The word derives from the root ح م د (ḥ-m-d), from the Arabicأَحْمَدَ (ʾaḥmed), from the verb حَمِدَ (ḥamida, "to thank or to praise"), non-past participle يَحْمَدُ (yaḥmadu).
As an Arabic name, it has its origins in a Quranic prophecy attributed to Jesus in the Quran 61:6, about Muhammad. It also shares the same roots of Mahmud, Muhammad and Hamid. In its transliteration the name has one of the highest number of spelling variations in the world.
Some Islamic traditions view the name Ahmad as another given name of Muhammad at birth by his mother, considered by Muslims to be the more esoteric name of Muhammad and central to understanding his nature. Over the centuries, some Islamic scholars have suggested the name's parallel is in the word 'Paraclete' from the Biblical text, although this view is not universal considering translations, meanings and etymology.
Traditional Islamic sources, such as Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, and others contain hadith in which Muhammad personally refers to himself as Ahmad. Islamic scholars such as William Montgomery Watt, however, argue that the use of Ahmad as a proper name for Muhammad did not exist until well into the second Islamic century, previously being used only in an adjectival sense. He concludes that the development of the term being used as a name in reference to Muhammad came later in the context of Christian-Muslim polemics, particularly with Muslim attempts to equate Muhammad with the Biblical 'Paraclete', owing to a prophecy attributed to Jesus in the Quranic verse 61:6.
According to the New Encyclopedia of Islam, and the older Encyclopaedia of Islam, the word Ahmad has no etymological attachment to the word Muhammad, but instead has been defined and understood according to its form and likeness to the word Muhammad.
"Coming back to the term "Ahmad," Muslims have suggested that Ahmad is the translation of periklutos, celebrated or the Praised One, which is a corruption of parakletos, the Paraclete of John XIV, XV and XVI."
"And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad." But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, "This is obvious magic."
- Sahih International
"And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One. Yet when he hath come unto them with clear proofs, they say: This is mere magic."
"And when Jesus, son of Mary, said: "O children of Israel, I am God's messenger to you, authenticating what is present with me of the Torah and bringing good news of a messenger to come after me whose name will be acclaimed." But when he showed them the clear proofs, they said: "This is clearly magic."
- Modern Literal Translation
The verse in the Quran attributes a name or designation, describing or identifying who would follow Jesus. In his Farewell Discourse to his disciples, Jesus promised that he would "send the Holy Spirit" to them after his departure, in John 15:26 stating: "whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth... shall bear witness of me." John 14:17 states "[even] the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you."
Regarding verse 61: 6 in the Quran:
"It is not clear to whom the pronoun ‘he’ refers in the concluding sentence. Bell says ‘probably Jesus,’ but ‘sometimes taken to refer to the promised messenger who is identified with Muhammad.’ Secondly, and in consequence the intervening words, ‘bearing the name Ahmad,’ are grammatically superfluous. They do not help to make the pronominal reference any clearer as to who it was whose Evidences were greeted as magic. Without the clause about Ahmad the context would appear to demand that it was Jesus rather than the next ‘messenger’ who was intended. Whether we maintain the usual reading or adopt that of ‘magician’ (as read by Ibn Masud and others), the charge of sorcery generally would seem as true to the Jewish calumnies in the Fourth Gospel as to the somewhat similar charges brought against Muhammad. In any case it was the Banu Isra'il to whom both Jesus and the ‘messenger’ came, and who regarded the mission as ‘sorcery.’ Once more, if we omit the phrase, ‘bearing the name Ahmad,’ and regard Muhammad as still drawing lessons from previous history, the dubious passage might refer to what happened at Pentecost, and other incidents recorded in the earlier chapters of the Acts. With the absence of any claim on this passage either by Ibn Ishaq or Ibn Hisham, may we go further and suggest that the two Arabic words rendered by Dr. Bell, ‘bearing the name Ahmad,’ are an interpolation to be dated after the death of Muhammad." (emphasis in original)
Scholarship regarding the Greek translation
"Early translators knew nothing about the surmised reading of periklutos for parakletos, and its possible rendering as Ahmad …. Periklutos does not come into the picture as far as Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham are concerned. The deception is not theirs. The opportunity to introduce Ahmad was not accepted – though it is highly improbable that they were aware of it being a possible rendering of Periklutos. It would have clinched the argument to have followed the Johannine references with a Quranic quotation."
"Furthermore the Peshitta, Old Syriac, and Philoxenian versions all write the name of John in the form Yuhanan, not in the Greek form Yuhannis.. Accordingly to find a text of the Gospels from which Ibn Ishaq could have drawn his quotation we must look for a version which differs from all others in displaying these characteristics. Such a text is the Palestinian Syriac Lectionary of the Gospels which will conclusively prove that the Arabic writer had a Syriac text before him which he, or his informant, skillfully manipulated to provide the reading we have in the Sira.".
"Muslim children are never called Ahmad before the year 123AH. But there are many instances prior to this date of boys called 'Muhammad.' Very rarely is the name 'Ahmad' met with in pre-Islamic time of ignorance (Jahiliya), though the name Muhammad was in common use. Later traditions that the prophet's name was Ahmad show that this had not always been obvious, though commentators assume it after about 22 (AH)."
"It has been concluded that the word Ahmad in Quran as-Saff 61:6 is to be taken not as a proper name but as an adjective... and that it was understood as a proper name only after Muhammad had been identified with the Paraclete."
"Note that by the middle of the 2nd century AH, Muslims already identified Muhammad with the Greek word "Paracletos" (Counsellor / Advocate) or the Aramaic translation "Menahhemana."
"We recognize Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors of the Gospel, and yet I know that this truth, recognized by us Christians wounds you, so that you seek to find accomplices for your lie. In brief, you admit that we say that it was written by God, and brought down from the heavens, as you pretend for your Furqan, although we know that it was `Umar, Abu Turab and Salman the Persian, who composed that, even though the rumor has got round among you that God sent it down from heavens…. [God] has chosen the way of sending [the human race] Prophets, and it is for this reason that the Lord, having finished all those things that He had decided on beforehand, and having fore-announced His incarnation by way of His prophets, yet knowing that men still had need of assistance from God, promised to send the Holy Spirit, under the name of Paraclete, (Consoler), to console them in the distress and sorrow they felt at the departure of their Lord and Master. I reiterate, that it was for this cause alone that Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, since He sought to console His disciples for His departure, and recall to them all that He had said, all that He had done before their eyes, all that they were called to propagate throughout the world by their witness. Paraclete thus signifies "consoler", while Muhammad means "to give thanks", or "to give grace", a meaning which has no connection whatever with the word Paraclete."
Ahmad is the most elementary transliteration. It is used commonly all over the Muslim world, although primarily in the Middle East. More recently, this transliteration has become increasingly popular in the United States due to use by members of the African American community.
Ahmed is the most common variant transliteration, used especially in the context of the Ottoman Empire. This transliteration is also used throughout the Muslim world.
Ahmet is the modern Turkish transliteration. Modern Turkish uses a Latin-based alphabet, and most Arabic-derived names have standardized Turkish spellings.
The less common transliterations of Ahmad are used by Muslims outside the Middle East proper, such as in Indonesia and Russia.
Achmat is the fairly standard transliteration used by South Africa's Muslim community, and its pronunciation shows evidence of the influence of Afrikaans: the <ch> which represents ح [ħ] is pronounced as an Afrikaans <g> [x] (i.e. closer to the Arabic خ); and the د [d] is realised as a [t] (closer to the Arabic ت) which follows Afrikaans Final-obstruent devoicing principles.
^Al-Masāq: studia arabo-islamica mediterranea: Volumes 9 à 10; Volume 9 University of Leeds. Dept. of Modern Arabic Studies, Taylor & Francis – 1997 "Many Muslim writers, including Ibn Hazm, al-Taban, al-Qurtubi, and Ibn Taymiyya, have identified the Paraclete with Muhammad. Probably the first to do so was his biographer Ibn Ishaq in the mid eighth century."
^Liddell and Scott`s celebrated Greek-English Lexicon gives this definition for periklutos: "heard of all round, famous, renowned, Latin inclytus: of things, excellent, noble, glorious". Rev. James M. Whiton, ed. A Lexicon abridged from Liddell and Scott`s Greek-English Lexicon. New York: American Book Company, N.D. c.1940s, p.549. Periklutos occurs in The Iliad and The Odyssey, and Hesiod`s Theogony.
^The Gospel of John: Question by Question by Judith Schubert 2009 ISBN0809145499, pages 112–127.
^A. Guthrie and E. F. F. Bishop, The Paraclete, Almunhamanna and Ahmad, Muslim World XLI (October, 1951), p.254-255: italics: emphasis in original
^A. Guillaume. The Version of the Gospels Used in Medina Circa 700 A.D. Al-Andalus, 15 (1950) pp.289-296.
^Guillaume`s note: Evangeliarum Hierosolymitanum ed. Count F.M. Erizzo, Verona, 1861, p.347, and The Palestinian Syriac Lectionary of the Gospels re-edited from two Sinai MSS and from P. de Lagarde`s edition of the Evangeliarum Hierosolymitanum by Agnes Smith Lewis and Magaret Dunlop Gibson, London, 1899, p.187.