The last Shah of Iran had three wives — first Fawzia, second Soraya, and finally Farah: Farah Diba, who was a 21-year-old commoner when she married the king in Tehran at the very end of 1959.
The Arabic name Farah, which means “joy,” appeared for the first time in the SSA’s baby name data the next year:
1964: 11 baby girls named Farah
1963: 13 baby girls named Farah
1962: 14 baby girls named Farah
1961: 12 baby girls named Farah
1960: 19 baby girls named Farah [debut]
The couple went on to have four children: Reza (the male heir the Shah had been waiting for), Farahnaz, Ali-Reza, and Leila.
Reza never got a chance to rule Iran, though, because the royal family was forced to flee during the Iranian Revolution at the end of the 1970s. By the time the Shah died of cancer in 1980, the new leader of the country was Ayatollah Khomeini.
The similar name Farrah first appeared in the data in the late ’60s. It would go on to see a dramatic spike in usage in 1976-1977 thanks to Farrah Fawcett (whose name at birth was actually Ferrah).
Another similar name, Fara, predates both Farah and Farrah on the charts. Fara has been in the U.S. data since the 1910s. (Other unexpected Sara- and Clara-clones from that era include Flara, Gara, Para, and Nara.)
Do you like the name Farah? Which spelling do you prefer?
P.S. The male names Reza and Alireza started appearing in the U.S. data in the ’60s and ’70s, respectively.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, married three times (and divorced twice). His second wife was the half-Iranian, half-German Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari. They wed in Tehran in 1951.
Soraya’s first name is the Persian form of Thurayya, from the Arabic term al-Thurayya, which refers to the Pleiades star cluster (literally, “the many little ones”).
The Imperial couple paid a long visit to the U.S. in 1954-1955, and (as with Twiggy and Nikita) the press coverage of their trip led to the debut of the name Soraya on the U.S. baby name charts in 1955:
1961: 39 baby girls named Soraya
1960: 24 baby girls named Soraya
1959: 20 baby girls named Soraya
1958: 28 baby girls named Soraya
1957: 6 baby girls named Soraya
1955: 6 baby girls named Soraya [debut]
Usage jumped in 1958, the year the Shah divorced Soraya (because she wasn’t able to produce an heir). And it stayed relatively high after that, because the U.S. press continued to report on the “sad queen” for years to come — her travels, her rumored romances, her attempt to kick off acting career in the mid-1960s.
What do you think of the name Soraya?
(And who were the Shah’s other two wives? The first was an Egyptian princess named Fawzia, sister-in-law of Farida, and the third was an Iranian commoner named Farah who we’ll talk more about tomorrow…)
But did you know that several long-ago royal couples from a very different region of the world gave similar boosts to a handful of Arabic baby names in the U.S. — as far back as the 1930s?
In January of 1938, 17-year-old King Farouk of Egypt married 16-year-old Farida Zulficar in Cairo. LIFE made Farida a cover girl in February. The magazine even correctly defined her name as “unique” in the accompanying story.
Right on cue, the baby name Farida appeared for the first time in the U.S. baby name data:
1938: 6 baby girls named Farida [debut]
The name dropped off the charts the next year, but returned a few decades later. These days, dozens of U.S. babies are named Farida every year.
Interestingly, Farida Zulficar’s first name at birth was not Farida. It was Safinaz. (The components safi and naz mean “pure” and “pride” in Arabic.)
Why the name change? Because Farouk’s father Fuad had decided that all members of the royal family should have identical initials (to match his initials, naturally). Hence, the five children he had with his second wife were named Farouk, Fawzia, Faiza, Faika, and Fathia. To fit the pattern, Safinaz’s name was changed to Farida before her marriage to Farouk.
Farouk and Farida went on to have three F-named daughters — Ferial, Fawzia, and Fadia — before divorcing a decade later. Several years after that, Farouk was deposed.
Do you like the name Farida? Do you like it more or less than Safinaz?
I’m in the middle of Alfred Lansing’s 1959 book Endurance, which tells the story of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917).
One intriguing detail Lansing mentions early on is that, of the 5,000+ people who applied to be part of the expedition, three were women: Peggy Pegrine, Valerie Davey, and Betty Webster.
They applied together in a single letter dated January 11, 1914. In the letter, they referred to themselves as “three sporty girls” who were “willing to undergo any hardships that you yourselves undergo.”
The names of these “sporty girls” aren’t particularly sporty, but which of the three — Peggy, Valerie, or Betty — do you like best?