Afghanistan, Kazakhstan — How many “stans” are there and what does it mean?

Pakistan, the site of so much suffering lately, means “land of the pure” in Urdu and Persian. Part of this meaning is also found in the names Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. What is it?

If you guessed the meaning of the suffix –stan, you’re correct.

The suffix –stan is Persian and Urdu for “place of,” or “where one stands.”  It is found in the names of seven countries: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In most of these titles, the first part of the name refers to an ethnic group that lives in the nation: the Afghans (or Afghanis), the Kyrgyz, etc . . .

There are countless regions within other countries, or toponyms, whose names end in –stan, such as Tatarstan, a republic in central Russia..

The Proto-Indo-European root sta means “stand.” In Russian, stan means “settlement” or “semi-permanent camp,” and in other Slavic languages it means “apartment.” The root is also found in Germanic languages for words meaning “city.”

Incidentally, the name Stanley, or Stan for short, has nothing to do with –stan. Stanley derives from the Old English for “stone field.”

The suffix is not just found in the names of established places. -stan has a rich history of being part of proposed names, fictional names, and forgotten names. Dravidistan is name for a proposed Indian country that would encompass Tamil Nadu and other southern states. Berzerkistan is the invention of “Doonsebury” creator Gary Trudeau. In the comic strip, Berzerkistan is a fiction republic run by a genocidal maniac.

Frangistanis one of the historical -stans. During the Crusades, Muslims of the Middle East called Christians Franks. So, Frangistan was a term that was used to refer to Western Europe, “Land of the Franks.”

We’ve mentioned some of the -stans. How many can you name without looking it up?