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
- 1956: unlisted
- 1955: 6 baby girls named Soraya [debut]
- 1954: unlisted
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…)