Azerbaijan International

Spring 2005 (13.1)
Pages 78-79

What's in a Name?

Reyhan - That Girl, That Song
by Reyhan Reynaldi

Folklorists claim that names are the DNA of a society, encapsulating the dreams and hopes of parents for their children. One tiny strand of letters carries an incredible amount of vital information in terms of a person's social heredity. From a single word, it is often possible to determine a person's gender, educational level, social and economic status, language and religious preferences, sense of aesthetics, political inclinations, nationality, age, and, sometimes, even birth sequence.

Those things ring true when it comes to the Azerbaijani girl's name "Reyhan" that became popularized by the song - "Daghlar Gizi Reyhan" (Mountain Girl Reyhan). Actually, this song was written about a little girl whose father took it upon himself to change his daughter's name to "Reyhan" against the will of her mother. I know because that little girl was me!

I was born in 1951. Not long afterwards, my father, Oruj Goshgarli, had my name officially changed to Reyhan. It was a decision he made entirely on his own. He didn't consult with my mother at all about it. As you can imagine, she and her relatives were extremely upset since they were the ones who had originally chosen the name "Durdana" for me.

Left: Reyhan's family. Left to right: Aunt Solmaz holding Reyhan, sister Tarana, mother Boyukhanim holding brother Goshgar. Baku 1952.

Perhaps, it was to be expected that my father, a retired military commander, would do such a thing. He had served with the Taganrog Division (1939-1945) in World War II and was used to giving orders.

My mother had grown up in a middle class family in Baku. Her grandfather had owned a few oil wells in the Balakhani region on the Absheron Peninsula near Baku in the late 1890s. Her father was a well-known merchant. He owned a General Store, which sold china, paint and domestic merchandise. He often traveled to the Middle East and Europe, and while he was not formally well educated, he was known for his "street smarts" when it came to trade.

Although my father had held a high military position in the war, when he returned to Baku, they made him a regional military inspector. He was also teaching in the military program at Azerbaijan's Polytechnic Institute. Most of all, he was not happy with his new military assignment which made him travel a lot from one district to another, inspecting the local military departments (voenkomats).

It wasn't long before my father's outspokenness got him expelled from the Communist Party. That's when he began writing poems, novels and short stories about Azerbaijani soldiers and their heroic contributions during World War II.

Back in Baku after the war, my father fell in love with my mother, a young dentist named Boyukhanim, known among her friends as Bela. By the following year - 1947 - they were married. Their wedding ceremony was attended by many intellectuals, including famous Azerbaijani poets, writers and artists, such as Samad Vurghun, Suleyman Rustam and Talat Eyyubov.

They had four children; I was the third. My mom's side of the family had chosen the name "Durdana" for me because it rhymed with my sister's name "Tarana". It was fashionable those days to give similar sounding names to siblings. My mom was a strong advocate of Baku culture and tradition, while my father's atheistic and rebellious spirit reflected traditions from Ganja, a city in north central Azerbaijan.

Name Change

Left: Reyhan's father Oruj Goshgarli, a military officer, who liked the name "Reyhan" and changed his daughter's name from Durdana to Reyhan. Baku, 1946.

But, still, my father was infatuated with this new name - Reyhan. He thought it was quite revolutionary and that any female would gain additional strength and energy from this name. He was sure that such a name would make any woman proud. Actually, though Reyhan was a new name in the Azerbaijani treasury of names, it was quite popular in both Persian and Hebrew. The word Reyhan means basil - that delicious herb - fresh, aromatic, delicate and lush green.

Middle class life in Baku in the mid-20th century was quite optimistic, especially after the death of Stalin in 1953. People supported socialist reforms and were convinced that the economy was developing. With the help of my mother's father, my parents managed to buy a large apartment on the third floor in the historical building, which now houses the Azerbaijani Cinema (close to Fountains Square). Oil Baron Lalayev had constructed this residence for himself in 1870.

One of my father's best friends - the famous poet Talat Eyyubov - spent quite a lot of time with us in our home. Though Talat mostly fretted over new poems and complained about his lonely life, my father considered him to be very talented since he had translated some of Shakespeare's works into Azeri.

The Poem
The unhappiness that my father brought upon my mother by changing my name began to weigh heavily on him. He wanted to do something to try to make it up to her, but wasn't quite sure what to do. How could he approach his young wife and her strongly opinionated father and her other relatives? He confided in Talat. It wasn't long before they came up with a plan.

Left: Durdana Goshgarli at age 2-3 years (1953-54) around the time when, unknown to her mother, her father officially changed her name to Reyhan.

A few days later, my mom was invited into the dining room for a surprise. That's when Talat recited his poem about a little girl named "Durdana" who became known as "Reyhan". It described her as beautiful, charming and unique. It mentioned that she had roots that could be traced to the mountains. Actually, my father's last name Goshgarli derives from the Goshgar Mountains, which are located in the Small Caucasus.

The gesture left a deep impression on my mother. Here was a poem dedicated to her little girl, written by the famous poet Talat Eyyubov, who had translated Shakespeare! So it seems, she became reconciled to the idea.

The Song
"Reyhan" Lyrics by Talan Eyyubov, Music by Fikrat Amirov

Mountain girl - Reyhan, Reyhan, Reyhan,
Your star is shining - Reyhan, Reyhan, Reyhan,
You're amazing, amazing, amazing,
You're amazing, amazing, amazing!

What a beautiful girl!
Like a flower, this girl!
One and only one, this girl!
Like Durdana, this girl.

Most beautiful - Reyhan, Reyhan, Reyhan,
First love - Reyhan, Reyhan, Reyhan,
You're amazing, amazing, amazing,
You're amazing, amazing, amazing!

What a beautiful girl!
Like a flower, this girl!
One and only one, this girl!
Like Durdana, this girl.

Dark eyes - Reyhan, Reyhan, Reyhan,
Words like honey - Reyhan, Reyhan, Reyhan,
You're amazing, amazing, amazing,
You're amazing, amazing, amazing!

What a beautiful girl!
Like a flower, this girl!
One and only one, this girl!
Like Durdana, this girl.



Left: Illustration (1985) for the song "Reyhan" by artist El Turan. The concept for his sketch is a play on the meaning of the word "reyhan" as the herb "basil".

It wasn't until later that the famous Azerbaijani composer Fikrat Amirov (1922-1984) set the poem to music. Zeynab Khanlarova (born 1936) was the first person to sing it. Later on, Rashid Behbudov (1915-1988) also performed and recorded it, making it very popular, not only in Azerbaijan, but throughout Central Asia as well. It also has become popular in Turkey.

To tell you the truth, I really believe that this song has played a very important role in shaping my life and inspiring me to become the person I am today. All my life I have tried to live up to the image of this girl Reyhan in the song and to make my parents proud.

And so I became a geologist and went on to earn my doctorate in Geology. It was this poem and song, which shaped my destiny. I like to think that I'm really like the Reyhan in the song - "Like a flower, this girl! - One and only one, this girl! Reyhan, Reyhan, Reyhan!"

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