June 7, 2018

19th Century Persia: System used for surnames

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, Khurasani, Mazindarani, Tihrani, Isfahani, and Shirazi. 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, 'Mirza' took the place of 'Siyyid', and at times the two were used together. 'Mirza' by itself did not denote any particular ancestry, except when placed after a proper name to mark royal descent. The suffix 'Khan' 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 'Haji' or 'Haj' indicated then, as now, one who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Mashhadi and Karbila'i, as prefixes, marked pilgrimage to Mashhad or Karbila, but as suffixes pointed out nativity. There were also innumerable titles conferred by the sovereign in Iran, 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. 
- H.M. Balyuzi  (‘The Bab The Herald of the Day of Days’)