English: Actress Buyi Zama as Rafiki in Taiwan.He’s an upbeat import with an engaging sound.

Jasmin’s week begins with Rafiq as our Baby Name of the Day.

If you’re after a name without a European origin, the possibilities for girls are endless.

For boys, the list can feel a little bit shorter.  But doesn’t Rafiq seem like the kind of name that is accessible in English, but clearly different?

He’s tough to track down.  Chalk it up to variant spellings – Rafic and Rafik are just two of the most common, along with Rafique, Raficq, Refiq, and Refik.

But then I thought of Rafiki.

Yes, that’s the wise baboon from The Lion King.  He’s a shaman-like figure who plays a pivotal role in the storyline.

Disney names tend to have long lives, what with the sequels and the merchandising and the theme parks.  The Lion King also has a Broadway musical to its credit.  In a twist, the male Rafiki became female on stage.  The name doesn’t change, even though Rafika – and associated spellings – is a feminine form of the name.

Rafiki is always attributed to Swahili, a name meaning friend, while Rafiq comes from the Arab world.

Confused?  Swahili and Arabic are more closely related than you might guess.  Swahili is widely spoken in East Africa, while Arabic is spoken in the Middle East.

But the Swahili Coast – think of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar – has heavy Arabic influence.  For centuries, the coastal cities were busy trade centers, places where merchants from the Arab world interacted with their African counterparts.  It made for significant intermixing between the cultures and languages.

Swahili developed in Zanzibar, where the Sultan of Oman ruled from the late seventeenth century into the twentieth, and trading had started earlier still.  Swahili was initially written in Arabic script.  A few records from the early 1700s exist, and even a poem or two.  As European rulers replaced Arab ones, the language was eventually written in Latin script instead.

In other words?  Rafiki and Rafiq both mean friend, and they’re close cousins linguistically.

What I can’t tell is how Rafiq is understood in the Arabic world today.  It is used as a given name – but is the meaning top of mind?  It doesn’t seem to be.  Rafiq occasionally occurs in phrases, like rafiq ul Islam – friend of Islam, and even the given name Rafiqul.  So is this perceived as a religious name?  It seems he’s something like Grace – sometimes spiritual, but often not.

Most bearers of the name hail from the Arab world.  Transliterations vary, but here’s a list of some notables:

  • A former Prime Minister of Lebanon
  • Rafiq Azad Bengali poet – born Rafikul Islam – I’m assuming that’s another person named for the phrase
  • Armenian sculptor Rafik Khachatryan
  • Kurdish poet – Rafiq Sabir, sometimes also called Refiq.
  • Former Turkish prime minister Refik Saydam
  • Raficq Abdulla – you might have heard him talking about Islam

It sometimes occurs as a surname, too.

Rafiki, meanwhile, is not much of a given name, despite his place in pop culture.

Overall, Rafiq feels like a likely import to the US.  He works well in English, despite the ambiguity of his spelling.  The -q ending is the most common in recent years.

Rafiq feels lively, upbeat, and accessible – all good qualities for a child’s name.  He’d make a great heritage choice for parents after something that embraces their Arab roots, or parents seeking something truly distinctive for a child’s name.

Enhanced by Zemanta

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. To name my baby boy Rafiq after a good friend of mine that burnt to ashes after a gastly motor accident

  2. Not to rain on the party, but Rafic Hariri, the PM of Lebanon you mention, was killed in a car bomb assassination. If you’re interested in associations, I always picture the blown out buildings and road by the sea in Beirut when I hear this name.

  3. I immediately thought of Rafiki from the Lion King! But seeing as that movie is now solidly “in de past” (yes, that reference was necessary) I don’t see it as a huge issue. Pop culture is always changing. What might have been avoided for being too close to the name of an animated character back then might now benefit from the association! I’m thinking the names Margo, Mavis, and Ellie probably got a boost from their recent appearances in animated films.

  4. Not familiar with this name but latey I’ve been attracted to names ending with the K sound. I like that it’s different yet easy to pronounce.