Nizami was born in the ancient capital of Arran, Ganja city. It is generally assumed that the year of his birth was 1141. He grew up and lived there almost permanently, and died and was buried there. Afterwards, however, when the poet’s works gained wide popularity, many a town claimed him their own.
The poet’s own name was Ilyas, his father’s name was Yusuf, his grandfather and great-grandfathers were Zaki ad-Din and Muayyad fid-Din, respectively. Zaki ad-Din means "purity of faith," and Muayyad fid-Din "Supported (by Allah) in the faith." Such titles in the medieval Orient were conferred, as a rule, to scholars and clergymen. Apparently, the poet was born to a noble family. This is also confirmed by the fact that Nizami’s mother, the "Kurdish lady" ("Raisa-i kord"), also descended from a noble family. His maternal uncle, Omar, bore the title "Khwaja," usually given to court dignitaries in the poet’s time. Most probably, he served at the Atabey court in Ganja. The poet assumed the alias "Nizami" which literally means "the one who puts, strings the words in order."