Tehran, Iran Lichtenberg, Berlin 29 years old
The first time Marjan left her home country was to come to Germany in pursuit of a PhD in physics. She was accepted to two universities, one in Berlin and one in Karlsruhe, as if there was a real decision to make: “I chose Berlin because I thought it was more fun than Karlsruhe.”
She first landed in Dahlem, a southwestern district known for being ruhig and village-like, housing a mix of seasoned and often salty west Berliners along with newly-arrived students huddling at arms length around the only bus stop to the Freie Universität.
Marjan describes Dahlem as scary, especially at night when all the streets are empty at 10pm giving her the feeling that a zombie could pop out of the greenery. She prefers where she lives now, about an hour east by metro in Lichtenberg.
“One good thing about [living in Lichtenberg] is that at 2am, you are coming back home and somebody is on the street and some lights are turned on and you hear some music and I feel… I feel really safe when I’m in the city.”
Moreover, “there is a graveyard. I like that as well,” she adds laughing.
Zombies are more approachable when they’re in the ground.
The name in the passport
Marjan grew up in the capital city of Tehran and tells us that her name is quite common. In Farsi, it means coral. For Berliners, the pronunciation is tricky and Marjan’s name is often said completely wrong, which bothered her a lot in the beginning.
What is even more common about her name, and perhaps even mysterious to westerners, is the second part of her name Sadaat. Marjan has had to explain this at least 100 times in Germany. “Sometimes in Iran we have this name when you are connected to the holy family, like to the prophet or these things,” she says waving her hands dismissively.
There are many spelling variations of Sadaat. It is a name given only to women, whereas men would take on the name Seyed. Both names are common throughout the Muslim world, representing an honorific title as descendants of the prophet Mohammed. Fervent followers of Islam find connection to this name, but for Marjan, she doesn’t like it. It’s just a name in her passport.
Despite the name being extremely common, one of her friends had a problem with it while she was living in Italy.
“Her name was Satara Sadaat,” Marjan begins. Her friend tried to open a bank account in Italy but when they searched her name, it was flagged. “They didn’t let her open an account because Sadaat is the name of a terrorist from Taliban. You have these kind of problems. It’s not such a nice thing outside Iran,” she explains. “Also inside Iran it doesn’t have any benefit.”
Love in Persian Literature
Iran’s ancient history has been one of dynasties and conquests with the neighboring peninsula of Arabia. When Islam was introduced to the Persian Empire after what is called the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651, the civilization largely converted. It began shaping cultural practices and use of language that Iranians have toggled with throughout recent history.
Marjan sees that also in naming traditions. She describes older generations as having traditional Arabic names like Fatima or Sara for women. But nowadays, there seems to be a shift back to the ancient names of Persia found in literature.
“People really want to use from the literature that we have, like ancient names. You see young children, six or seven years old with Iranian names. It is so important to them.”
For example? Iranians might find a name by thumbing through poems written by the master poet Hafiz (also spelled as Havez, his pen name) whose 700-year-old verses still set hearts aflame.
It’s about the eyes and when you call someone ‘my Negâr’ it’s like your love.
“Some people just open [his] book and choose a first name that way because he’s using many words that can be names. Usually it’s nice, I like it.”
Marjan’s own name seldom comes up in literature, but the name her grandmother decided to call her, Negâr, does. “Negâr in Persian literature is a really nice name. It’s always when lovers use it for the love. It’s about the eyes and when you call someone ‘my Negâr’ it’s like your love.”
Marjan grew up with her grandmother until the age of six and even before she was born, her grandmother was already calling her Negâr. Her parents chose Marjan in the end, but the name Negâr stayed in the family in more than one way.
And what’s in a name, for Marjan?
“I think you define it yourself even without any meaning or if you don’t know anything about your name. It’s important how your parents chose it but in general, I think your name is you.”
The name Marjan means coral and may have referred to a particular red coral that was used commonly in jewelry in the past. With her roots in Farsi, Marjan insists that it’s pronounced Mar-Jahn and not Mar-Yahn!