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According to Wikipedia:

Akbar was accorded the epithet "the Great" due to his many accomplishments, among which was his record of unbeaten military campaigns that both established and consolidated Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent.

The cited reference for this claim is Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World by Lal, Ruby (2005). However, all that the linked Google Books excerpt states is:

Mughal histories speak of Akbar the Great and his many accomplishments.

The above sentence is unfortunately unclear and ambiguous.

I would like to know:

  1. When was he accorded his epithet? Did it happen during his lifetime?
  2. What was the actual epithet in Persian?
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given that "Akbar" is Arabic for "the great" most likely his name was something else and the epithet is just an error in translation. – jwenting Oct 8 '13 at 8:56
@jwenting Yes. I'm actually trying to verify where the tautology comes from. – serendip.in Oct 8 '13 at 12:54
as I said, most likely an error in translation. Guy's called Ahmed Akbar (for example), some diplocritter writes a letter home calling him Akbar and saying his people call him "the great" (he'll have heard that from a translator). And the myth of Akbar the Great is born. – jwenting Oct 8 '13 at 17:09

Jalaluddin Muhammad took the name of Akbar(great) when he was crowned king. A new name/title is not uncommon among the Mughals - Salim took the name Jahangir, Aurangazeb became Alamgir(conqueror), Muazzam took the name Bahadur Shah(brave king), Khurram went by Shah Jahan. Where do the names come from? They just picked whatever name they wanted would be my best bet.

Could not add this as a comment, hence the answer. It would be great to see better explanations to this one.

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