I became a Persophile as I was writing Part II of Journey Through a Dark Forest, when I hit upon the idea of some of my Soviet characters fleeing into Iran to escape the Great Terror in 1937. I’m so glad I made that decision, and even gladder I decided to put them in Isfahan instead of the expected Tehran. It gave me the chance to do a lot of great research and write about a place I’d never written about before.

I also have some longstanding characters of Persian descent in my Atlantic City books. Max Seward’s stepsister Adeladie Campbell marries a Persian immigrant, Mohammad ibn Omar, who first appears in January 1942 at the age of eleven. In the awful first draft of the first book where he appears, Mohammad is one of three young Muslim bodyguards Kit got as a birthday present in December 1941. It was really just my lame excuse, at 15 years old, to have Muslim characters and write about Islam. So much of this stupid storyline comes across as appallingly offensive to my adult self, though I honestly didn’t intend it that way at all.

Anyway, Adeladie is fascinated by her childhood sweetheart’s religion and culture, and converts to Islam in college. They have seven children, the last of whom are identical quads. They’re a religious but modern family, so it’s a big surprise when one of the quads, Fatima, later starts wearing a chador and becoming even more religious. Fatima marries Nasim Bari, whom she meets at university and later goes on the Hadj with (along with her brother Hussein and their friend Halla). She’s quite amused at her mother’s shocked reaction to discovering she wears pants under the chador.

Persian alphabet:

Years ago, when my family’s Iranian friends still lived in our city, I might’ve known how to read a few things in Persian, but now I don’t know how to read Persian. I never learnt the similar Arabic alphabet either, though I know letters are written differently depending on whether they come first, last, or in the middle of a word, or if they’re isolated. Like Hebrew and Arabic, there are a few sounds which are represented by more than one letter. Also like Hebrew and Arabic, there are marks to represent vowels.

Persian is the proper name of the language, even though many Iranians in the English-speaking world have been using the word Farsi since the 1980s.


Prior to 1919, Persians didn’t have surnames. They had patronymics, like ibn Omar and ibna Jalil, and also attached prefixes and suffixes to their names. Many surnames were derived from geographical origin, like Shirazi and Nuri.

Common Persian names:


Aarash, Arash (Bright; Truthfulness)
Abbas (Austere)
Abdollah (Servant of Allah)
Abolfazl (Father of grace)
Ahmad (More commendable)
Alborz (A famous mountain range in Northern Iran, near the border with Armenia and Azerbaijan)
Ali (Sublime; Lofty)
Amir (Prince)
Ardashir, Ardeshir (Righteous ruler)
Azad (Free)
Azar (Fire)
Aziz (Powerful; Respected; Beloved)
Babak (Little father)
Bahadur (Hero; Warrior; Brave)
Bahman (Good mind)
Baraz (Exalted)
Behnam (Good name)
Behrooz, Behrouz, Behruz (Good day)
Dana (Wise)
Danyal (Daniel)
Dara (Wealthy)
Daryush, Dariush (To possess good)
Delshad, Dilshad (Happy heart)
Ehsan (Charity)
Erfan (Knowledge; Learning; Awareness)
Eskandar (Alexander)
Esmail (Ishmael)
Farookh (Person who can tell right from wrong)
Fereydoun, Faridoon, Fereydoon (The third)
Firdaus (Paradise)
Firuz, Firoz (Successful)
Gholam (Servant; Boy)
Golshan (Rose garden)
Golzar (Rose-cheeked)
Hadi (Guide; Leader)
Hamid (Praised)
Hassan (Improver; Beautifier)
Heydar (Lion)
Hossein (Handsome)
Jahan (World)
Jahangir (World conqueror)
Jalal (Greatness)
Jalil (Exalted; Important)
Jamshid, Jamshad, Jamshed, Jamsheed (Shining river or Shining twin)
Javed (Eternal)
Kaveh (Royal)
Khodadad (God-given)
Khorshid, Khurshid (Shining Sun)
Khwaja (Owner; Master)
Kianoush (Royal)
Mahdi, Mehdi (Guided one)
Mahmoud, Mahmud (Praiseworthy)
Manouchehr, Manuchehr, Manoochehr (Heaven’s face)
Masud, Masood, Masoud, Massoud (Lucky)
Mehr (Friend; Alliance; Oath)
Mehrab (Friend of the water; Alliance/Oath with the water)
Mehrdad (Gift of Mithra)
Mirza (Prince)
Mohammad (Praiseworthy)
Musa (Moses)
Nasim (Breeze)
Navid, Naveed (Good news)
Nima (Just; Fair)
Omid (Hope)
Parviz, Parvaiz, Parwiz (Happy; Fortunate)
Payam (Messenger)
Rahman (Merciful)
Reza (Contentment; Satisfaction)
Roshan (Light; Bright)
Rostam (Legendary Persian warrior)
Sam, Saam (Dark)
Sardar (Leader; Chief)
Seyyed (Master; Lord)
Shaheen, Shahin (Peregrine falcon)
Shahnaz (Pride of the king)
Shahriar, Shahriyar (Lord)
Shahrokh (Royal face)
Shahzad (Son of the king)
Shahpur (Son of the king)
Soheil (Even; Level)
Sohrab (Red water or Shining)
Soroush (Obedience)
Vahid (Peerless)
Yahya (John)
Yaser, Yasser (To be rich)
Zhubin (Spear)


Arezou, Arezoo, Arezu (Desire)
Atefeh (Affection; Kindness)
Ava (Voice; Sound)
Azar (Fire)
Azra (Virgin)
Bahar (Spring)
Banu (Lady)
Dana (Wise)
Darya (Ocean; Sea)
Dilshad, Delshad (Happy heart)
Ehsan (Charity)
Elaheh (Goodness)
Elham (Inspiration)
Firuza, Fairuza, Firooza, Faruza, Firoozeh, Firouzeh, Firuzeh (Turquoise)
Fatemah (To abstain)
Fereshteh (Angel)
Ghoncheh (Flower bud)
Gol (Rose)
Golbahar (Spring rose)
Golnar (Pomegranate flower)
Golnaz (Flower pride)
Golshan (Rose garden)
Golzar (Rose-cheeked)
Hamide (Praised)
Khadijeh (Premature child)
Khorshid, Khurshid (Shining Sun)
Laleh (Tulip)
Leyla, Leila (Night)
Mahin (Related to the Moon)
Mahsa (Like the Moon)
Mahtab (Moonlight)
Mahvash (Moon-like)
Masoumeh (Innocent)
Minu, Minoo (Heaven)
Mitra (Feminine form of Mithra)
Mojgan (Eyelashes)
Morvarid (Pearl)
Nahid, Naheed (Immaculate)
Narges (Daffodil)
Nasrin (Wild rose)
Neda (Proclaim)
Niloufar, Nilofer, Niloofar (Waterlily)
Niusha (Good listener)
Nousha (Sweet)
Omid (Hope)
Panthea, Panteha
Paniz (Sugar)
Parastu, Parastoo (Swallow [bird])
Pari (Fairy)
Parisa (Like a fairy)
Parvaneh (Butterfly)
Parveen, Parvin (The Pleiades)
Roghayeh (Rise or Incantation)
Roshan (Light; Bright)
Roshanak (Roxana)
Roshanara (Light of the assembly)
Roshni (Brilliance; Luster)
Sahar (Dawn)
Sakineh (Calmness)
Sanaz (Full of grace)
Sara (Princess)
Shabnam (Dew)
Shadi (Happiness)
Shahnaz (Pride of the king)
Shahrazad, Shahrzad (Free city)
Shirin, Shereen, Shireen (Sweet)
Shideh (Bright)
Shiva (Charming; Eloquent)
Shohreh, Shohre (Famous)
Shokufeh (Blossom)
Simin (Silvery)
Soheila (Level; Even)
Somayeh (High above)
Soraya (The Pleiades)
Taslima (Greeting)
Yasmin, Yasmeen, Yasmina, Yasamin, Yasmine (Jasmine)
Zahra (Brilliance; Bright)
Zareen (Golden)
Zeinab (Fragrant, flowering tree)
Zhaleh, Jaleh (Dew)
Ziba (Beautiful)
Zinat (Ornament)

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