What’s in a Name? Or -Stan by Your Land

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan have at least one thing in common. They all end with the suffix “-istan.” What does it mean?

Istan is a Persian word that means “land.” Seven countries in the world end with “-istan” or “-stan”: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Similarly, in English, many countries end with the suffix “-land” (England, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, and Ireland, for example).

“Afghanistan” means “land of the Afghans,” Uzbekistan means “land of the Uzbeks,” and Pakistan means “land of the pure.”

Bonus Explainer: Does the city of Istanbul derive its name from the same root? No. Most sources think “Istanbul” comes from the Greek phrase stin poli, meaning “to the city.”

Double Bonus Explainer: What does “Taliban” mean? Talib is a Pashto word that means “religious student.” (Pashto is one of Afghanistan’s two official languages.) Taliban is simply the plural form of Talib.

Next question?

Explainer thanks Monika Shepherd of the Harvard Forum forCentral AsiaStudies.