The Start of Scheherazade

Scheherazade, movie, 1940s, baby name

The name Scheherazade (sheh-hehr-uh-zahd) comes to us from classic literature: Scheherazade was the wife of the sultan Shahryar in The Arabian Nights*, the collection of Middle Eastern and Indian folk tales first published in English in the early 18th century.

The name didn’t appear in the U.S. baby name data, though, until 1948:

  • 1950: unlisted
  • 1949: unlisted
  • 1948: 5 baby girls named Scheherazade [debut]
  • 1947: unlisted
  • 1946: unlisted

What put it there?

My guess is the movie Song of Scheherazade, which was released in March of 1947. The main female character, Cara de Talavera (played by actress Yvonne De Carlo), moonlighted as a cabaret dancer known as Scheherazade.

(The name might have debuted earlier had the 1942 film Arabian Nights similarly featured Scheherazade’s name in the title.)

So…what does the name Scheherazade mean? Good question. Sources agree that it’s Persian, but don’t agree on the definition. One defintion I’ve found is “city-freer.” Another is “born to a good race” (which reminds of the definition of Eugene: “well-born”).

What are your thoughts on the baby name Scheherazade? Would you considering using it?

Sources:

  • Mernissi, Fatema. Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001.
  • Nurse, Paul McMichael. Eastern Dreams: How The Arabian Nights Came To The World. Ontario: Penguin, 2010.
  • The Thousand and One Nights – Britannica.com

*Shahryar and Scheherazade are part of the collection’s frame story. Scheherazade — like all of the sultan’s previous wives — had been sentenced to die. (Not because of something she did; the sultan had a habit of killing his wives, because he presumed they would all be unfaithful.) So, every night, clever Scheherazade told Shahryar a story that ended with a cliffhanger. Because the sultan always wanted to hear the ending, he kept putting off Scheherazade’s execution…

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