Uyghur General Khojis (d. 1781), bey of Turfan, who later settled in Beijing; painting by a European Jesuit artist at the Chinese court in 1775[1]

Bey,[a] also spelled as Baig, Bayg, Beigh, Beig, Bek, Baeg or Beg, is a Turkic title for a chieftain, and an honorific title traditionally applied to people with special lineages to the leaders or rulers of variously sized areas in the numerous Turkic kingdoms, emirates, sultanates and empires in Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East, such as the Ottomans, Timurids or the various khanates and emirates in Central Asia and the Eurasian Steppe. The feminine equivalent title was begum. The regions or provinces where "beys" ruled or which they administered were called beylik, roughly meaning "governorate" and/or "region" (the equivalent of county in other parts of Europe). However the exact scope of power handed to the beks (alternative spelling to beys) varied with each country, thus there was no clear-cut system, rigidly applied to all countries defining all the possible power and prestige that came along with the title.

Today, the word is still used formally as a social title for men, similar to the way the titles "sir" and "mister" are used in the English language. Additionally, it is widely used in the naming customs of Central Asia, namely in countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Notably, the ethnic designation of Uzbeks comes from the name of Öz Beg Khan of the Golden Horde, being an example of the usage of this word in personal names and even names of whole ethnic groups. The general rule is that the honorific is used with first names and not with surnames or last names.


The word entered English from Turkish bey,[2] itself derived from Old Turkic beg,[3] which – in the form bäg – has been mentioned as early as in the Orkhon inscriptions (8th century AD) and is usually translated as "tribal leader".[4][5] The actual origin of the word is still disputed, though it is mostly agreed that it was a loan-word,[4] in Old Turkic.[6] This Turkic word is usually considered a borrowing from an Iranian language.[7][5] However, German Turkologist Gerhard Doerfer assessed the derivation from Iranian as superficially attractive but quite uncertain,[5] and pointed out the possibility that the word may be genuinely Turkic.[4] Two principal etymologies have been proposed by scholars:

  1. the Middle Persian title bag (also baγ or βaγ,[5] Old Iranian baga; cf. Sanskrit भग / bhaga) meaning "lord" and "master".[5] Peter Golden derives the word via Sogdian bġy from the same Iranian root.[4][8] All Middle Iranian languages retain forms derived from baga- in the sense "god": Middle Persian bay (plur. bayān, baʾān), Parthian baγ, Bactrian bago, Sogdian βγ-,[5] and were used as honorific titles of kings and other men of high rank in the meaning of "lord".[5][9] The Iranian bāy (through connection with Old Indian noun bhāgá "possessions, lot"[10][5]) gave Turkish word bai (rich), whence Mongol name Bayan (rich).[5][7]
  2. the Chinese title (伯 Mandarin ; its historical pronunciation being pök or pak or perjk, as reconstructed Edwin Pulleyblank), meaning older brother and feudal lord.[4]

It was also used by the Uyghurs, it permitted the Turkic Begs in the Altishahr region to maintain their previous status, and they administered the area for the Qing as officials.[11][12][13][14] High-ranking Begs were allowed to call themselves Begs.[15]

Turkish beys

Lucy Mary Jane Garnett wrote in the 1904 work Turkish Life in Town and Country that "distinguished persons and their sons" as well as "high government officials" could become bey, which was one of two "merely conventional designations as indefinite as our 'Esquire' has come to be [in the United Kingdom]".[16]

The Republican Turkish authorities abolished the title circa the 1930s.[17]

Beys elsewhere

The title bey (Arabic: بيه Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [beː]) was also called beyk or bek (بيك) – from Turkish beyg (بيـگ) – in North Africa, including Egypt.[18][19][20] A bey could maintain a similar office within Arab states that broke away from the High Porte, such as Egypt and Sudan under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, where it was a rank below pasha (maintained in two rank classes after 1922), and a title of courtesy for a pasha's son.

Even much earlier, the virtual sovereign's title in Barbaresque North African 'regency' states was "Bey" (compare Dey). Notably in Tunis,[21] the Husainid Dynasty used a whole series of title and styles including Bey:

Bey was also the title that was awarded by the Sultan of Turkey in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire to Oloye Mohammed Shitta, an African merchant prince of the Yoruba people who served as a senior leader of the Muslim community in the kingdom of Lagos. Subsequently, he and his children became known in Nigeria by the double-barrelled surname Shitta-Bey, a tradition which has survived to the present day through their lineal descendants.

In the Ottoman period, the lords of the semi-autonomous Mani Peninsula used the title of beis (μπέης); for example, Petros Mavromichalis was known as Petrobey.

Other Beys saw their own Beylik promoted to statehood, e.g.:

Bey or a variation has also been used as an aristocratic title in various Turkic states, such as Bäk in the Tatar Khanate of Kazan, in charge of a Beylik called Bäklek. The Uzbek Khanate of Khiva, Emirate of Bukhara and The Khanate of Kokand used the "beks" as local administrations of "bekliks" or provinces. The Balkar princes in the North Caucasus highlands were known as taubiy (taubey), meaning the "mountainous chief".

Sometimes a Bey was a territorial vassal within a khanate, as in each of the three zuzes under the Khan of the Kazakhs.

The variation Beg, Baig or Bai, is still used as a family name or a part of a name in South and Central Asia as well as the Balkans. In Slavic-influenced names, it can be seen in conjunction with the Slavic -ov/-ović/ev suffixes meaning "son of", such as in Bakir and Alija Izetbegović, Abai Kunanbaev.

The title is also used as an honorific by members of the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Moorish Orthodox Church.

'Bey' is also used colloquially in Urdu-speaking parts of India, and its usage is similar to "chap" or "man". When used aggressively, it is an offensive term.

The Hungarian word 'bő' originates from an Old Turkic loanword, cognate with Ottoman 'bey', that used to mean 'clan leader' in Old Hungarian. Later, as an adjective, it acquired the meaning of "rich". Its contemporary meaning is "ample" or "baggy" (when referring to clothing). [22]


  1. ^ Ottoman Turkish: بك, romanizedbeğ, Turkish: bey, Azerbaijani: bəy, Turkmen: beg, Uzbek: бек, Kazakh: би/бек, Kyrgyz: бий/бек, Tatar: бәк, romanized: bäk, Shor: пий/пек, Albanian: beu/bej, Croatian: beg, Serbian: beg, Persian: بیگ, romanizedbeyg/beig, Tajik: бек, Arabic: بيه, بك, romanizedbēh, bek

See also


  1. ^ "北京保利国际拍卖有限公司".
  2. ^ "Bey". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 22 March 2008.
  3. ^ "Bey". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Archived from the original on 8 March 2008. Retrieved 22 March 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Beg". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Baga". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 22 August 2011.
  6. ^ "Bey" in Nişanyan Dictionary
  7. ^ a b Alemko Gluhak (1993), Hrvatski etimološki rječnik, August Cesarec: Zagreb, pp. 123–124
  8. ^ P. Golden, "Turks and Iranians: An historical sketch", in S. Agcagül/V. Karam/L. Johanson/C. Bulut, Turkic-Iranian Contact Areas: Historical and Linguistic Aspects, Harrassowit, 2006, p. 19ff
  9. ^ Daryaee, Touraj (2010), "Ardashir and the Sasanian's Rise to Power" (PDF), Anabasis: Studia Classica et Orientalia, vol. 1, p. 239, archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016, retrieved 24 April 2015
  10. ^ Eilers, Wilhelm (22 August 2011). "Bāḡ". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  11. ^ Rudelson, Justin Jon; Rudelson, Justin Ben-Adam (1997). Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism Along China's Silk Road (illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press. p. 31. ISBN 0231107862. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  12. ^ Clarke, Michael E. (2011). Xinjiang and China's Rise in Central Asia – A History. Taylor & Francis. p. 20. ISBN 978-1136827068. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  13. ^ Millward, James A. (2007). Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0231139243. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  14. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Siu, Helen F.; Sutton, Donald S., eds. (2006). Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China. Studies on China. Vol. 28 (illustrated ed.). University of California Press. p. 121. ISBN 0520230159. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  15. ^ James A. Millward (1998). Beyond the pass: economy, ethnicity, and empire in Qing Central Asia, 1759-1864. Stanford University Press. p. 204. ISBN 0-8047-2933-6. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  16. ^ Garnett, Lucy Mary Jane. Turkish Life in Town and Country. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904. p. 5.
  17. ^ Shaw, Stanford J. and Ezel Kural Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Volume II). Cambridge University Press, 27 May 1977. ISBN 0521291666, 9780521291668. p. 386.
  18. ^ Marcel, Jean Joseph (1837). Vocabulaire français-arabe des dialectes vulgaires africains: d'Alger, de Tunis, de Marok, et d'Égypte (in French). C. Hingray. p. 90. بيك beyk, bey.
  19. ^ Jomard, Edme-François (1826). Description de l'Egypte (in French). C. L. F. Panckoucke. p. 475. Le mot sangiaq est un nom de dignité, synonyme de celui de bey (beyk بيك, ou, suivant l'orthographe de la prononciation turques, beyg بيـگ). Summary: sanjaq-bey ≈ bey = beyk = beyg.
  20. ^ Journal asiatique (in French). 1854. p. 484. Le titre de beg بيـگ (prononcé bey) ou bek بيى, qui, en Barbie est écrit et prononcé bâï بك est proprement un mot turc.
  21. ^ "Private Drawing Room, I, Kasr-el-Said, Tunisia". World Digital Library. 1899. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  22. ^ Tótfalusi, István (2005). "bő". Magyar Etimológiai Szótár. Budapest: Arcanum. Retrieved 2 July 2024.