Concerning the Names
Jasmine, Yasmin, Yasaman, and the Like

by Ursula A. Whitcher and Sara L. Uckelman
known in the SCA as Ursula Georges and Aryanhwy merch Catmael

Last updated 23 Jul 2010  


The English word <jasmine> derives from the Arabic word <yāsmīn> or <yāsamīn>, which in turn derives from the Persian word <yāsmīn>, sometimes written <yāsman> or <yāsam>. [1] Today, <Jasmine> and its variants are used as given names in both Europe and the Middle East. [2,3,4,5,6,7] However, the medieval situation was more complicated. We have found evidence that a form of the name was used by slave women in Arabic-speaking countries, and the name may have been used by free women in Persia and the Ottoman empire by the end of the seventeenth century. [8, 9] We have not found evidence that any form of <Jasmine> was used in Europe before modern times. [6,7]

European Languages


We have not found <Jasmine> used as an English name before the late nineteenth century; the name did not become popular until the twentieth century. [6]


The Italian form of <Jasmine> is <Gelsomina>; this is the feminine form of the Italian word for jasmine, gelsomino. We have found no evidence that <Gelsomina> was used before modern times. [7]

Languages of the Near East

Note on Transliteration

In the Middle Ages, Persian and Turkish were written in a script based on Arabic. Modern Persian still uses a script derived from Arabic, but modern Turkish uses the Roman alphabet with the addition of certain special characters. We've transliterated Arabic and Persian words using standard scholarly transcriptions. Our sources for Turkish names use a transliteration system based on modern Turkish; we follow this system when discussing Turkish names.


In medieval Arabic-speaking countries, slave girls were often given flower names. Examples from medieval Andalusia include <Banafsaj> 'banafsaj, an herb', <Narjis> 'narcissus', <Rayyān> 'myrtle', and <Ward> 'rose'. In contrast, free women usually used names which had religious or historical significance, not names which had obvious literal meanings. [10]

A medieval writer who died in 1204/5 was described as <Ibn al-Yāsamīn> 'son of <al-Yāsamīn>'. <al-Yāsamīn> was the writer's mother; she was a slave. Her name means 'the jasmine plant'. [10]


In the sixteenth century, Nurbanu, the mother of the Ottoman sultan, wrote a letter to the Venetian doge requesting the freedom of a Muslim man named <Kara Ali>. (Kara Ali was probably captured at the 1571 battle of Lepanto.) In her letter, Nurbanu describes Kara Ali as "the son of Yasemin Khatun the Arab." [8] Though <Yasemin Khatun> is identified as an Arab, she was probably living in Ottoman Turkey.

An April 1531 charitable endowment mentions a manumitted slave named <Yasemin>. [12]

Free women in sixteenth-century Ottoman Turkey definitely used other flower names based on Persian words. Examples include <Benefşe> 'banafsaj, an herb', <Gülbahar> 'rose-blossom', <Gülfem> 'rose-cheeked', and <Nergis> 'narcissus'. [11]


A seventeenth-century Persian satire on superstitious women called the ‘Aqā'īd al-Nisā’ (ascribed to Aqā Jamāl Khwānsarī, who died in 1710) includes a character named <Bājī Yāsaman>. <Yāsaman> is a Persian form of the name Jasmine; <Bājī> is a title of respect. Thus, <Yāsaman> may have been considered a typical Persian name by the end of the seventeenth century. [9]


We have not found <Jasmine> used as a name in Europe before modern times. However, some forms of the Persian word <yāsmīn> 'jasmine' were used as names in the Middle East by the end of the seventeenth century. We found <al-Yāsamīn> 'the jasmine plant' as the name of a slave in twelfth-century Andalusia. This is typical of a broader pattern in which slave women in Arabic-speaking countries were given the names of flowers, while free women used names of historical and religious significance. Free women in Ottoman Turkey did use flower names. A sixteenth-century Ottoman letter mentions a woman named <Yasemin>; we don't know whether this particular woman was ever a slave. In Persia, <Yāsaman> appears as the name of an ordinary city woman in a seventeenth-century satire. Thus, by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries free women in Turkey and Persia may have been using forms of <yāsmīn> as given names. We don't know when this practice started; we also don't know when free women in Arabic-speaking regions began to use names meaning 'jasmine'.


[1] Oxford English Dictionary (WWW: Oxford University Press, 2005) s.v. jasmine. (subscription required).

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973)

[2] Schimmel, Annemarie, Islamic Names (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989), p.44.

[3] al-Ja'fari, Fatima Suzan, "Muslim Names" (Lagos, Nigeriā Islamic Publications Bureau, 1977, 1982), p. 24.

[4] Hamid, Azieza, The Book of Muslim Names (London: MELS, 1985), p.21.

[5] Qazi, M.A., What's in a Muslim Name (Lahore: Kazi Publications, 1978; South Elgin, IL: Library of Islam, 1995), p.53.

[6] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988) s.n. Jasmine.

[7] De Felice, Emidio, Dizionario dei nomi italiani (Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan, 1992), s.n. Gelsomina.

[8] Peirce, Leslie, The Imperial Harem (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 226.

[9] Babayan, Kathryn, "The "‘Aqā'īd al-Nisā’": A Glimpse at S.afavid Women in Local Iṣfahānī Culture" in Women in the Medieval Islamic World, ed. Gavin R.G. Hambly (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), p. 362.

[10] Manuela Marín, Estudios Onomástico-biográficos de al-Andalus, (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto de Filología, Departmento de Estudios Arabes, 1988-1997), pp. 66, 127. The writer's full name was <‘Abd Allāh b. Ḥajjāj al-Ishbīlī>, also described as <Abū Muḥammad Ibn al-Yāsamīn>. (The characters ḥ and Ḥ should appear as lower and upper-case <H>s with dots below them.)

[11] Ursula Whitcher (also known as Ursula Georges), "Sixteenth-Century Turkish Names" (WWW: Academy of S. Gabriel, 2002).

[12] Fariba Zarinebaf, "Women, Patronage, and Charity in Ottoman Istanbul". Beyond the Exotic: Women's Histories in Islamic Societies, ed. Amira el-Azhary Sonbol (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), p. 97.