The name Abdallah, which means “worshipper of Allah”, existed in the pre-Islamic period.
In an interesting thread on Twitter, epigraphist and philologist Ahmad Al-Jallad said epigraphic records show that the name was in use many centuries before Islam in northwestern Arabia and southern Levant — a large area in the eastern Mediterranean.
<Thread> Did the name Abdallāh ‘worshipper of Allāh’ exist in the pre-Islamic period? I get this question a lot. Based on traditional sources, the answer is obviously yes. The epigraphic record shows it was in use many centuries before Islam in NW Arabia and the southern Levant. pic.twitter.com/SrX7xZswQA
— Ahmad Al-Jallad (@Safaitic) August 18, 2019
Jallad said the name is written as ʿbdlhy and ʿbdlh in the Nabataean language and is found in northwest Arabia, the Sinai (Egyptian peninsula), and the Edom-Moab plateau (modern day Jordan).
Nabataeans were an ancient Arabian people who, from 312BC, formed an independent kingdom with its capital at Petra, which now lies in Jordan. The kingdom was allied with the Roman Empire from 63BC and incorporated as a province of Arabia in 106AD.
“These texts can date between the 2nd century BCE (Before Common Era) and 3rd century CE (Common Era),” the philologist wrote. “The spelling ʿbdlhy reflects the preservation of the case vowel, so [ʕabdallāhi].”
He said the name is also attested in Greek transcriptions in a Hellenized form: Αβδαλλας /Abdallas/.
Jallad said Abdallah is also found in Safaitic — a variety of the South Semitic script used by nomads of the basalt desert of southern Syria and northern Jordan to carve rock inscriptions in various dialects of Old Arabic and Ancient North Arabian.
He added that though one could see the name being quite well attested in the pre-Islamic period, it was geographically confined to the Nabataean realm and adjacent areas.