BĀNŪ, originally “lady,” now also in common use as an alternative to ḵānom “Madam, Mrs.” (from Turkish xan-ım “my lord”). The Middle Persian form of the word was bānūk (bānūg). Compounds with bānū include kad-bānū “mistress of the house” (Pahl. katak-bānūk) and šāh-bānū “shah’s wife, queen,” the latter introduced under the Pahlavi dynasty to replace Arabic maleka. Bānū is found as a component in women’s names such as Arjomandbānū (d. 1630, wife of the Mughal emperor Šāh Jahān; Justi, Namenbuch, p. 22b), Bahravarbānū (Justi, p. 60b), Gowharbānū (Justi, p. 112b), Jahānzēbbānū (d. 1705, granddaughter of Šāh Jahān; Justi, p. 115b), Kadbānūya (Justi, p. 150b; cf. the numerous Southeast Iranian place names in -ūya), Mehrbānū (Justi, p. 205a), Parībānū (name of a fairy in Thousand and One Nights; Justi, p. 246b), Šahrbānū (“mistress of the empire;” Justi, p. 276b; Eilers and Schapka, I, p. 233.8, II, pp. 284.7, 285.11), Tājbānū (Justi, p. 318b), Zarbānū (Justi, p. 381b). It is not always clear in these cases whether bānū is part of the name or a title.

Alone or as the first component of names are Bānū (cf. Bʾnwky on the intaglio of a Sasanian seal, Ph. Gignoux, IPNB II/2, p. 55 no. 185), Bānūdoḵt (?), the mother of Ḵosrow I, and Bānū-Gošasp (cf. Gošasp-bānū), the daughter of Rostam (Justi, pp. 62f.).

Armenian banuk shows that the Mid. Pers. pronunciation was bānūk, not bānōk. Nevertheless, the word appears to belong to the large group of hypocoristic names in -ōk. The Pahlavi ideogram for bānūk given in the Frahang ī pahlavīk is MRTA, from Aramaic marṯā, cf. the name Martha in the New Testament. In the Nisa documents and the Sasanian inscriptions, bānūk is represented by the ideograms MROTA (Mid. Pers.); and MRATY (Parth.), in which the ʿayin and the aleph are graphic intrusions. Similarly, the masculine counterparts Mid. Pers. xwadāy and Parth. xwadāw are represented by MROḤ(Y) (Mid. Pers.) and MRAY (Nisa), originally perhaps from Aramaic marʾēh and marʾī “his/my master” (see, e.g., Henning, “Mitteliranisch,” p. 36).

In the inscription of Narseh I at Paikuli (Mid. Pers. l. 9, Parth. l. 8: Humbach and Skjærvø, p. 35) the goddess Anāhīt is called “the lady,” just as Ištar was known among the Babylonians and Assyrians as Bēltum or Bēlit “lady,” or Bēltī “my lady.”

No precursor of bānū is found in Old Iranian. Most probably it is a hypocoristic abbreviation of Mid. Pers. bānbišn “queen,” originally “mistress of the house” (cf. Av. dəmanō/nmānō.paθnī, Pashto mērman[a], Morgenstierne, pp. 44, 47; ideogram Mid. Pers. MLKTA, Parth. MLKTH, Aram. malkəṯā). The second element of bānbišn has been dropped in the same way as, for instance, in the name Šahrū from Šahrbānū. The etymology proposed by Dehḵodā (Loḡat-nāma, s.v. Bānū), deriving bānū from bān “protector, possessor” is untenable.

Modern dialects have forms deriving from Persian kadbānū in the sense of “mistress of the house,” thus Baḵtīārī kaivenū or kēivenū and Kurdish kaivānū (Lorimer, p. 106b).



W. Eilers and U. Schapka, Westiranische Mundarten aus der Sammlung Wilhelm Eilers I: Die Mundart von Chunsar, Wiesbaden, 1976, II: Die Mundart von Gäz, Wiesbaden, 1979.

Horn, Etymologie, p. 41 no. 178.

H. Hübschmann, Armen. Etymologie, pp. 116 no. 98, 117 no. 100.

Idem, Persische Studien, 1895, p. 25 no. 178.

H. Humbach and P. O. Skjærvø, The Sassanian Inscription of Paikuli III/1, Wiesbaden, 1983.

D. L. R. Lorimer, The Phonology of the Bakhtiari, Badakhshani and Madaglashti Dialects of Modern Persian, London, 1922.

G. Morgenstierne, An Etymological Vocabulary of Pashto, Oslo, 1927.

P. Tedesco, BSL 26, 1925, p. 64.

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(W. Eilers)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: December 15, 1988

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 7, pp. 714-715