Why do so many countries end with “-stan”?

While trying to sleep perusing Reddit last night, I found a question that I frequently wondered about on the Explain It Like I’m Five subreddit.

“Why do so many countries end with -stan?”

I found the answer pretty intriguing, as I’m a bit of a language/etymology dork.  Do bear in mind this information comes from the internet, but it seems pretty legit to me, being the bit of a language/etymology dork that I am.

In Persian the word “stan” means “land”.  So let’s take Uzbekistan as an example, it would translate to “Land of the Uzbeks” which makes sense because the Uzbeks are a large people group who settled in that area.  Tajikistan similarly translates to “Land of the Tajiks”, etc.

An interesting one is Pakistan, as there is no people group called the Paks.  It turns out it’s an acronym of sorts.  There are regions in Pakistan corresponding to the ancient tribes who settled in the area.  Among them are Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.  Slap all of that together and you get Pakistan!  Also, “pak” in Urdu means “pure” so another meaning of the country’s name could mean “Pure Land”.

But wait, isn’t that similar to Europe?

Actually yes!  Eng-land, Fin-land, Deutsch-land are examples of the same concept.  But the interesting part is looking at what those countries are called in Persian.  England, for example, is called “Engelestan”.


Just a little Thursday morning etymology trivia for everyone!


  1. Pakistan does mean land of the Pure… the province names are just a coincidence

  2. Slight modification to your hypothesis – Sanskrit was the most prevalent language in the Indian subcontinent for over 5000 years – this includes present day Iran on the west end and going all the way to Indonesia on the south eastern end. The Himalaya mountains prevented it to freely spread to China.
    Most ancient scriptures from the those times are in Sanskrit. And BTW, Sanskrit is the first and perhaps the only language and script in the history of mankind that is completely phonetic – which means there is a specific way to write any and every sound we can possibly make. So no silent letters like in english, and no confusing pronunciations like in french.
    Coming back to ‘Stan’ – the original Sanskrit word is ‘Sthaan’ which means place. When used in conjunction with a noun it becomes ‘stan’.
    You are right about Pakistan meaning ‘the pure land’.
    Did you know that when India was divided to make Pakistan – The other portion that is now India, is still known as Hindustan – The place of the Hindu’s. Their language, Hindi, is a direct descendant of Sanskrit.



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