Persian Feminine Names from the Safavid Period

by Aryanhwy merch Catmael (Sara L. Uckelman) & Ursula Georges (Ursula Whitcher)

© 2002,2004 Sara L. Uckelman, Ursula Whitcher
Last update 08Aug04

Languages of Persia

Persia (modern Iran) has an extremely complex political and linguistic history. Ancient Persian was an Indo-European language, related to modern languages such as English, Italian, and Russian, and had its own writing system. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century made Arabic the language of the elite; Arabic also replaced Persian as a written language. Later, an Islamicized Persian ruling class revived Persian as a literary language, but this new literature used the Arabic script, rather than the old alphabet. After 1000 AD, Persia was pressed by wave after wave of invasions from central Asia, including the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols. Thus, medieval Persian names could have ancient Persian, Arabic, or Turkish sources; in particular, Islam had a strong influence on Persian name choices.

Languages of the Safavid Dynasty

The Safavids conquered Iran in the early sixteenth century. They replaced the previous Timurids, who were descended from the Mongols. The Safavids spoke Turkish; so did the nomadic Qizilbash tribes, who supported them. Thus, during the Safavid period the Turkish language had an elite status. Persian was popular both as the language of ordinary people and as a language with a rich and varied literature. Safavid rulers were literate in both Turkish and Persian. Finally, Arabic was still in use as a written and occasionally spoken language; in particular, religious works were often written in Arabic.

The data

The following are names of Persian poetesses and royal ladies from the end of the Timurid dynasty and beginning of the Safavid dynasty. The poetesses are all mentioned in Javâhir al-'Ajâyib or The Jewels of Wonder, a collection of biographies of learned women from the middle of the sixteenth century.

Titles and name formation

This selection of names is by no means a guide to the general naming practices of Persian women for several reasons. First, the data pool is very small. Second, royalty often have naming structures that differ from the name structures of the other classes. Finally, since the Safavids were conquerors, their names may not be the best guide for the naming customs of the people they ruled.

Many women in the following list have titles which are not strictly part of their names. Khânum and Khâtun 'royal lady' are both royal titles. Begum, which is related to the masculine Turkish title Bey/Beg, and Sult.ânum, which is related to Sultan, also connote high rank.

Despite these caveats, we can say something about name formation. Some women are known by just a single name, and there are no patronymic bynames (bynames based on the father's given name), though these phenomena could be artifacts of the transcription. We did find several examples of locative bynames (bynames based on location), e.g. Samarqandî, Tabrîzî, etc.)

Notes on the transcription

Our source transliterated the names from the Persian script using modern scholarly conventions. Because of the limitations of HTML, we have not been able to transcribe these names accurately. We have used a circumflex accent (ˆ) instead of the macron (-), and periods (.) following a letter are actually dots occurring below the letter.

Mahistîpre 15th Cpoetess
Pâdshâh Khâtunpre 15th Cpoetess
Jahân Khâtunpre 15th Cpoetess
H.ayâtpre 15th Cpoetess
Mihrî15th Cpoetess
Mughûl Khâtunend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Afâq Begum Jalâyirend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Nîhânîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Bija Munajjimaend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Bîbî 'Is.matîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Bîdilîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Nihânî-yi Shirâzîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Nisâ'î (Fakhr al-Nisâ')end of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Khânzâda-yi Turbatîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Pertevi-yi (?) Tabrîzîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Sayyid(a) Begum (Shâh-Mulk)end of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Bîbî Ârizû-yi Samarqandîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
D.a'ifîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
H.ayât-i Heravî (Âtûn)end of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Jamâlî (H.ijâbî)end of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Terevvi, Tarvî (?) (Nizdî)end of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Nisâ'î (Dûstî, Fât.ima Khâtun)end of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Nisâ'î-yi Nîsavîend of 15th C/beginning of 16th Cpoetess
Gawhat-Sult.ân Khânumd. 1577royal lady
Khadija Begumd. early 17th Croyal lady
Khanish Khânum Id. 1564royal lady
Khayr al-Nisâ' Begumd. 1579royal lady
Mâh-Parvar Khânumd. c. 1566-67royal lady
Maryam Begumd. 1608-09royal lady
Parî-Khân Khânum Id. 1551? or after 1554?royal lady
Parî-Khân Khânum IId. 1578royal lady
Shâhzâda Sult.ânum (Mahîn Bânû)d. 1562royal lady
Tâjlû Khânumd. 1540royal lady
Tîtî Begumd. 16th Croyal lady
Zaynab Begumd. 1641-42royal lady