The proper name Arab or Arabian (and cognates in other languages) has been used to translate several different but similar-sounding words in ancient and classical texts which do not necessarily have the same meaning or origin. The etymology of the term is closely linked to that of the place name Arabia. Gustave E. von Grunebaum, in his book Classical Islam said that an approximate translation is passerby or nomad.
The root of the word has many meanings in Semitic languages including desert, nomad, merchant, raven and comprehensible with all of these having varying degrees of relevance to the emergence of the name. It is also possible that some forms were metathetical from عبرʿ-B-R "moving around", and hence, it is alleged, "nomadic."
The plurality of meanings results partly from the assimilation of the proto-Semiticغghayin with عʿayin in some languages. In Hebrew the word ערבʿarav thus has the sametriconsonantal root as the root meaning "west" (מערבmaʿarav) "setting sun" or "evening" (מעריבmaʿariv, ערבʿerev). The direct Arabic cognate of this is غربġarb ("west", etc.) rather than عربʿarab; however, in Ugaritic and Sayhadic, languages which normally preserve proto-Semiticghayin, this root is found with ʿayin adding to the confusion. The first recorded use of the word is in Hebrew, Genesis 1:5, and its meaning there is "evening."