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 of course 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 west/sunset, 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 عبر ʿ-B-R "moving around" (Arabic عرب ʿ-B-R "traverse"), and hence, it is alleged, "nomadic."
The plurality of meanings results partly from the assimilation of the proto-Semitic غ ghayin with ع ʿayin in some languages. In Hebrew the word ערב ʿarav thus has the same triconsonantal root as the root meaning "west" (מערב maʿarav) "setting sun" or "evening" (מעריב maʿariv, ערב ʿerev). The direct Arabic cognate of this is غرب ġarb ("west", etc.) rather than عرب ʿarab ; however, in Ugaritic and Sayhadic, languages which normally preserve proto-Semitic ghayin, this root is found with ʿayin adding to the confusion.The first recorded use of the word is in Hebrew, Exodus 12:38, and its meaning there is a "mixture" of people who accompanied the Israelites as they left Egypt.