In the 21st century, muslims who revere the first three Caliphs will immediately have them in their minds whenever the names ‘Abu Bakr’, ‘Umar’ and Uthman are mentioned. Immediately they will begin to feel a sense of pride, joy, and deep sense of reverence for the aforementioned inviduals. In the modern day, and perhaps even a few centuries after Hijrah, children were given the names Umar and Uthman, and the Qunya Abu Bakr [which soon turned into a name after islam spread and the Arab cultural custom of name and honorific title was not applicable] after the first three caliphs.
However, one must ask if this was the case during the time of the Caliphs themselves? Dissecting and understanding the cultural context of the period is essential to this discussion, and not taking into account the cultural norms of the time may lead to the fallacy of conflating ones own culture and customs with what had occurred during the time of the Caliphs. Sunni-Shia polemics may have crystallised during the first few centuries after the Caliphs, but things were far less set in stone during the early years of Islam.
The names Umar and Uthman were names that were very common. According to ‘al-Isaba fi tamyiz al-Sahaba’ by Imam Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, there were atlas 26 companions named ‘Uthman’ and atlas 21 named Umar. Such names were thus, akin to George, or Tony in todays day and age. One could name their child George today without anyone automatically assuming this is out of honour of George Bush as it is a common name, and there are a number of other notable George’s. If in the next millenia, we find that one particular George grows in prominence whilst the fame of others decreases with the passage of time, and someone in a far-future era names their child George outside of the cultural context of George being a common name in and of itself, that is an entirely different cultural context.
In todays day, the name ‘Umar’ has evolved to be almost always attached to Umar ibn al Khattab. The same with Uthman, and Uthman ibn Affan. However, in those days, there were many Umars – from Umar ibn Abi Salama, the adopted son of the Prophet [saw] and loyal companion of Ali ibn Abi Talib to give an example. There was also Uthman ibn Madhu’n, the fourteenth person to convert to Islam, the first to be buried in the graveyard of Baqi in Medina, and a renowned companion of the Prophet [saw] and Ali ibn Abi Talib.
If we were to go back in time and live in the era of the Prophet [saw] there were dozens of Uthmans and Umars, and a number of very notable who had either name. If one named their child Uthman, it may have been out of reverence of Uthman ibn Madh’un, any other Uthman, or the fact it was simply a common name for the cultural context.
Taking the cultural context into account does not prove that Ali ibn Abi Talib did or did not name his sons after the caliphs, but what it does it address the fallacy of applying how naming may work in the 21st century, to 7th century Arabia. More research and evidence must be examined as well as presented before anyone makes any firm conclusions – particularly when such conclusions play an integral role to ones views and beliefs with respect to key Aqeedah principles.