'Ameer': Arabic word for prince influenced another English title

The term is still widely used today, although its meaning has changed over time

Ameer translates to prince in English
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Existing in some capacity across cultures is the idea of an heir to a kingdom — a prince or, in Arabic, ameer, sometimes spelt emir.

While the modern meaning of ameer is prince and ameera for princess, the root of the word comes from amr, which means to command. And so, by extension, ameer means one who gives commands.

Historically, ameer was originally used as a title for the commander, general or leader of an army. Over time the meaning of the title changed and became one given to the son of a ruler.

Today, ameer can refer to a male monarch, directly or not directly in line to the throne. It has also been used as an unofficial title for aristocrats or esteemed men as a sign of respect for their place in society.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the English word admiral, meaning the commander in chief of a navy, has its source in the word ameer / emir. Referred to as the name for a “Muslim chieftain”, the word was used in medieval Latin in various spellings, such as admirandus and admirallus.

The adding of allus in Latin is suspected to have come the Arabic al, which proceeds the word ameer to mean "of the" — for example Ameer Al Bahr, which would translate to Commander of the Sea, according to the dictionary.

The use of admirallus to mean a commander of a fleet originated in 12th-century Sicily and was then adopted by the Genoese, and eventually spread to countries throughout western Europe, including France and England, where in English it evolved to the title we know today as admiral.

Ameer is also used in other languages in a similar capacity. In Urdu, it also means prince, while in Hebrew it has variations depending on how it is spoken, to mean either crown or a bundle of grain.

Ameer and Ameera are also popular masculine and feminine names. Famous Amirs include Egyptian actor Amir Karara, Pakistani-British boxer Amir Khan, Egyptian-British actor Amir El-Masry, one of the stars of the latest season of The Crown, and young Sudanese-British actor Amir Ahmad Wilson, who recently played Will Parry in the HBO and BBC One series His Dark Materials.

Scroll through the gallery below to see The National's pick of Arabic words of the week

Updated: January 13, 2023, 6:02 PM