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How Iran Got Its Name

How “Persia” became “Iran”

Until March 22 1935, the official name of the country was Persia. On the advice of his Nazi allies in Berlin, Reza Shah Pahlavi changed the official name of country from Persia to Iran. Iran was preferred for its ‘racial affinity’ with ‘Aryan’. Yes, Iran was one of the older names. But it is not correct to say that ‘It was only in the west that Persia was used’.

Why was the official name change needed from Persia to Iran?

The official Government directive read: “As Iran is the original home of Aryan race, and since the world (read Nazi Germany) is talking about the greatness of Aryan race, we have renamed our country to Iran” The official documents confirm that proposal for name change came from Nazi Berlin. Shah regime was obsessed with the idea of ‘Aryan white skinned race’. Shah regime taught children in school textbooks that Iranians were a Germanic Aryan race originally from Scandinavia.

These textbooks also spoke about ‘ugliness’ and ‘racial inferiority’ of Non-Iranians such as Arabs and ‘Semites’. Shah implored Hitler to accept them as ‘Pure Aryans’. Hitler complied and exempted Iranians from Nuremberg laws. The word ‘Iran’ also has a long history. However, it was never used for a secular nation state. Rather, there was a strong religious connotation associated with this word.

For example, Ferdowsi in Shahnameh says that Iran is that which carries Kushti (Zoroastrian sacred belt). Thus, Iran was all that land where Zoroastrianism was practiced (which also includes today’s central Asia) and it did not denote nation state of Iran.

Of course, the word ‘Iran’ and ‘Iranshahr’ have been used in Sassanid times but as mentioned above, they do not geographically map to modern nation state of Iran. The ultimately origin of this word is the Avestan ‘Aryanam (Vaejo)’. Not true.

Persia is a very ancient native name. Persia is nothing but Greek pronunciation of native name ‘Parsua’ and ‘Parsumas’. This name is so old that it is attested in Assyrian and Elamite inscriptions and definitely predates ‘Iran’. It is so old that it might even be related to ‘Parshu’, a tribe mentioned in Rgveda. So no, Persia is not a foreign creation.