H.M. Balyuzi, The Báb, pages xiii-xiv:
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,
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
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
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
- 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).
is not a title. In Persian it means mortal or transient.