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Narangi and Porteghal
Bowlful of fruity meaning: Part 2


December 12, 2005

The narangi (variation: narengi) that adorns my fruit bowl this time of year is also a perennial favorite. As a child, I often raided the hospitality room and polished bowlful of the fruit in short order. In Istanbul, I recall, I’d eat an entire bagful of the stuff on the way back from the market!

There is no single meaning for narangi in English. Take your pick from among mandarin, tangerine, clementine and others and, as the line from a Billy Joel song paraphrases, “it is all narangi to me!” There reason for this is simple. The Occidental names for this fruit rely on the distinguishing marks of geography (places of origin like China or Tangiers) or the people who developed or introduced a particular variety (such as the French missionary in Africa, Father Clement). But in Persian the fruit narangi gets its name from one thing that all narangis, regardless of origin, share -- the color orange.

The etymology of narangi is fascinating. Before I begin on this explication, I remind the reader of the conclusion of the earlier piece (Part I) that anar in Persian meant the color of metal rust (brownish-red) whence derived the Persian name for the fruit anar (pomegranate) and Arabic anNar for fire.

I believe the fruit name narangi derived its name from the combination of the Persian anar (rust-color) and rang-i (color). It eventually became narangi for the name of the fruit and also for the color orange. In Farsi we recognize the word narenji as the name for the color “orange,” which narenji derived from the Persian narangi, from the Persian citrus fruit narang. However, the Persian citrus fruit known as narang was not the fruit presently known as narangi. The word narang applied to a fruit we know presently in its Arabicized form of narenj, a sour orange.     

The word narang (narenj) was therefore the earliest Persian word for today’s fruit that we call in Farsi and some other languages as porteghal (sweet orange). According to a source introduced to me by the Iranian scholar M. Saadat-Noury, the term porteghal or a variation of it is in use in more than a dozen languages, including Amharic, Arabic, Bulgarian, Farsi, Gaelic, Georgian, Greek, Romanian and Turkish (See // Citr_sin.html). According to this source, this variety of the citrus fruit (sweet orange) derives its name from the country of its origin Portugal.  The country of Portugal got its name from the ancient Roman name of Portus Cale for the city and region of Porto.   

The aforementioned connection of Portugal with sweet orange (porteghal) is further buttressed by the fact that there is actually a variety of the fruit called “Portugal orange” as there is one called Seville orange, which is actually closer in taste (bitter/sour) to the Iranian narenj. Because of these connections to the country of Portugal, I am therefore reluctant to go beyond the mere fantasy that perhaps the term porteghal, too, may have originated in Iran, and quite separately from the Portugal connection. Many years ago, I had heard or read somewhere that the term porteghal derived form the Persian por for “full,” and teghal (or toghal) for “seeds” in an Iranian dialect, perhaps Tabari or Giylaki. I have not been able to reconfirm this and therefore leave it out there for further speculation by others.

In Portugal, however, the name for the fruit orange is Laranja, Laranja doce for sweet orange. In Spain, the fruit is called naranja. Either way, my suspicion is that the fruit arrived on the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors, who brought there the word narenj, the Arabicized of the Persian narang. The influence of narang as the name for the color “orange” is present in such formations as pomaranc or variation of it in Czech, Polish, Slovak and Slovenian languages – in all the term translates to “orange color apple.” In Dutch, German, Russian and other languages the name for the fruit “orange” is apfelsine, in which the reference is to “Sina/China apple.” In Spanish, bluntly, sweet orange is known also as “naranja china.”

In Sanskrit the word for the fruit orange was naranga, as it is in Hindi (narangi), Urdu (narangi) and Gujarati (naringi) In the Caucasus, it is narich and narinjh in Armenian, narinc in Azari, and narinjhis in Georgian.

It is mentioned by the aforementioned orange website that the word naranga probably was not originally a Sanskrit word. This said, then probably the word entered into Sanskrit from the Persian. While the fruit “orange” itself is said variously to have originated from northern India (Oxford E.D.) or from the Malay area in Southeast Asia (Encyclopaedia Britannica), where in Malayalam the fruit “orange” is called narakam, northern Iran is (or used to be in my childhood) a very productive citrus bearing area. There is no reason to believe that the fruit orange (narang) would not have emanated from ancient Iran.

Regardless of where the fruit orange grew or whence it came or spread, it is a point of Iranian pride to point once again to yet another case of the Persian in English. The word for the fruit and color “orange,” according to Oxford English Dictionary, ultimately derives from the Persian narang. 

I close this foray into language and meaning with an assignment of sorts as if conducting a class in the subject. Here is the inquiry: In light of the matters discussed in the essays on Anar and this one, is the English word henna of Persian origin? Here is what I believe and if it is sufficiently convincing then the answer for now must be in the affirmative. If there is another point of view, I am all ears.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that henna is from the Arabic, as does the Farsi-Inglisi Haim Dictionary. That said, is henna existentially Arabic or has gone into Arabic from Persian? In Farsi we say hana, sounding it like hava, for air. It is a plant (Egyptian Privet, Lawsonia inermis), whose leaves and shoots are used to make cosmetics or to dye parts of the body reddish orange. In Iran, nails and hair are often dyed with hana. The act of applying hana has varying verb forms -- hana bastan (to bind in hana), hana gozashtan (to apply hana) and hana nahadan (to place hana). All three verbs are Persian and there is no verb-conjugated form of hana.

This indicates to me that the status of hana in Persian is a noun, with the term hanai-i as its sole derivative meaning “color of hana.” Perhaps the earliest, possibly pre-Islamic, use of hana in Persia is evidenced in the ceremony of hana bandan. According to Haim, hana bandan (literally, binding in hana) is the feast on the eve of a wedding-day, celebrated by the groom’s side and it is so called because the bridegroom’s side sends hana for the bride. Among the Persian Jews (who were in Iran long before Islam showed up) the hana bandan is celebrated by the bride’s family.     

Having briefly place hana in the Persian cultural context, here is why I think the word is of Persian origin. The color of hana is similar to that of anar (pomegranate) and narang (narenj, sour orange). Because I have established already that both came from the proto-word anarang (color of rust, anar), I am inclined to postulate that hana too must have contained some reference to “rust.” The Persian word for iron is ahan. This substance would have been known to the early man in its naturally occurring oxidized (rusted) state. If anar meant rust (as I have postulated) then ahan-anar  would have been “iron rust.” From that would have come ahan-anar-rangi the ultimate proto-word for items that were orange, reddish yellow, brownish red in color.

Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences (BA), Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston College Law School (JD). He is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea >>> Features in

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