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A Note on the terms "Iran" and "Persia"


By Pejman Akbarzadeh (Member of Artists Without Frontiers)


There has been much debate as to what to call Iran in common usage of the English language. The two possible names are "Iran" and "Persia"; their adjectives being "Iranian" and "Persian", respectively.


Serious argument on this matter began in the 1980s, when Professor Ehsan Yarshater (Editor of the Encyclopedia Iranica) started to write several articles on this matter (in both English and Persian) in Rahavard Quarterly, Pars Monthly, Iranian Studies Journal, etc. After him, a few Persian scholars and researchers such as Kazem Abhary (Professor at the South Australian University) followed the issue. Several times since then, Persian magazines and websites have published articles from those who agree or disagree with usage of 'Persia' and 'Persian' in English.


ap of the Persian Empire 450 BCE


In view of many of these articles, it seems that the subject has not been explained sufficiently. Some think the name Persia belongs to antiquity, and ought not to be used now. Others believe that "Persia" includes only one province within Iran, and should not be used for the whole country. There are also many Persians and non-Persians in the West who prefer "Persia" and "Persian" as the English names for the country and nationality, similar to the usage of "La Perse/Persane" in French, and "Persien/Perser/Persisch" in the German language.


Most countries and languages have different names in other languages. For example, Germans call their language "Deutsch"; in English people say "German", and Persian-speaking people say "Almaani" (The Persian word Almaani comes from the French word "L'Allemagne"). People of Greece, Finland, India and Japan call their countries Hellas, Suomi, Bharat and Nippon in their respective languages. Similarly, the native name of "Persia" is Iran.


Since 600 BC, Greeks used the name "Persis" for Persia / Iran. Persis was taken from "Pars" (the name of the region where the Persian rulers lived). Persian people likewise used the name of "Younaan" (instead of internal term of "Hellas") for Greece. "Younan" in fact is taken from the name of "Lonia", in the south-east of Greece. "Persis" since then has been used as the name of Iran in all European documents, maps, etc. Only in later centuries did some Europeans (in view of their languages) changed it to "Persia" (English, Italian and Spanish), "La Perse" (French), "Persien" (German), etc. The name "Persia" until 1935 was the official name of Iran in the world, but Persian people inside their country since the Sassanian period have called it "Iran" meaning "the land of Aryans". They also used "Parsa" in the Achaemenids period.


In 1935, Reza Shah announced that all Western countries should use the name of "Iran" in their languages too. This act brought cultural damage to the country and separated Iran from its past in the West. Also, many people confused it with Iraq (an Arab state West of Iran). For many westerners, "Persia" became a dead empire that does not exist anymore.


After some Persian scholars protested this announcement, in 1959 Prof. Ehsan Yarshater made a committee to research this matter. The committee announced that "changing the name has not been right", so Mohammad Reza Shah announced that both 'Persia' and 'Iran' can be used interchangeably.



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