ABU, Arabic word meaning "father of" used in personal names. Jews living in Islamic countries followed the Arab custom, and addressed one another by their kunya (Arabic, "nickname"). Originally, the kunya contained the word abu, and the name of a son of the person concerned, normally that of the eldest, e.g., a man whose son's name was Zayd, was called Abu Zayd. If there was no son in the family, this could not apply but, nonetheless, imaginary kunyas developed, and these predominated among Jews. Thus, persons called Abraham were often addressed as Abu Isḥāq ("Father of Isaac") or Jacob was known as Abu Yūsuf (Joseph) instead of Jacob. The reverse procedure was even more common. Since it was customary to call a child after his grandfather, the kunya often contained the names of the father of the biblical or other historical personality after whom the man was named. As the father of Moses was Amram (Arabic ʿImrān), as Abu ʿImrān. The word abu also denotes "possessor," especially of a certain quality. Well-known examples of this use are Abu-al-ʿĀfiya ("possessor of health") from which the family name *Abulafia is derived. The honorifics preferred by Jews were generally those expressive of abstract notions, both in the singular and plural, e.g., Abual-Saʿd ("happiness") and Abu al-Barakāt ("blessings"). This might be compared to the Hebrew equivalents Avi-Musar (father of ethics, moral, moralist) and Aḥi-Musar (brother of ethics) used in Hebrew poetry. Sometimes two kunyas were given, one at birth and another added on some special occasion, such as recovery from a dangerous illness. Biblical and talmudic names were connected with kunyas believed to be of the same or similar meaning.
EIS, 1 (1913), 73–74.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.