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Onomastic Reforms

Onomastic Reforms

Family Names and State Building in Iran

H. E. Chehabi

ISBN 9780674248199

Publication date: 12/07/2020

In the mid-1920s, the Iranian state legislated a wide-ranging reform of the citizenry’s naming practices. Honorary titles and honorifics were abolished, family names were made obligatory, and an office for registering names and citizens’ life events (birth, marriage, divorce, and death) was established. The main motivation for this onomastic reform was conscription, which necessitated knowledge of young men’s ages, identities, and whereabouts. The introduction of conscription was itself part of the state-building efforts that followed the weakening of the central government induced by the First World War.

In Onomastic Reforms, H. E. Chehabi explains the traditional naming practices of Iranians before the reform, describes the public debates surrounding their obsolescence, traces the legislative measures and decrees that constituted the reform, and explores the ways Iranians chose or invented surnames for themselves.


  • In this concise and stimulating study of personal names in modern Iran, Chehabi provides an excellent manual of contemporary Persian onomastics while also shedding light on the complex relations between individuals and political society. Through reforms of their personal names, citizens became clearly identified as taxpayers, voters, and soldiers. Anthropologists and historians will find here a wealth of examples to help them understand how, thanks to their new civil status, Iranians looked at themselves, wishing to be perceived as part of the ‘civilized’ (i.e. Westernized) world.

    —Yann Richard


  • H. E. Chehabi is Professor of International Relations and History at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University.

Book Details

  • 120 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Ilex Foundation

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