Sunday, 12 April 2015

Afghanistan City Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. It would seem logical to find any links with English place names to be fewer the further we get from the British Isles, yet this is not always the case.

Kabul is by far the largest city of Afghanistan and indeed the only one with a population in excess of half a million. It stands on, and gets its name from, the River Kabul. While this name has never been defined with any certainty, suggestions it may be related to the Iranian for ‘storehouse’ can be dismissed as the river name is certainly the original. There are similar words from the same language which meaning either ‘red’ or ‘horse’, although just how these relate to the river name is a mystery.

Kendahar was founded in the third century BC as Alexandria Arachosia and named after its founder, Alexander the Great. It shares its name with Kandahar Province of which it is the capital,

Herat is derived from the Hari River, itself Old Iranian for ‘silken water’. This, as with so many rivers in this region, is described as shining or glistening, two adjectives which are invariably regarded as valuable and nothing can be more precious than a good and reliable water supply.

Mazar-i-Sharif has a name meaning ‘the noble shrine’. This refers to the city’s large sanctuary renowned for its resplendent blue tiling also known as the Blue Mosque or Shrine of Hazrat Ali. Some muslims believe it contains the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad.

Kunduz is derived from the Persian kuhan diz meaning ‘the ancient fortress’, although Turkic konak ‘residence, house’ is not beyond possibility.

Jalalabad, originally known as Adinapur, was renamed as recently as the end of the sixteenth century to honour Jalala, son of Pir Roshan who led the fighting against the Mughals.

Sheberghan is thought to have come from Shaporgan or ‘City of Shapor’. Two Sasanian kings named Shapur were associated with the general area but there is no evidence to link the two.

Lashkar Gah is from the Persian tongue and simply refers to the ‘army barracks’ created by the Saffarids in the ninth century and where soldiers were stationed on the route to the winter home of the Ghaznavid nobles.

Note the spellings of the places are generally English as the piece is written in English.

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