How to Read Historic Bahá'í Names

How to Read Historic Bahá'í Names
I'm an aural reader -- I hear the words as I read -- so I snag on anything I can't pronounce. Also, I want to know meanings. New words can stop me even if I can figure out how to pronounce them.

Given that the origins of the Bahá'í Faith are in Persia (now Iran), and I was raised in the USA, the names of people and places in Bahá'í history will challenge me! Also, in the mid nineteenth century, many people in the world did not have western traditional last names. Persia, like many other deeply religious societies, often named children after significant religious personalities. In the Middle East, that practice resulted in a lot of little boys all named Ali, Muhammad, or one of the twelve Imams of Moslem religious history.

Farsi, the language of Persia and now Iran, has a wonderful collection of pronouns that English does not have, which differentiate one's gender, place in the family tree and other characteristics. In addition, titles and subtitles could be added which related to birthplace, birth order, status and clan.

All of that often resulted in huge names when Western historians wanted to make records. The Persians, or the Turks, or the Bedouin, may know exactly of whom they speak, but the English translator needs help. For Bahá'ís, the process of sorting out who's who in our religious history can be even a bit more confusing, as the Central Figures of the Faith bestowed further titles on many of the early believers!

It helps my memory if I can assign a simple name, at least initially, in order to be able to continue reading long enough to learn about the person. In order to do that, I parse through the titles, careers, religious or economic or political or military status, not to mention where they were born and what or to whom the suffix(es) might refer. For me, speaking only English, it's complicated!

Here is a list of common name modifiers that I have learned to recognize:

* Abdu'l (Persian) or Abu'l (Arabic) = a title meaning, literally, servant . Abdu'l-Hasan could mean Hasan the servant or the servant of Hasan.

* ´Aqá (Turkish) = sir, often attached to a person of royal blood, such as Áqáy-i-Kalím, a title of Bahá'u'lláh's brother because their father served as a minister in the court of the Sháh.

* Bagúm (Turkish) = feminine of Big, a title of respect for a person of rank, or to denote royal lineage, as in Muhammad Big or Khadijih Bagúm

* Hájí (Arabic) = a title given to a Moslem who has made pilgrimage to Mecca

* Ibn (Arabic) = meaning the son of, as Ibn-i-Asdaq, whose given name was 'Ali-Muhammad, and who as a boy was imprisoned with his father in a dungeon in Tehran because of his father's religion. This boy grew into an absolutely fearless young man who longed for martyrdom, so Bahá'u'lláh gave him the title Shahíd Ibn-i-Shahíd which translates, Martyr, Son of the Martyr.

* Khanúm (Arabic) = feminine title of respect

* Mírzá (Persian) = a title before the name means Mister, and afterwards means Lord or Prince.

* Mullá (Arabic) = a moslem cleric/judge

* Pasha (Turkish) = title for high-ranking officers, but if following the name can mean prince.

* Shaykh (Arabic) = title of respect often given to an old man or a venerated religious teacher.

* Siyyid (Arabic) = a title used by those men who are direct descendents of Muhammad and who, in Persia, had the right to wear a green turban denoting their station.

* -zadeh (Persian) = child, when added to a man's name, literally: the child of. Adíb Taherzadeh, a Bahá'í historian of the 20th century, who used the surname "son of Taher".

Okay, let's parse a couple names! [Disclaimer: Not being an expert in Farsi, Turkish, or Arabic, let alone Bahá'í history, I'm only using what I manage to understand of them as a way to help me remember important people.]

Mullá Hájí Amín, Abu'l-Hasan-i-Ardikání -- A man who was schooled in Islam and was cleric or a judge or both, took the title Servant of Hasan (an important Moslem historic figure) as his given name, had been on pilgrimage to Mecca, and was born in or resided in Ardikán Province (or town). He was an early Bahá'í, who made his living as a trader and as a scribe, and as a financial trustee (Amín) of the Bahá'í Faith. Knowing what parts of his name mean gives me a handle and some information about the man.

How about one more example? Bahá'u'lláh, Mírzá Husayn-'Alíy-i-Núrí. Okay: Mister Husayn-'Ali (named for Moslem religious Figures) of the Province of Núr, who's title Bahá'u'lláh is an Arabic construction meaning Glory of God.

For more in depth information, see links below.

You Should Also Read:
A Brief Bahá'í Glossary
Pronunciation Glossary

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