Where did the baby name Nayirah come from in 1992?

"Nayirah" giving her testimony in 1990
“Nayirah” giving her testimony

In October of 1990, two months after Saddam Hussein‘s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl using the pseudonym “Nayirah” testified in front of the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

Nayirah claimed to be a Kuwaiti refugee who’d been volunteering in a Kuwaiti hospital at the start of the Iraqi occupation. She said she’d seen Iraqi soldiers remove Kuwaiti babies from incubators, take the incubators, and then leave the babies “on the cold floor to die.”

Her emotional testimony helped sway public opinion in favor of the Gulf War.

But in early 1992, her testimony was called into question. New York Times writer John MacArthur revealed that Nayirah was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States. Her appearance had been arranged by a U.S. public relations firm and sponsored by a Kuwaiti organization pushing for military intervention. Most importantly, the claims she made could not be corroborated:

Saddam Hussein committed plenty of atrocities, but not, apparently, this one. The teenager’s accusation, at first verified by Amnesty International, was later refuted by that group as well as by other independent human rights monitors.

And amid this controversy in 1992, the baby name Nayirah appeared for the very first time in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1994: unlisted
  • 1993: unlisted
  • 1992: 13 baby girls named Nayirah [debut]
  • 1991: unlisted
  • 1990: unlisted

The name, which means “luminous” in Arabic, dropped out of the data the next year. It remained a one-hit wonder until reappearing just recently, in 2015.


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