Nisba (onomastics)

For other uses, see Genetive case.

In Arabic names, a nisba (also spelled nesba, sometimes nesbat ; Arabic: نسبة nisbah, "attribution") is an adjective indicating the person's place of origin, tribal affiliation, or ancestry, used at the end of the name and occasionally ending in the suffix -iyy(ah). Nisbah is originally an Arabic word that was passed to many other languages such as Turkish, Persian and Urdu.

In the usage of Persian, Turkish and Urdu, it is pronounced/written exclusively nisbat. In Arabic usage, that pronunciation occurs when the word is uttered in its genitive case only.

The practice has been adopted in Iranian names and South Asian Muslim names. The nisba has sometimes become a surname.

Original use

A nisba "relation" is a grammatical term referring to the suffixation of masculine -iyy, feminine -iyyah to a word to make it an adjective. As an example, the word ‘Arabiyy (عربي) means "Arab, related to Arabic, Arabian". Nisba forms are very common in Arabic names.

Use in onomastics

Arabic names do not include family names or surnames, but rather patronymics (nasab), where the name of the person is followed by the name of his father, usually linked by ibn or bin ('son'). Patronymics may be long as they may include all known forefathers. When a name is simplified to one or two ancestors, it may become confused with other persons' names, so an additional specifier, a nisba, may be added as an attribute.

A nisba is usually prefixed by al ('the') and may be to almost anything:


Tribes or clans



One can have more than one nisba, one can be related to a city, a clan, a profession and a person at the same time. Examples include:

The nisba is optional but is quite widespread.


See also


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