Persian Masculine Names in the Nafah.ât al-uns


The Nafah.ât al-uns is a biographical dictionary, written in Persian, of influential Sufis. It was compiled by the fifteenth-century writer Nûr al-Dîn `Abd al-Rah.mân Jâmî. Jâmî was born near the city of Herat, in the area which is modern Afghanistan; he wrote more than forty works of poetry and prose.

This article is based on Jawid Mojadeddi's book The Biographical Tradition in Sufism, which analyzes several medieval Sufi biographical dictionaries. The article discusses the names of nineteen men whom Mojadeddi places in the "Naqshband cluster": that is, they are nineteen teachers and students in an academic lineage which includes the famous Sufi teacher Bahâ' al-Dîn Naqshband. Because these men were famous religious teachers and mystics, their names may not be the best guide to ordinary naming practices in medieval Persian. However, I hope this article will still be useful to people interested in historical names.

Name Origins and Structure

The most common name pattern in this list is a given name followed by a locative byname, that is, a name which tells where the person is from. For example, Yûsuf Hamadânî was from Hamadan, a city in Iran. The given names are uniformly Arabic in origin; this could be an artefact of the data, since the men in question were prominent religious figures, but it could also reflect a broader trend in Persian naming. The locative bynames tell us that the men in question were from cities and villages in what is now Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and even China.

Several of the men have other sorts of bynames, such as Naqshband "painter or engraver" and Khâmûsh "the silent." These bynames often had religious significance: Bahâ' al-Dîn Naqshband claimed he would engrave the image of God on the hearts of his followers, and a silent Sufi was better able to hear the voice of God.

There are also several men in this list with titles. Some titles, like Amir, denote secular rank, and some, like Bâbâ, indicate that a Sufi was particularly revered as a religious figure. In some cases, a particular name could serve as a given name or a title in different contexts: originally, the caliph granted names like `Alâ' al-Dîn "excellence of the faith" and Bahâ' al-Dîn "brilliance of the faith" to rulers and important civil servants, but today these names are also used by ordinary people. In the case of the Sufis discussed in this article, it's not clear whether or not names like Bahâ' al-Dîn imply some sort of religious or secular authority. Since they did imply special importance in some situations, I have listed them in the titles section.

Note on Special Characters

My source transcribed the names from Persian using standard scholarly conventions. The transliteration used some special characters which can't be displayed using standard HTML. In the following lists of names, a circumflex (^) above a letter stands for a bar above that letter, and a period following a letter stands for a small dot below that letter.

Name Lists

Given Names
Full List of Names


Main Source:

Jawid A. Mojaddedi, The Biographical Tradition in Sufism: The t.abaqât genre from al-Sulamî to Jâmî, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2001

Other Sources:

Christopher Buyers, "Persia: The Qajar Dynasty: Glossary," WWW:, August 2000-August 2002

Da'ud ibn Auda (David B. Appleton), "Period Arabic Names and Naming Practices," WWW:, 2003

"Glossary," WWW:, 2004

Azieza Hamid, The Book of Muslim Names, London: MELS, 1985

"Naqshbandi Golden Chain," WWW:, accessed September 2004

Introduction - Given Names - Titles - Bynames - Full List of Names

By Ursula Whitcher, alias Ursula Georges, 2004