Last updated: 1 week ago
Older Arabic dictionaries and collections list hundreds of words that mean camel in one way or another or that describe camels. The camel (the dromedary) has a special significance in Arab culture which is reflected in the Arabic language. Especially in classical Arabic, there are countless terms that are largely extinct today, but still have a special beauty.
If you read old texts and descriptions of the desert and desert life, you will come across these words again and again. They also give anyone learning Arabic a sense of how flexibly words can be applied to many different things. What makes Arabic special is not its exactness, but its approximation – that one word can mean many things.
LIST: 70 important Arabic words related to camels Show
Hint: click on “Show” above to open the list
Note: Most of the words here are rarely used today. However, if you read old texts, including religious commentaries, you will come across them occasionally. There are also many other dialect expressions that are not listed here (but are welcome to add if someone knows such words!)
Most common Arabic words for camel – generic names
Camels / a group of camels in general
إِبِل is a collective noun similar to the word خَيْلٌ for horses and بَقَرٌ for cattle. إِبِل is considered feminine in Arabic and does not have a singular form.
The collective noun إِبِل includes the two main species: the dromedary with a single hump and the camel with two humps. Hump is سَنام in Arabic. If you want to express the number of humps, you use the construction with ذو. A dromedary can be described as ذو سنام and a camel ذو سنامين.
Watch out! Even though we usually say camel – which I also do here in this article for simplification – it is usually a dromedary, which is what we see in the Arab world, so with only one hump. The camel with two humps is common in Central Asia, in western China and in northern Persia. It was known to the Arabs under the name of فالِج or فَلْج, a large or bulky camel with two humps. The plural is فَوَالِجُ. Note: The camel humps were a delicacy for the Bedouins. The fat of the camel's hump is called سَدِيف.
Only used for the male camel
If you want to stress that the camel is, in fact, a dromedary (one hump), you can say جَمَل عَرَبيّ. Plural form: جِمال.
This is perhaps the most common name and the word learners of Arabic know the most. The word جَمَلٌ is . Interestingly, in many Semitic languages, we find a similar root. It is the same in Hebrew: גמל. Note that a mature camel was known as a גמל (“gamal”, perhaps a source of the Arabic word camel) which derives from the verb גמל (gamal), which is also used in the sense of to ripen or bear ripe fruits.
An individual camel, regardless of sex. A singular form for camel
It has the plural forms أباعِرُ or أباعيرُ or أَبْعِرَة or بُعْران.
بَعِير is used for camels or dromedaries that can be used for riding or carrying stuff. Usually, the term is used for animals that are 4 years or older. It is used for male and female camels.
Where does the word come from? بَعِير originally just meant cattle/livestock and has some connection to the Biblical Hebrew root בער which basically are the same root letters as in Arabic. In Hebrew, the root has many meanings and among them are to graze, cattle and fool (being uncultivated). Since the Bedouin's cattle ware camels, it became a word for camel.
Letting go of the dung is described by the I-verb بَعَرَ (when talking of a camel or cattle, sheep). That's probably where the word بَعِير comes from, literally “the dunging animal”. The word بَعْر means dung (of animals).
Only used for the female camel (الأُنثى مِن الإِبل)
It has the plural forms نَاقٌ or ونُوقٌ or وأَيْنَقٌ or وأَنْوَاقٌ
Diminutive forms: أيْنُقٍ or أُيَيْنِقاتٌ or أُيَيْنِق
In other Semitic languages, e.g., Biblical Hebrew, the root has a connection to suckle which may explain the term.
The famous Hadith and the name of Prophet Muhammad's camel (al-Qaswa):
رَأَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ فِي حَجَّتِهِ يَوْمَ عَرَفَةَ وَهُوَ عَلَى نَاقَتِهِ الْقَصْوَاءِ يَخْطُبُ فَسَمِعْتُهُ يَقُولُ “ يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنِّي قَدْ تَرَكْتُ فِيكُمْ مَا إِنْ أَخَذْتُمْ بِهِ لَنْ تَضِلُّوا كِتَابَ اللَّهِ وَعِتْرَتِي أَهْلَ بَيْتِي
“I saw the Messenger of Allah during his Hajj, on the Day of ‘Arafah. He was upon his camel Al-Qaswa, giving a Khutbah, so he said: ‘O people! Indeed, I have left among you, that which if you hold fast to it, you shall not go astray: The Book of Allah and my family, the people of my house.'” – Jami' at-Tirmidhi 3786
A generic term for stud; stallion (الذَّكَرُ مِنْ كُلِّ حَيَوَانٍ). It can also denote the male camel.
فَحْل can serve as a singular form of إِبِل. Plural form: فُحُولٌ
It takes a little finesse to use the word and its derivatives. For example, فُحولة means manliness; potency; virility and can sometimes be misunderstood as cultures see such a trait valued differently.
The camels, sheep and goods brought for trade (ما جُلِبَ من إِبلٍ وغنمٍ ومتاعٍ للتجارة)
The corresponding I-verb يَجْلُبُ – جَلَبَ means to bring about; to cause; to bring; in old times: Bringing camels or small livestock or slaves to market. For example, النُّفاضُ يُقَطِّرُ الْجَلَبَ means: The lack of food causes the camels to be lined up as intended for sale (= the need forces one to sell the camels). The صيغة المبالغة is جَلّاب which is a trader. A جَلّابُ الْعَبِيدِ is a slave trader.
Names for baby camels
Word for the baby camel right after birth, before one had time to see if it is male or female.
جُوَار or جِوَار (juwaar/jiwaar)
The general term for baby camel
A male baby camel
A female baby camel
Note: The crossing of two-humped stallions with Arab female camels (عِراب) produced the species called بُخْت which did not breed and which was used mainly as a beast of burden. So the term خَيْلٌ عِرابٌ means Horses of pure Arabian race. The term إِبِلٌ عِرابٌ is signifying Camels of pure Arabian race as opposed to بَخاتِيٌّ.
بَكْر (bakr) and feminine بَكْرة
They both describe a young but already fully grown camel, especially from the female (even without the feminine ending).
And there is بِكْر (bikr) which usually means “virgin” in Arabic but may also denote in reference to the female camel that she has given birth to her first young. In Hebrew, the word בכר (bikher) has a similar meaning, especially the feminine form which became specifically attached to the young of a camel.
For example, Jeremiah 2:23: “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals'? Look at your way in the valley!” (איך תאמרי לא נטמאתי אחרי הבעלים לא הלכתי ראי דרכך בגיא דעי מה עשית בכרה קלה משרכת דרכיה)
What does the name “Abu Bakr” mean?
'Abū Bakr (أبو بكر) is the الكنية of Abū Bakr ʿAbdallāh ibn Abī Quhāfa as-Siddīq (أبو بكر عبد الله بن أبي قحافة الصدّيق), was one of the first followers of the Prophet Muhammad (محمد) and his father-in-law through his daughter Aisha bint Abi Bakr (عائشة بنت أبي بكر). After Muhammad's death in June 632, Abu Bakr became his successor or representative (Caliph) and ruled over the Muslim community until 634.
The name Abu Bakr is an Arabic given name which literally means “Father of a Young Camel”; it is widely used by Sunni Muslims.
Abu Bakr was born in Mecca (مكة) around 573 CE and belonged to the Banu Taym (بَنُو تَيْم) tribe. He was a wealthy trader and used his wealth to free slaves. After converting to Islam in 610, he became a close aide to Muhammad and took part in almost all battles under the Islamic prophet. He extensively contributed his wealth to supporting Muhammad's work and was among Muhammad's closest companions. He also accompanied Muhammad on his migration to Medina (المدينة المنورة).
Abu Bakr spent his childhood among Bedouins. He developed a particular fondness for camels. In his early years, he played with the camel calves and with goats. We don't know for sure how he got nicknamed father of a young camel/camel's calf since the Bakr (بَكْر) means young camel. But it could well be that it had something to do with his young age.
Abu Bakr had other nicknames too. The most famous one is probably ‘Atīq (عَتِيق). This term was originally used for a horse that runs in front of other horses giving it a safe and secure position. Therefore, the word – besides other meanings such as old or matured – can mean freed or secure which let some scholars assume that his nickname means free from Hellfire.
This is narrated in a (weak) Hadith going back to Abu Bakr's daughter Aisha (عائِشة بِنْت أَبِي بَكْر). According to the story, Abu Bakr entered upon Muhammad, and the Prophet said: “You are Allah's ‘Atīq from Hellfire.” From that day on he was called ‘Atīq. Source: أَنَّ أَبَا بَكْرٍ، دَخَلَ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ فَقَالَ: “أَنْتَ عَتِيقُ اللَّهِ مِنَ النَّارِ.” فَيَوْمَئِذٍ سُمِّيَ عَتِيقًا – Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhī 4043 (3679).
Why is he called الصِّدِّيق? It means the truthful, the upright, or the one who counts as true. The last meaning is connected with the tradition that it was Abu Bakr alone who immediately believed Muhammad's story of this night journey (الإسراء).
How can phrases containing Abu… be meaningfully translated?
David, a highly-respected Arabic language scholar, wrote down some interesting and valuable thoughts that I would like to share:
“A pet peeve of mine is to translate the Abu epithet as ‘father of.' It is used colloquially to express some sort of personal quality (like the fuṣḥā ذو). As such, Abu Bakr would mean something like ‘the one with camels' or perhaps ‘the one good with camels.' Similarly, one of the companions was named Abu Huraira because he liked cats. Huraira is, of course, the diminutive of هرة. He's not the father of a kitten, he's the guy who likes – or has – a kitten.
Closer to home, for most of the fourteen years that I lived in Egypt, I had a beard, which in Egyptian Arabic is دقن. People of my neighborhood used to refer to me as Abu da'n. Not ‘the father of a beard' but ‘the guy with a beard.' By contrast, in my neighborhood in Jordan, they call me Abu Muhammad, because my eldest stepson is named Muhammad. In this case, it truly is ‘the father of' (even though I'm not his sire). In case you're interested, it came about because my wife moved into our house before I did (I was working in the Emirates at the time we bought it). She truthfully is Umm Muhammad. So when I showed up, I must be Abu Muhammad!”
Sounds related to camels
It signifies the cry or grumbling which is a kind of gurgling growl of the camel (when the animal is being laden, and on some other occasions of discontent). It is used for animals having the kind of foot called خُفّ – أَخْفاف. Note that for cattle, the term ظِلْف is used for claw. When people wanted to say “camels and cattle (including sheep and goats), they used the expression الخُف والظِلف
The corresponding verb is رَغَى – يَرْغُو
A رَغُوٌّ is a she-camel that utters often the grumbling cry termed رُغاء
Do you know what a camel sounds like?
Source: Sound recording by ammarimohamed
أَطِيط الْبَعِير (‘ateet al-ba'eer)
The sound (creaking) of a camels'saddle when it is new.
Verbs used with camels
حَدا – يَحْدُو (hadaa)
Driving a camel with singing
The Arabs commonly sang verses to drive their camels. Such verses are called رَخَز. There is a legend explaining the use of this verb. حَدَا لَها means he “sings to them”. It originated when a desert Arab was beating his young boy (or a young man) and biting his fingers. The young man then went along saying دَىْ دَىْ meaning O my two hands! (يا يَدَيَّ). So his master told him to keep at it, and the camels went on at his call.
ساقَ – يَسُوق (saaqa)
To drive a camel (cattle)
بَرَّكَ – يُبَرِّك (barraka)
To let a camel kneel
أَنْهَل – يُنْهِلُ (‘anhal)
To water the camel early in the morning
The word مَنْهَلٌ denotes a watering-place; i.e., a spring to which camels come to water.
أَعَلَّ – يُعِلُّ (‘a'alla)
To water the camel in the afternoon
Camels and dromedaries have the ability to regulate their body temperature to conserve water. A camel's body temperature can fluctuate from 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 degrees Fahrenheit) to 41.7 degrees Celsius (107.1 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the day. This fluctuation in body temperature allows the camel to conserve water by not sweating when the outside temperature rises.
Tools and things related to camels
camel hair (fur; soft hair).
You may also come across the expression أَهْلُ الْوَبَرِ in some old texts, which basically means: the Bedouins. This is because the people of the desert, the people of the tents are called like that because they make their tents of the وَبَر of camels (and other material).
camel saddle. Plural: رِحال or أَرْحُل
It basically denotes any kind of thing that you throw on a camel's back to ride it – this is specifically associated with camels. You may also encounter in old texts the word شاغِر (plural: شَواغِر)
Another word for saddle used for also other animals is بَرْدَعة (plural بَرادِعُ) and سَرْج.
All that mounts the back of the animal under the saddle.
Camels are known for their endurance and ability to travel long distances without stopping. When it comes to running, camels can maintain a running speed of 25 km/h (15 miles per hour) for about an hour or two. They are also capable of carrying heavy loads for long distances, with some sources suggesting that a strong male camel can cover more than 120 km (75 miles) in a day.
Camels names by age
Dromedary camels, also known as Arabian camels or one-humped camels, have a lifespan of about 40 to 50 years. They are a species of camel native to the arid regions of the Middle East and North Africa and are well adapted to their desert habitats.
When fat grows in the hump of a young camel
A (female) camel who gave birth twice.
Note that ثَنْي is from the root denoting two.
اِبْن مُخاضٍ (ibn mukhadin)
The camel in the second year of life
حِقّ (hiqq) and feminine حِقّة
A camel, usually in the fourth year – because then it is suitable (اِسْتِحَقَّ) for riding and carrying loads.
A fifth year camel, called the toothed one (all teeth grown)
The term جَذَع is also used for other animals and generally denotes a mature animal that has teeth for the first time – of horses the three-year-old, of camels the five-year-old, of sheep one-year-old.
A camel, eight or nine years of life, when it gets the so-called canine tooth (ناب) – in German “Hundszahn”
The ناب (plural: أَنْياب or أَنْيُب) usually denotes canine tooth but may rarely also mean ripening tooth or molar tooth. Derived from this word: نيب, meaning old female camel; can also mean leader. The ناب is the tooth that follows the quadrilateral of the teeth (رَباعِيات) and is thin-headed.
The ناب (canine tooth)
In mammalian oral anatomy, the canine teeth, also called cuspids, dog teeth, eye teeth or vampire teeth are the relatively long, pointed teeth. In the context of the upper jaw, they are also known as fangs. On the left you see a ناب (a canine tooth; Hundszahn) of a K9 (African dog breed Azawakh).
Usually applied to a she-camel that has completed her ninth year and attained her full strength
بَزُول means the same but can be applied to the male and the female.
A ten-year-old camel
It literally means “leaving behind”. A camel that has exceeded in age the بازِل. Beyond that age there are usually no special terms. So you say “that has exceeded in age the بازِل by two years” = مُخْلِفُ عامَيْنِ
عَوْد (awd) or feminine عَوْدةٌ
A camel, advanced in age, but retaining remains of strengths
A camel that has passed the ages of بازِل and مُخْلِف. When the camel's canine tooth (ناب) becomes dull and yellow (اصْفَرَّ). If you refer to a female camel, you say ناقةٌ عَوْدةٌ.
Here is an old saying about this: “An old frail man on an old frail camel with a jagged broken spear in his hand” (ثِلْبٌ عَلَى ثِلْبٍ وَبَيْدِهِ ثَلِبٌ). In Lane's Lexicon you can find the following proverb: “An old man upon an old camel upon an old worn road” (عَوْدٌ عَلَى عَوْدٍ عَلَى عَوْدٍ خَلَق)
The camel still has some strength left
Incidentally, the word was also used for old people in the past.
Literally: “The flawed one”
When his canine teeth (انياب) break and the came's face turns ashen (اشهابّ) and the hair of the camel's tail (هُلْبُ ذَنَبِهِ) falls out.
عَشَبة (ashba) and عَشَمة
Usually denoting an old she-camel
From the verb عَشِبَ, meaning “dry, grow old”.
Literally “The Slobbering One” – when his saliva is already beginning to flow.
Words for characteristics of camels
Big, fat female camel
A mother, or a she-camel, and a female wild animal, having her young one following her
A camel deprived of its children
In a broader sense, a she-camel that is accustomed to losing her young by death or by slaughter or by gift. Plural: مَثاكِيلُ. Also used for people, i.e., a woman that loses her child (usually by death). The word ثُكْلٌ is the loss or state of being bereft of a child.
A stray camel that no one owns
For example: the camels were neglected, left neglected, without a shepherd (هَمَلَتِ الإِبِلُ : تُرِكَتْ مُهْمَلَةً تَسْرَحُ بِلاَ رَاعٍ). You can also use that for dogs, for example, a stray dog (كَلْب هامِل).
Obese; fat (adjective for camel)
You can also apply this adjective to horses.
Camel destined for slaughter
Strong, sturdy, persistent camel
Large adult camel
Fast trotting female camel (also: horse)
The female camel moaning with homesickness or longing for her young
The I-verb حَنَّ – يَحِنُّ denotes to long (for); to yearn (for); to ache (for). The word ُحَنّان means loving (it is also a given name). For example: He has neither a (female) camel nor a sheep (ما لَهُ حانَّةٌ وَلا آنَّة) = لا ناقَةَ وَلا شاةَ
Female camel wagging its tail (making it swing with vivacity and liveliness)
An angry or proud camel stallion
In Lisan al-Arab, the masdar-form التَّخَمُّطُ is explained as التَّكَبُّرُ (arrogance, haughtiness, pride, vanity)
Female camel who has already been trained to ride and carry loads
easy to handle gentle camel
Very emaciated camel
A hairy camel, particularly shaggy in the face
For example: Every camel with a hairy face is accustomed to running away (at random) out of fear. (كُلُّ أَزَبَّ نَفُورٌ)
A camel stallion of noble breeding, with a strap in front of his mouth (a muzzle)
A female camel whose back is firmly built
Thin and slim-bellied camel
Especially from female camels that have become lean and thin-bellied from long marches. Dont't get confused! The word ٌسَهْم can mean arrow or stock. The III-verb ساهَمَ – يُساهِمُ means to participate in.
Female camel raising her tail to indicate that she is pregnant (already seven or eight months old) and out of milk.
A female camel being milked in the morning
Remark: What form is that? It is the feminine form of صَبْحانُ!
A female camel who has given birth prematurely or to a misshapen young camel and has therefore returned to her camel born the previous year and allowed it to drink.
Such a camel is supposed to give the best milk, says old folk wisdom. Watch out: According to a weak (ضَعيف) Hadith, الصَّعُودُ (with definite article) could be a mountain in hell: The Messenger of Allah said: “Al-Sa'ud is a mountain of fire, a disbeliever will be rised upon it for seventy autumns, and them similarly he will fall down it, forever.” (الصَّعُودُ جَبَلٌ مِنْ نَارٍ يَتَصَعَّدُ فِيهِ الْكَافِرُ سَبْعِينَ خَرِيفًا ثُمَّ يَهْوِي بِهِ كَذَلِكَ فِيهِ أَبَدًا) – Jami' al-Tirmidhi 3326
Non-stop running camel
Note: مُطَّرِد in Modern Standard Arabic means steady.
A confused, dismayed female camel at the loss of her young camel
The connection to the root, which essentially means to hurry, can possibly be explained by the fact that the camel is impatient in its movements when coming and going quickly. In Modern Standard Arabic, عَجُول means hurried, hasty.
A female camel who is given another's young camel, but who, as soon as she recognizes by the smell that it is not her own young, withholds the milk.
The I-verb عَلِقَ – يَعْلَقُ means to be attached; to stick.
Camel destined to draw water
Camels suffering from the so-called thirst disease (هِيام)
Camels get this disease from drinking stagnant water; they then wander about, driven by raging thirst and abhorring all food (until, as some say, at last they perish). The word هِيم is the plural of the active participle أَهْيَمُ or هائِم. It is related to camels, describing them as confused or demented (through thirst).
The word occurs in the Holy Qur'an in Sura 56:55: فَشَـٰرِبُونَ شُرْبَ ٱلْهِيمِ which can be (literally) translated as: “So you will be drinking (like) the drinking of diseased camels wandering with thirst.”
Camel names by color
Dark-colored, black-brown camel
Light colored white camel
White-red, wine-colored camel
These camels are said to be among the finest and most revered camels. According to some poets, the red camels were most admired by the Arabs. But there are other sources that say something different and above all see the black camels as the best (for example the 12th verse of the Muallaka of the Antara)
Camel group names by number of camels
3 to 10 camels
10 to 30 camels
About 60 camels
Up to 70; some say also: between 50 and 100
30 to 40 camels
1000 or more (even: infinite number)
I collected these words and looked up their meanings mainly in the Lisan al-Arab dictionary; some of them were also included in Lane's Lexicon. Of course, errors may have crept in, especially with words that are rarely used. If you notice any, please send me a message. If you know any words, please add them as comments.