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ike so many other parts of the world, the area that we now call the Islamic Republic of Iran has gone by many names. The most famous of which has to be Persia. The name actually came about as a mistake made in the time of the Achaemenid Empire where the region of Persis, their homeland, was mistaken as the name of the empire. This name most probably came about as the dominant power at the time, Rome, took to naming their neighbors in a similar fashion to how they named themselves.

In the case of Rome, the city was used to give the empire its name, and therefore the logic followed that the Achaemenid Empire was to be named after their home region of Persis.

Flag of the Achaemenid Empire. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The people of the Achaemenid Empire didn’t use this name to describe themselves. Instead, they would use the names Ariya, Ehran and Iranshahr (you can see the similarities to Iran here) which is derived from the term Aryan, which is defined as relating to or denoting a people speaking an Indo-European language not to be confused with its meaning used by Hitler during the Second World War.

As with China, the names of many countries have come about out of a misunderstanding of the local tongue or a derivation of the names of some of the most important parts of the country. For Persia, this would mean that for centuries the name that most of the people in the country defined as the name for the country would not be used in international diplomacy until the early 1900s.

Fixing a thousand-year-old mistake

Reza Shah Pahlavi’s state visit to Turkey. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The switch from Persia to Iran happened in 1935 when the Shah of Persia, Reza Shah, asked the international community to start calling the country Iran rather than Persia. He even went as far as going to the League of Nations and asking them specifically to start referring to the nation he ruled as Iran.

This most likely came about due to the leader’s more nationalistic tendencies. By enforcing this change, the Shah hoped that the people of Iran would become closer under a new name that identified more with their nation.

One country would be strictly against this change. That country was the United Kingdom. The UK saw this change as creating instability, something they didn’t want, especially at a time when the newly renamed Anglo-Iranian oil company was starting to bear fruit.

The change would come about very slowly in the high ranks of most nations leading to many correspondences being sent to Iraq instead of Iran as some mistook the name Iran as a misspelling of Iraq.

1978 Iranian Revolution. Source: Wikimedia Commons

By the 1970s most countries would’ve adopted Iran’s new name in their ‘diplomatic dictionaries’ with the Iranian Revolution of 1979 helping the cause as the old monarchy was overthrown in essence cutting most links to the old empire that used to be called Persia. Giving way to what we now call the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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