37

-stan is a Persian suffix that seems functionally equivalent to the Germanic -land.

Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan are the sovereign -stan states.

Even though -stan is a Persian suffix only Afghanistan and Tajikistan have majority Persian populations.

While Turkic and Indo-Aryan languages do borrow from Persian culture it seems unusual that the names of their countries would be Persianized. The endonym of Kazakhstan includes -stan while the endonym of e.g. Finland doesn't include -land.

So how did these countries end up with -stan names? Also when did these names first appear in writing?

For the -stan countries in the Russian sphere of influence were the -stan names ever mentioned during the Russian Empire?

Did they all appear synchronously?

For Afghanistan I found that the Kingdom of Afghanistan was declared in 1926 and before that they were referred to as the Durrani or Afghan Empire. The Turkic people historically were in Khanates, Khaganates or Hordes.

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    – MCW
    Aug 26 at 14:58
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    I don't have sources right now, but I remember reading the Persian was historically a prestige language in that area.
    – Mike
    Aug 26 at 16:15
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    You also have kodakestan = kindergarten, timarestan = mental institution etc.
    – Jan
    Aug 26 at 19:20
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    Let's not forget Kurdistan, either, even if Turkey doesn't want it to exist as a country.
    – nick012000
    Aug 28 at 11:27
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    In your list of -stan countries you missed one VERY big one: India. They call themselves Hindustan in their own language (English of course call them India)
    – slebetman
    Aug 29 at 3:04
43

The Persian suffix stān is much older than any of the “stans” in modern Central Asia. It goes back to proto-Indo-Iranian as represented by Sanskrit sthāna- “standing place” (already in the Rigveda) and Old Persian stāna- with the same meaning. In early New Persian (texts from the 10th century AD onwards) we have names like Turkistān “land of the Turks”, Čīnistān “China”, Hindūstān “India” and many others. These names are all well known in the Persianate cultures of Central Asia and India, where -stān becomes a productive suffix for forming names of countries, even countries as far distant as Lehistan (the Turkish name for Poland).

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  • What this seems to be leading towards to me is that the name may be "close enough" to what an Indo-Aryan would say to go ahead and use. Persian is from that same branch of Indo-European, after all.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 26 at 17:01
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    There are actually somewhat older examples of that suffix used productively. The Babylonian Talmud (compiled around 500 CE under Sassanid rule) mentions "inner" and "outer" Sakistan (presumably Scythia).
    – Meir
    Aug 26 at 17:04
  • @Meir. Could you give a text reference? I cannot find this passage.
    – fdb
    Aug 27 at 10:53
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    @fdb Yoma 10a.
    – Meir
    Aug 27 at 13:13
  • @Meir. Thank you! Very helpful.
    – fdb
    Aug 27 at 13:57
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No, the terms are not all contemporary. Afghanistan is recorded in the 13th century; some of the others appear to date to the 20th century. Pakistan is 1933, the others probably date from either the Soviet federation or independence in 1991

Also note hat tip to @jamesqf that Balochistan is a -stan predating Pakistan, therefore not all the -stans appeared simultaneously. I can't find a clear date for the first use of the name Balochistan, but it is earlier than Pakistan.

Below I've provided superficial answers to what seemed to be the core of the original question. I'm not clear on the scope of the ancillary questions, but the sources provided should provide a starting point for further research. Note that in several cases it isn't clear whether the term refers to a state (OP specifies a "sovereign state") vs a subordinate political unit or a culture area

Afghanistan

13th century

The earliest mention of the term "Afghanistan" appears in the 13th century in Tarikh nama-i-Herat of Sayf ibn Muhammad ibn Yaqub al-Herawi, mentioning it as a country between Khorasan and Hind, paying tributes to the country of Shamsuddin.[19] Wikipedia:Afghanistan

Kazhakstan

1962

See The So-Called Virgin Lands of Kazakhstan 1962 hat tip to @jan

Kazakhstan was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence during the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Wikipedia:Kazhakstan A more complete treatment can be found in Wikipedia:KazakhSovietSocialistRepublic

hat tip to @default-locale with minor edits "Kazakhstan" was supposedly mentioned in XVI century work by Zainuddin Mahmood Wasifi (source in Russian, (no English translation available)). Both "Kazakhstan" and "Uzbekistan" were widely used in the early XX century. For example, the newspaper was renamed to "Socialistic Qazaqstan" in 1932 and "Uzbekistan" was mentioned in 1928 magazine.

Pakistan

1933

The name of the country was coined in 1933 by Choudhry Rahmat Ali, a Pakistan Movement activist, who published it in a pamphlet Now or Never, using it as an acronym ("thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKISTAN"), and referring to the names of the five northern regions of the British Raj: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan.[26] Wikipedia:Pakistan

Tajikistan

1924

Tajikistan has existed as a state only since the Soviet Union decreed its existence in 1924.StateUniversity.com

Turkmenistan

1956

See Soviet Turkmenistan, a work from 1956 hat tip @jan

The name Turkmenistan is derived from Persian, meaning "land of the Turkmen". Before 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, called the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. mcgill.ca

Uzbekistan

1991

During the Soviet era Uzbekistan was the equivalent of an American state known as the Uzbek Soviet Republic. It became Uzbekistan after independence in 1991. FactsAndDetails

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  • Do you have information on Kazakhstan?
    – user52066
    Aug 26 at 16:04
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    @jamesqf - While I don't argue the point, it isn't clear to me how it responds to OP's question.
    – MCW
    Aug 26 at 16:20
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    Also pretty easy to find "Usbekistan" in early 19th century German sources. I had suspected Kirgyzstan was really quite recent, but "Kirgisistan" can be found from the 1950s on. Note that this is from western languages, these names might have been used even earlier locally..
    – Jan
    Aug 26 at 19:41
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    All these stans originate from the beginning of the USSR, and some from earlier.
    – Ne Mo
    Aug 26 at 21:10
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    I'm slightly perturbed about the fact that Baluchistan does not start with the letter "i"
    – Richard
    Aug 27 at 7:09
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One additional thing to add to the excellent answers already given is that -stan is actually used productively in Persian for other words as well, such as bimarestan (بیمارستان) for “hospital” — literally “land of patients”. Or gulestan (گلستات) for “garden” — literally “land of the flowers.”

So no matter what the historical record shows about the first recorded instance of a particular place name, the fact that it's a productive suffix to begin with suggests that any Persian-speaker (or Persian-influenced speaker) could form these sorts of names on the fly, whenever s/he wanted to.

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    In the Avesta we have already aspō.stāna- “horse place, stable”.
    – fdb
    Aug 27 at 11:04
  • not forgetting Ferengistan! Aug 27 at 12:01
  • @user_1818839 Is that the Persian name for Ferenginar, the home world of Star Trek's Ferengi?
    – Barmar
    Aug 27 at 13:19
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    It refers to Europeans (Franks), [farangi] فرنگی. You're not the first to wonder about a Star Trek connection. :-)
    – adam.baker
    Aug 27 at 14:11
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    For what it's worth, frengi is also the word for syphilis. Probably meaning the "Frankish disease" Aug 27 at 20:18

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