Monday, 7 September 2015

Why Many Place Names End with ‘-Stan’

Have you ever wondered why the names of so many countries, cities, and regions end with the suffix ‘-stan’? Well, some of us did. Let me share the findings with you.

There are seven countries in Central and South Asia which names end in ‘stan’: Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It is also common in Caucasus and Russia — areas where significant amounts of Persian culture were spread or adopted. 

Linguistically speaking, the Persian root stan originates from the Indo-Iranian peoples also referred to by scholars as Indo-Iranic peoples who used it to mean place or “place of”. Later, its meaning included ‘land’, ‘nation’, and ‘country’. So ‘-stan’ is a location and place suffix.

In Russian, -stan means ‘settlement’; in other Slavic languages it means
‘state’ or ‘apartment’. The root was then borrowed in English to come up with ‘stand’ ‘state’, ‘stay’ among other words.

Therefore, Afghanistan means ‘homeland’ of the Afghans, or place of the Afghans.

, “Land of the Turkmen”.

, “Land of the pure”.

is the “Land of the Kazakhs” — Kazakh is derived from a Turkic word meaning ‘independent’. 

Tajikistan is the “Land of the Tajiks” — Tajik was used historically by Turks to refer to “non-Turks” who spoke Iranian-related languages.

And so on. 

suffix, however, extends far beyond those seven countries, as it abundantly appears in the names of many sub-national cities and counties. 

Out of the 31 Iranian provinces, there are ones named Golestan
or place of flowers and gardens, Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Lorestan, Sistan and Baluchestan (the latter two represent one province).

In Pakistan, there are Balochistan and Gilgit–Baltistan.

In Russia, there are republics like, Bashkortostan, Dagestan, and Tatarstan.
There are also areas in Iran called: Ardestan, Chamestan, Dashtestan, Khalajastan.

In Afghanistan there is Shahristan; in Kazakhstan there is Turkistan. 

The suffix can be equally found in the names of dozens of regions. Arabistan, Balawaristan, Frangistan, Hindustan, Kurdistan, Pashtunistan, Registan, Tabaristan, and Zabulistan, to name a few.

Interestingly, during my search I came across the word
morostan’, which, through old Arabic movies as well as through family members, I already sort of knew meant a madhouse. So when my mother wants to describe a chaotic and/or noisy place, she would say morostan.

I wondered if it could be related to what we
re discussing here and further researched, in English and Arabic. Apparently the words Morostan or Muristan ( مورستان ) is a variation of Bimaristan ( بیمارستان ), which is a Persian word meaning hospital; with Bimar- from Middle Persian (Pahlavi) of vīmār or vemār, meaning sick’, plus -stan, our famous suffix. So more or less, it originally meant the place of the sick. 

Bimaristan in Bab Qinsreen quarter in the city of Aleppo, Syria  1354

I found out that THE historical morostan/bimaristan hospital of Egypt we often heard of was established by Sultan Al-Mansur Qalawun in 1287. It is located in El-Moez Street in the district of Bayn al-Qasrayn; and is part of The Qalawun Complex, which some of its massive structure still survives in the heart of Cairo to this very day. The complex also included a madrasa and a mausoleum.

Borrowed from Persian to the Arabic language, in the medieval Islamic days the word Bimaristan meant a hospital where the ill were cared for by qualified staff.

Later in contemporary Egypt, for some reason the word Muristan took the place of Bimaristan, despite being exclusively used to refer to a psychiatric hospital a lunatic asylum.

Through Google, I also found that Muristan is a complex of streets and shops in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The site was the location of the first hospital of the Knights Hospitaller.

Finally, in one of the articles I consulted, a commentator humorously mentioned that since now we know that states originated from ‘stan’, then USA was originally the United Stans of America. Well played. 

I hope you enjoyed this historical comparative linguistics lesson as much as I did.


Words With Italian Origin That Are Still Used Today In Egypt

The Real Origin of “It Will Cost You an Arm and a Leg”

How ‘XOXO’ Came To Mean Hugs & Kisses 

Words I Made Up

 Iran As Never Seen Before 

Unusual English Words I learned Later in Life 

Words With No Direct Translation To English 

More Words With No Direct Translation To English  

Terms That Have Resonated With Me

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  1. Morostan is for moral-place. Where you recover your moral.
    What do you say in Sudan and Helwan?
    Sud means south (of Egypt) helw means beautiful... so -an means place not the whole -stan.

    1. Hey there,

      I couldn't find any sources for what you're mentioning here.

      The 1842 etymology of 'Sudan' states that it's from Arabic Bilad-al-sudan, literally "country of the blacks" (originally the stretch of Africa between the Sahara and the equator); from sud, plural of aswad (fem. sauda), 'black'. In earlier use also Soudan, from French.

      As for Helwan, the most plausible theory is that it came from Egyptian hieroglyphs (700 BCE) to differentiate between two areas: 'Memphis' located in the West of the Nile, and 'Ein - An' in the East. In hieroglyphs, '7or' (حر) means 'above', so "7or Ein - An" (حر عين ــ آن) means "above Ein - An", which eventually became Helwan (حلوان).

      If you have any sources, I'd love to check them out.