I'm having a very hard time finding sources on the history of Kazakhstan's name changes. My query began when I read this quote:

Have you ever wished you could change your name? In 1995, the people of Kazakstan did just that. Their republic used to be known as Kazakhstan. The "h" in Kazakhstan was added by Russians to make the name easier to pronounce in Russian.

Russians had a history of misnaming the Kazaks. When Russians first met the Kazaks, they wanted to avoid confusing them with the Cossacks, a southern Russian ethnic group. So Russians called the Kazaks the Kyrgyz (kihr GEEZ). Finally, they began calling the Kazaks Kazakhs and their country Kazakhstan. When the "h" was dropped in 1995, the Kazaks finally had a name for their country that finally reflected who they really were.

The above quote is from page 138 of Prentice Hall World Explorer: Asia and the Pacific (ISBN 0-13-062987-1)

The only other reference I could find to Kazakhstan changing its name was this one:

Kazakhstan, which has kept cartographers busy over the past few years by changing their name from Kazakhstan to Kazakstan and back again to Kazakhstan...


So the timeline is

  1. Russia introduces an "h" in Kazakhstan at some unknown time during its rule
  2. In 1995 after independence, the Kazakhs remove the "h"
  3. The Kazakhs re-introduce the "h" at some unknown time afterwards.

Are there any good sources that can answer these questions?

  1. Exactly when did each of the 3 name changes occur?
  2. What were the motivations behind each name change?
    • Since the national language is Kazakh and Russian, why does it matter how it is spelled in English?

Even Wikipedia doesn't mention the "Kazakstan" spelling :(. Thanks in advance!

  • You might try this question on the russian lang site, though I agree that we do have an etymology tag here. Apr 2, 2013 at 18:18
  • 2
    @NewAlexandria - this isn't really related to Russian language at all. it has deep and complicated historical origins
    – DVK
    Apr 3, 2013 at 1:57

1 Answer 1


OK, there seems to be 3 distinct namings here, that need to be discussed separately.

  1. First of all, the self-identified name. In Khazakh language, the official name of the country is "Қазақстан Республикасы", with a "k"; and it was always spelled that way.

  2. In English, the correct answer is "it doesn't really matter". English frequently mangles the spelling of foreign names (e.g. Moskva is "Moscow"), and nowhere is it worse than with "k" and "h" combinations.

    If you truly wish to know the "correct" English spelling (and bear in mind that it may differ from native language), you have several source choices, descending in the order of authoritativeness (but they all agree :) :

    • Khazakh's government English website http://en.government.kz/ calls it "Republic of Kazakhstan"

    • Wikipedia redirects from "Kazahstan" to "Kazakhstan"

    • Google maps calls it "Kazakhstan"

    • Google searches: "kazakhstan" 280M hits, "kazahstan" 120M hits; "khazakhstan" 1M.

    • A generally accepted resource in English is AP style guide. I personally put little stock in their opinions on things political, but as far as geography, they call it "Kazakhstan".

  3. In Russian, the spelling DID indeed change historically, and that seems to be the kernel of the historical truth behind your quesion.

    From Russian Wikipedia:

  • Образована первоначально как Киргизская АССР в составе РСФСР 26 августа 1920 года со столицей в Оренбурге;
  • В феврале 1925 года Оренбургская область была выведена из состава Киргизской АССР и передана РСФСР, а столица была перенесена в Кзыл-Орду (1925), потом в Алма-Ату (1929).
  • В результате национально-государственного размежевания Средней Азии в 1924—1925 гг. все казахские земли объединились.
  • Тогда же Киргизская АССР была переименована в Казакскую АССР. .... переименована в апреле 1925 года в Казакскую АССР (обратите внимание — не «КазаХская АССР», а именно «Казакская АССР»).
  • 5 декабря 1936 года Казакской АССР был придан статус союзной республики с названием Казахская Советская Социалистическая Республика.


  • Founded originally as Kirghiz ASSR within the RSFSR, August 26, 1920 [DVK's note: Russians called Khazakhs "Kyrgiz", as early as 1700s, to avoid confusion with "Cossaks"], with its capital in Orenburg.
  • In February 1925 Orenburg region was removed from the Kirghiz SSR and the given to RSFSR, and the capital was moved to Kyzyl-Orda (1925) (then in Alma-Ata in 1929).
  • As a result of the State Division of Central Asia in 1924-1925, all Kazakh lands were united.
  • Then the Kirghiz SSR was renamed the Kazakhs ASSR. Renamed in April 1925 into Kazak ASSR [Wikipedia's note - not "the Kazah SSR", but "Kazak ASSR"].
  • December 5, 1936 Kazas ASSR was given the status of a Union Republic with the name of the Kazah Soviet Socialist Republic.

So, the change from Khazak to Khazah in the name of the republic was 12/05/1936. Based on a date, it was part of passing 1936 Constitution of USSR, during VIII Extraordinary Congress of Soviets of the USSR.

"Kazak Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic" Russian Wiki states that this 1936 rename was to avoid confusion with "Cossacs" (spelled "Kazak" in russian) but there's no supporting documentation linked.

  • Thanks @DVK! It appears as though there is a dire lack of reputable sources on this, especially in English! So what about the change from Kazakstan back to Kazakhstan? If you could expand your answer to include that, it would be greatly appreciated. Also, Is "Kazah" and "Khazah" a typo? Did you mean "Kazak"? If not, where do the spellings "Kazah" and "Khazah" come in? This would be a 4th and 5th spelling which I haven't encountered before.
    – David
    Apr 3, 2013 at 5:58
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    @David - as you can see from my last line, that's simply a confusion between Russian name (that ALWAYS had "h" since 1936, and continues today), and Khazakh language name (which has a "k" and never changed that). What changed was that the state language changed from Russian to Khazakh in 1990s, when the country gained independence.
    – DVK
    Apr 3, 2013 at 7:38
  • As far as English spelling - there's really no right or wrong ones :) Just pick whichever one Google Maps shows if you care about practicality; or whichever one Khazakhstan's government English language sites use if you wish to respect their wishes. I just switch between them randomly, for lack of caring.
    – DVK
    Apr 3, 2013 at 7:39
  • 2
    @David Usually "қ" is transliterated into English "k", and "х" is transliterated into either English "kh" or "ch" or "h". The "k" in "kh" is always silent. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – kubanczyk
    Apr 5, 2013 at 23:04
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    @David in Kazakh latin used before Cyrillic alphabet "kazakh" was written as "qazaq", and "Kazakhstan" as "Qazaqstan" (generally q was used for қ). I believe that changes in English spelling are smaller parts of major changes in spelling of pretty much all of toponyms in Kazakhstan. Actually, "қазақ" sort of matches russian "кхазакх" and english "khazakh", but non of these is a perfect match, so there probably was a decision to stick with more established option Apr 8, 2013 at 4:08

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