girls two or three female names before the family name is a fairly recent western practice which is inconsistent with the Islamic naming system. For example, a girl named Asmaa Jameelah Zaynab Abdullah whose father's name was Zayd Abdullah should really be called Asmaa Zayd Abdullah, that is, Asmaa the daughter of Zayd Abdullah. This principle is due to the fact that a man's or woman's given name, according to the Islamic naming system, should only be followed by the name of his or her mother if the father was unknown, or the child was illegitimate and the parents were not married.
Thus, the name Asmaa Jameelah Zaynab Abdullah in the Islamic naming system means Asmaa was the illegitimate daughter of Jameelah and her mother Jameelah was also the illegitimate daughter of Zaynab, the daughter of Abdullah.