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TAGS: - Glossaries; Arabic language; Hasan Balyuzi; Marzieh Gail; Names (personal); Names and titles; Persian language; Terminology
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Explanations of the elaborate system of Persian names and titles used in the nineteenth century.

Persian and Arabic names

by Hasan M. Balyuzi, Marzieh Gail, and Iraj Ayman

published in The Báb, pages xiii-xiv
Oxford: George Ronald, 1973
A Note on the Construction of Persian Names:

In times past the people of Persia had no surnames, but in many instances they were known by the name of the district, city, town, or even the village from which they came: for example, Khurásání, Mázindarání, Tihrání, Isfahání, and Shírází.

There were also various honorific prefixes and suffixes by which a person was distinguished. A descendant of the Prophet Muhammad had (and has) the prefix of "Siyyid." At times, "Mírzá" took the place of "Siyyid," and at times the two were used together. "Mírzá" by itself did not denote any particular ancestry, except when placed after a proper name to mark royal descent.

The suffix "Khán" served at one time as a title, but with passing years, it became merely honorific, even meaningless, and at no time was it a surname.

The prefix "Hájí" or "Háj" indicated then, as now, one who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Mashhadí and Karbilá'í, as prefixes, marked pilgrimage to Mashhad or Karbilá, but as suffixes pointed out nativity.

There were also innumerable titles conferred by the sovereign in Írán, consisting of diverse combinations, sometimes ludicrous, sometimes grammatically impossible. Occasionally they indicated a definite rank and profession. As time passed, these titles multiplied absurdly, until they were swept away by legislation in the 1920's.

Finally, a person was often distinguished from others by a combination of prefixes and suffixes attached to his name which, if omitted, might cause him to be taken for another person.

Today the situation is much changed, but for the period described in this book, the author can identify people only by the names they then used, however difficult they may be.

      (from Hasan Balyuzi, The Báb, pages xiii-xiv)

Marzieh Gail, ed. and trans., My Memories of Bahá'u'lláh pages 133-34:

Notes on Persian names

Persian Names

Persians of the nineteenth century did not use surnames. Men were given proper names, such as Muhammad, Husayn, or Ibráhím, and often more then one — Muhammad-'Alí, or Ridá-Qulí. Many times the second name was one of the ninety-nine Most Beauteous Names of God, from the Qur'án. For example, 'Abdu'r-Rahím [Servant of the All-Merciful]. To distinguish one individual from another, titles and descriptions would be added to the given name. Hájí Muhammad-Hasan Isfahání, for example, would indicate the man from Isfahan named Muhammad-Hasan who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca; Ustád Mahmúd Banná would designate the Mahmúd who was the master builder; and so forth. The following are a few of the many titles and description added to Persian names:
  • Áqá: Sir, mister. General term of respect.
  • Darvísh: A Muslim mystic. Often a wandering, mendicant ascetic who traditionally carries an ax and a begging bowl (kashkúl).
  • Hájí: One who had made the Muslim pilgrimage.
  • Káshí: Someone from Kashan
  • Mírzá: A general term of respect which usually indicates that the one designated is literate. Used after the name it indicates a prince.
  • Mullá: A Muslim priest.
  • Shaykh: An elder; a chief; a professor; or the head of a dervish order.
  • Siyyid: A descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
  • Ustád: A master craftsman.

The stories of the believers who are mentioned in this book are told in other Bahá'í publications which are readily available. As a service to the reader, some of the most important references are provided below. Not every person in the memoirs of Ustád Muhammad-'Alíy-i Salmání has been listed, nor are the references intended to be exhaustive. The titles of the books cited are given in shortened form below. Complete citations can be found in the bibliography, pp. 149.

      Marzieh Gail, appendix to Ustád Muhammad-'Alíy-i Salmání's My Memories of Bahá'u'lláh

Notes by Iraj Ayman:

On the names Mír vs. Mírzá:

We should differentiate between the usage of the two titles of "Mírzá" and "Mír" in Persian usage in pre-modern Iran. Mírzá, if it comes after the first name of a person, indicates that he is a prince or a male descendent in a royal family, like Mas'ud Mírzá, Zill-i-Sultán, who was one of the sons of Nasiriddin Sháh and Governor-General of Isfahan.

"Mírzá" before the name of the person means that he is educated (literate) or he can keep the accounts or can act as a secretary). At the time that most of the people were unschooled and illiterate, relatively few individuals were able to read and write and do arithmetic. They were called Mírzá. This title also indicated belonging to a higher class or nobility. So Bahá'u'lláh was called Mírzá Husayn-Alí. Sometimes Mírzá was part of a special name given to a person such as the name of the father of Bahá'u'lláh that was Mírzá Buzurg. The two brothers, Beloved of Martyrs and the King of Martyrs were Mírzá Muhammad Hasan and Mírzá Muhammad Husayn.

Mir coming before the first name indicates that the person who is a descendent of Prophet Muhammad and has a principalship position, like Mir Muhammad Husayn Imám Jum'ih of Isfahan (Principal Mullá appointee of the King for the city of Isfahan). "Siyyid" is also a general designation for the descendent of Prophet Muhammad like Siyyid Alí Muhammad, the Báb.

Mir is the abbreviated form of "Amir" (Chieftain , Commander, or Prince). In this sense it could also come before the name of a person or a position. For example the regulators of water distribution were called Miráb (Water Commander). Mírzá is abbreviated form of AMírzádeh (Son of Amir or son of the king).

Mira is not a title. In Persian it means mortal or transient.
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