Archive for Other things of interest

Thinking outside the box: just another glorious day

Sam is the main character of the ebook ‘Another Glorious Day’. released from the confines of that text Sam is free to be “the man from the box” and to write a blog in that role. That blog has been turned into diary form, wtih dates removed and posts put in sequential order. Sam’s diary can be read here:  Man from the Box.

Where is it all getting to: Next Steps

Earlier posts outlined some of the features of a flourishing organisation, and ways that agencies may need to think differently if they are to make progress. These arose from thinking about cities. They can equally be used as a framework for reflecting on any set of activities – and here are being used to assess where my own work (captured on this website) might be going.

This has highlighted some of the things that I will need to emphasise more over the next three years. These include:

  • Being able to clearly articulate why I wish to occupy myself in this way; the purposes behind what is being done; with sufficient presence confidence/ self-determination whilst still being tentative/ modest.
  • Responding to current concerns and interests without slipping into populist reactionism; still being at least a little bit different in what is being undertaken; having more challenge to the aspirations, pushing myself in what I am comfortable doing.
  • Reflecting on what is being done, without endless internal activity that is of little value to anyone else
  • Being more active in engaging with others (authentically rather than simply clocking up more and more links/ likes/ followings); countering it being a solitary undertaking; looking for more things that might require collaboration with others.
  • Actively promoting content/writing, and asserting myself as author, without unnecessarily heavy self-promotion
  • Maintaining an approach that is based on puzzling, wondering, being curious for its own sake; as well as aiming to produce stuff that could be of value/use to others.
  • Covering costs without being a money-driven set of activities; with most things being freely available to anyone; things done voluntarily.

That’s it: I have my list of commitments that I have already signed-up to, and this sense of next-step directions to follow. Time to get on with it all.


Gallery: a personal approach taken to photography

The pictures that will show in the gallery space, changing slowly from time to time, were taken across a long period of time starting in the early 1970s. Those from the forty years to 2011 were all taken on film. At least half were taken using a fixed 50mm lens camera, which led to the development of an approach where the photography involved a direct contact with the subject matter – up close even if not personal (Very few are of people).

That was not the age of taking multiple shots and selecting the best one; nor a time of firing off some nearly-right shots and editing them later. There was no in-store do-it-yourself cropping; no same-day reprinting. Those early shots were taken in the awareness that there was a maximum of 36 shots on the film, the film was then processed by sending it off in an envelope and waiting a couple of tense weeks for the prints or slides to arrive back in the post, hoping that there were no wasted exposures. The feeling was that each shot had to be right first time. Composition was paramount; exposure was critical; depth of focus was vital.

The same discipline was applied after I upgraded to a single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses that covered the range from macro close-up to telephoto shots of distant objects.

Out of more than a thousand shots no more than six were given any post-development treatment (and these were unwanted slides that were then deliberately distressed manually). Although the original negatives and slides have been digitised for inclusion on this website, this has been done on an ‘as was’ basis ie with no onscreen manipulation, no use of photoshop or other software, no messing with the original.

Photographs from 2011 onwards have tended to be digital but the original approach has remained with me – getting the shot right in the first place; no later manipulation other than some very minor cropping around the edges; and so on. I still feel that my photography needs to involve a close contact with whatever subject matter catches my eye.

Pictures included in the Gallery are simply ones from personal choice. They often connect across to other themes on this website – or might simply be some aspect of my own preferences at that time.

What’s the big idea?

The thinking behind the structure and development of this site comes from a number of sources. At the personal level it is a key component of a planned transition, over a five year period, from being a full-time salaried employee to being a fully-occupied retired person with motivations, interests and a valid set of contributions still to make. The first year, 2011, saw me leaving behind forty-four years of working to try to make things better for adults and children through planning, developments, initiatives etc in Birmingham, England. My work had always carried titles such as director or manager – of planning/ development/ learning, and so on. This was so much part of my personality (or became so through practice) that any future activity would still have me strongly directing myself, still looking at developments and new ways of doing things/seeing things, through a framework that balances planning with flexibility, and still have a strong emphasis on learning/finding out/exploring.

Above all, any developments would be ones where I continued to feel excited by following a number of existing interests: writing for a range of purposes; thinking about contemporary art and creativity; an interest in photography; a background in social research and evaluation; puzzling over ideas concerning the nature of evidence and progress, notions of complexity and emergence; a long-standing interest in the possibilities of different ways of making situations so interesting that learning gets automatically pulled in to extend them; a desire to better understand marketing and production of creative content; a recognition that all of this is possible from home, from coffee shops, on trains; that there was a great deal for me to still understand about the social value of digital communications; and so much more ….

As one part of previous activity I managed a website that was used for promoting writing and developments,  2011 was to be a year for reshaping that website, building up more content, thinking about what might be of real interest to others, and beginning to consider how best to tell others that any content existed.

The starting point for much of the thinking was that the website-building could follow these same processes ie would shape itself over time (rather than be fully structured from the start), that some ideas would grow whilst others might fade away, that the site would have sufficient openness and linkages to allow vague ideas to be followed up, to allow for a sense of enjoyment (rather than being a chore, with deadlines and endless maintenance), and that along the way there would be so many things for me to learn about. At the same time there would be an overall framework (from the things listed in the earlier paragraph) and there could be commitments made via the site that I would then feel obliged to try my best to fulfil. In these ways I would be managing a website that itself would be managing how I spent my time. I would be structuring the development of something that, at the same time, was structuring my own development.

The approach offers a light-touch mechanism to think about writing, research, creativity and artistry in broad terms. This isn’t set out in advance. There is no linear chart of the way things will unfold. There is a sense that any thinking may end up being somewhat paradoxical; emerging as it goes along in a self-organising way. So, the thinking and the developments will not be rigidly ordered but neither will they be disorganised. Any particular paths taken will not be heavily structured but neither will they be chaotic. The whole enterprise carries an aspect of being a bit risky and unpredictable, but hopefully won’t end up becoming unstable and out-of-control. It may be messy, branching, tentative, amendable, feeling incomplete and even contradictory; yet have some sense of direction, a sense of purpose and an identifiable overall tone.

At the end of 2011 the framework for taking all of this forward is largely in place in a way that is open enough to allow further development activities to arise. 2012 would be a year to press ahead with things without it all becoming burdensome or boring for any of those involved. After each six month period there might be a review of where it has all got to, and where it might still be heading: the journey so far and the paths open to roam along. After two or three more years I will certain know whether it has been of any value to anyone, whether it is worth continuing with; and I fully expect that by the end of the 2015 it might all be taking on a different shape. We will just have to wait and see.

Given the way that the contents of this site are likely to change and emerge over time, there is hopefully a deliberate feeling of contingency and possibility rather than the main purpose being to work up a range of products to sell or information to promote. Part of the enjoyment is in working through all of this and ending up with a narrative that seems sufficiently credible. It is, in itself, a story in the making – even if initially, at least, it starts as a tale I tell myself.

Birmingham already has a long and varied history of supporting development of ideas at many levels, within the city. There is a similar long history of creativity and socially-focused thinking. This activity, under the banner of The Word’s the Thing, is one small piece of this much larger jigsaw of activity. Its main aim is to produce a range of texts and images and make them openly available to a wide audience, within Birmingham and beyond.

All the development activities will be undertaken in good faith. Although, ultimately, any claims to ownership will remain jointly with Birmingham Core Skills Development Partnership and Forward Thinking Developments Limited any developments will be shared openly for non-commercial uses, trusting that others will acknowledge the source. The outcomes of any activities are meant to be used in a wide variety of appropriate ways. The hope is that a range of people will enjoy it, discover something to think/talk about, and want to share it with others in order to stimulate some broader thinking about language, ideas and developments.

That is all very well but if that is as far as it goes then it is still a relatively small idea, a modest enterprise.

In a world where so much communication is characterised by strident voices, by slick soundbites, by self-promotion and general lack of sensitivity, by a focus on celebrity status and possession of commodities -whatever gets undertaken should have some potential to go beyond that and to demonstrate that there is a place for collaborating to meet the needs of others, for honesty and integrity, for things done for fun and with enthusiasm without being too frivolous, for a degree of modesty and humility, for opening up the complexities of debates and not closing them down to over-simplifications, and for trying to push regular thinking a bit sideways to see what happens.

Things are still at an early stage and may never get that far but much of what is already emerging is about people, about relationships, about things interacting, and about society. This gives some potential for being of value.

Some things are already beginning to take a certain shape. Without everything necessarily being predetermined, the approach being taken means that whatever is attempted will take on a particular feel. It is unlikely (for example) that the developments will have much in the way of action gaming, or links to humorous video clips. Not that these are ruled out, it is just that there are more likely to be chunks of text. That is the medium I am comfortable with at the moment. What matters more is what is done with that raw material. There may seem to be an over-intellectual drive behind some of the emerging developments rather than attempts to engage with the current political and economic difficulties faced by so many people. It could be seen as a distraction from real-life issues; as playing with ideas rather than dealing in realities. I can only paraphrase that there may be nothing so practical as a well-thought-through idea when realities are often constructed by the ways they are described. Whatever gets done is certainly intended to avoid deliberately making things dense, impenetrable or exclusive. Nor does it mean that various real-life activities are not being engaged with in other ways.

This is a new (and non-commercial) enterprise and, when setting out on any commercial enterprise, people are often advised to think in terms of a target audience or a niche market. Certainly there are people I have in mind: people who might be interested in what is being developed. These are people who may be willing to stop and stare, to linger over things, to consider and to puzzle. There are others who may choose to dip in, collect a few fragments and hop off again, making their own linkages and connections. There are likely to be others who come, look and leave; hopefully not too disappointed and hopefully willing to revisit from time to time.

So, whilst there is a strong desire to have a range of people visit and take up things, this is unlikely to be thought of as driving customers to the site. Invitation, choice and uncertainty are more valued than any desire to force people in a certain direction. There probably won’t be the construction of a large database of people to be bombarded with offers; but there will be the invitation to sign up to getting occasional updates on how things are going.

When I hold such people in mind it is more in the sense of friends, visitors, potential allies etc. I do not have them in mind as clients or customers. The openness should encourage links to the work of others. There are already signs of ideas from here sparking off thinking elsewhere. There is the potential for things to go way beyond a simple ‘one person staying busy’ set of activities. This begins to edge things nearer the potential for stretching towards a bigger idea. I have committed a proportion of my energies, over the next few years to 2015, to explore where any of this might get to.


Adventures with some Stans

The whole ‘Stan’ thing came up a few years ago when, just out of some vague curiosity, I asked the people I was with about countries and their place on the globe. Most people (who were all from Western Europe) could immediately identify North America, although too many of them upset the one Canadian present by seeing Canada as part of the USA. All could fill in several of the countries around the edge of Africa and draw a big circle in the middle saying ‘I think that’s the Congo or somewhere’ or ‘That is probably somewhere like Zambia’.

European countries were relatively easy for most people to name, except for the bits that had fallen out of the former Yugoslavia. People could put in the larger bits of the jigsaw like India, China and Russia but were then left baffled by the big hole left in the middle. Even when I gave them the countries’ names they didn’t know which went where or how big they were relative to each other. It was like a black hole. There was little known about them at all beyond some basic facts about Pakistan and, to a lesser degree, about Afghanistan.

In that sense, to people in the western world (and all such categorisations have their own difficulties) there are other countries that are relative unknowns: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan: and those are just the formal country ones. There are many other regions that spread themselves across the straight lines of empire. The politics and history of those countries and regions are fascinating to those who want to be fascinated by it all. To others, I suppose it’s nothing more than strange names of no great consequence, but then they maybe haven’t read their history. The Great Game and all of that: Russians and British competing for the attentions of the leaders in those parts. Diplomacy, spying, intrigue and subterfuge galore.

The Central Asian republics are gaining ground again as countries of great interest as places with reserves of natural resources, as places in strategic positions in the shifting geopolitics of an emerging new world, and as places that lie at the intersections of north and south/ east and west.

In parallel to that line of thinking was a similar question to groups of people I knew: How many famous people do you know who were called Stan(ley)? Each time the same few names came quickly … but the list soon ran dry. Famous Stans were in short supply. It became a bit of an obsession to track them down, to list them, and to see how much could be found out about them.

The creative jump was then to imagine a group of Stans (ie people called Stanley), real or from books or films, gathered as a tour-group to go on an imaginary visit to the Stans (ie those Central Asian regions and countries whose names ended in -stan). Readers are invited to come up with their own collection of Stanleys and imagine what they might do on a fictional virtual trip round those fascinating countries.

At some point in the future I may write my own version and put it here in case it is of interest to others. Meanwhile, it stays as an interesting line of thought.

Prospectus for First Great Imagined Tour of the Stans

We have in mind a potential series of imaginary tours of people called Stan(ley) to countries whose names end in -stan.

Representatives (Caricatures, if you prefer) have been nominated to take part in our First Great Imagined Tour of the Stans. This tour is proposed as a stretch of the imagination, a thought experiment, a virtual bit of fiction. It is based on an interpretation of what might be possible when several people (probably a group of six), all with the name of Stanley are brought together from their different contexts to undertake a virtual adventure in the Stans.


Will there be flies? Swarms of them

Will there be extremes of weather? From baking to freezing; from desert to deluge

Will there be adventures? Most assuredly

Will there be servants? Yes and No. Undertaking such a tour will rely on local guides, taxi drivers etc but these are less servants more equal adventurers.

Will women be allowed in the group? Clearly so, as some of the world’s most intrepid adventurers have been women, Obviously they will need to comply with the basic criteria for this tour ie will need to be called Stanley.

Will the participants be real people? In the real world there are people with the names of the people selected for this tour, with their own histories and characteristics. In real life it would be almost impossible for them to have even met, never mind go on a tour together. The six people to be taken on the imaginary tour are not these real people but are representations of what such people might be in some parallel universe. Beyond the name and some basic facts of biography there is no intended similarity between the real and imagined Stanleys. The adventures are absolutely fictitious. (This is a fine line to write around but it is clearly stated at the outset that there is no malice or praise of any kind intended towards the people who have/had a reality in the current world)

Will there be a report of the trip? Yes. The trip is expected to cover around thirty imaginary days. At the end of this stretch of time, once the characters have exhausted themselves they will be retired and a full report written.

Actual travels, in history, through the -stans

There is a Central Asian area made up of several countries whose names end in -stan. In the minds of ordinary residents of places such as Britain the naming of places in this part of the map is less familiar than for the surrounding areas of China, Russia, and the subcontinent of India/Pakistan/Bangladesh. It hasn’t, for them, had a presence as a unity in itself. Why might that be? The central set of countries has, throughout history, been subject to the comings and goings of various empires and conquerors. This has left behind a somewhat fragmented view of boundaries and areas, with smaller areas lost under the greater banners of Empires and Republics.

To many in the western world these parts of Asia may have seemed too distant, too remote, too different (and, to some, even too unimportant seeming) to worry about what they might be called. From a western perspective it has the feel of being a lost region.

At the same time the area had, for much of recorded history, been the main artery for trade between East and West and between North and South. It was an area that spanned a major part of the Silk Road. It contained the established routes that any traveller would take. It carried the materials, the stories, the inventions, the rumours and deceits, and the ceremonies and joys from land to land.

There are a number of well-established commercial companies that organise specific tours from the UK to Uzbekistan (because of the attraction of its heritage sites) and other places. There are also clearly visits of large numbers of UK citizens to Pakistan because of the shared populations and histories. More locally, in the -stans, there are agencies that will arrange trips throughout Turkestan, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, etc. Even today, travel across parts of the region is not simple. Some parts are considered too dangerous for independent travellers to journey into.

There are, however, various accounts of journeys across those regions. What follows is a small, and somewhat arbitrary, set of suggestions for further reading:

On Horseback Through Asia Minor – Frederick Burnaby

In the winter of 1876 Captain Frederick Burnaby rode a thousand miles from Constantinople/Istambul to explore what the situation was as war was about to break out between Russia and Turkey. With his servant, he spent five months riding across winter landscape before riding the thousand miles back for a ship home to England to write a best-seller. He had already published ‘A ride to Khiva’; was claimed to be the strongest man in the British Army at the time, able to carry a small pony under each arm; he had a 47 inch chest; he was fluent in a number of languages and wrote in an exciting style. (By one of those quirks of serendipity if I look out of the window of the place where this article is being written I see, in the nearby cathedral grounds in Birmingham, an obelisk memorial to Burnaby with ‘Khiva’ inscribed on one side and the man’s face looking back at me.)

More recent accounts (at the time of writing this) are:

Extremes along the Silk Road – Nick Middleton

A description that connects with the history and geography of the area (and which also describes travels in China, Tibet and Mongolia), describing the Silk Road not as one superhighway but as a network of connecting overland routes built up over time.

Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron

Over eight months this modern traveller used a variety of modes of transport to cover more than seven thousand miles from China, across central Asia, across to Turkey. This describes the events that occur on the trip, the scenery and people encountered , and how the ancient world is adapting to modern changes.

A carpet ride to Khiva – Christopher Aslan Alexander

The author travelled to Khiva, in Uzbekistan, as part of writing a guidebook but ended up staying to establish and run a carpet-making business with local residents. He lived there for seven years – long enough to be able to capture everyday life in detail, with all the contradictions and absurdities that can characterise many places.

There are many, many more for those who want to follow actual travels across the -stans.

Famous People Called Stanley (or Stan)

Famous Stanleys (or organisations linked to the same name) – What are the chances of there having been lots of famous Stanleys in the world throughout history?

Looking quickly down lists of famous people it is quite hard to spot anyone called Stanley. There appear to have been no Pope Stanley, no King Stanley in the UK, no Stanley as president of USA, no French or Italian ruler called Stanley, no Russian Tsar or other leader called Stanley, no Holy Roman Emperor called Stanley. In the UK there was only one Prime Minister with the first name Stanley. This was Stanley Baldwin (although he did be prime minister three separate times). Similarly, going down the list of individual world sporting champions the Stanleys of this world are noticeably almost totally absent.

When asked to name some well-known person called Stanley our (admittedly rather idiosyncratic) UK-based sample of people tended to come up with names from popular culture. This may be a feature of a celebrity-obsessed society or it may be that people called Stanley tended not to be born into the elites that became rulers of one kind or another. Maybe Stanleys tend more to be creative/artistic types not given to world domination. Again, it may be a time thing: Stanley maybe was not a name that was around throughout much of the recorded history of the rich and famous – only becoming popular in the era of mass cultures. Any list of famous Stanleys is likely to be mainly a Western European thing if Stanley is not a name that has been transposed across many nations over time, and there are likely to be differences between the list produced by our UK respondents and a similar list that would be the result of asking the same question in the USA (with the latter containing names of hockey/baseball stars rather than soccer stars – names such as Stan ‘The Man’ Musial, baseball star).

In Britain the most common names given as famous Stanleys were:

(in no specific order)

Stanley Holloway – Stanley Augustus Holloway OBE (1890-1982) was a stage and film performer, a comedian, a poet and singer, but probably best known for his comic monologues eg Albert Ramsbottom. He played Dr Doolittle in the 1964 film version of My Fair Lady and was in the film Brief Encounter. He made films for the Ealing studio including The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt.

Stanley Matthews – Sir Stanley;1915-2000; English footballer. He was regarded as one of the greatest wingers of all time. His nickname was ‘the Wizard of Dribble’. He played for England in 54 international games. He was one of the oldest players at the end of his career. He spent long periods of time playing for Stoke and then for Blackpool (including a famous Cup Final).

Stanley Baldwin – (1867-1947); He was First Earl Baldwin of Bewdley and was Conservative prime minister three times (1923-24; 1924-29; 1935-37). He dominated British politics between the two world wars.

Stanley Kubrick – 1928-1999; American movie director and producer. His films include ‘Dr Strangelove’, ‘Clockwork Orange’ , ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, and ‘The Shining’.

Stan Laurel – (1890-1965) He was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson, in Ulverston Lancashire England. He was a stage performer, an understudy to Charlie Chaplin. He became part of the Laurel and Hardy pair of actors and film stars.

Stanley Baxter – Scottish comedian and impressionist, born 1926 in Glasgow. He developed his acting skills as part of his National Service in the army.

Stanley Spencer – Sir Stanley; 1891-1959; English painter. Best known for his series of religious paintings.

Stanley Milgram – His psychological research was in areas such as Obedience, social attitudes etc

– most people don’t get this far, running out after only 3 or 4 names.

They might have added:

Stan Getz (jazz musician)

Stan Boardman (stand-up comedian)

Stanley W Hayter (surrealist/abstract painter).

Stan Mortensen (footballer)

Stanley Gibbons (producer of stamp/philately reference books)

Stanley Black (musician)

The list doesn’t seem to be very many given the number of people who have existed in the world. Maybe Stanley has been a rarity as a name or a very recent adoption as a name?

One version of the origins of the name indicate that it is Old English. Stan (=stone) + lea (=clearing/meadow); so having its origins as a place-related name (the person living at the stony meadow). From the place name it became handed down as a surname (as was the case with so many names).

The peak of its usage as a first name was around 1916 but even then it was the name of only 0.6% of boys, giving it a ranking of 34th most popular name. Since that peak the use of the name has steadily declined (with a smaller peak around the 1950s) until today when it scarcely records on the chart. One explanation for the lack of famous Stanleys may simply be that there were not, proportionally at least, many Stanleys at all. There are some accounts of Stanley making a very small resurgence lately; with a doubling of UK boys with that name between 2004 and 2013 (but still at less than 1000 in total in the best year).

Stanley may not be one of the commonest names but it is still up there on the list (and certainly was relatively popular around the 1900-1950 period). It has broad UK geographical coverage ie is not a very local-specific name. It has also been around for a long time. There should have been a reasonable chance of there having been a few more Stanleys making it into the reference books. Still, they did not shine through. That being so it feels that each example is somehow special enough to be worth finding out more about.

When the criteria are loosened away from simply real people’s first names more options spring to people’s mind:

  • Stanley – the explorer who ‘found’ Livingstone ie Henry Morton Stanley
  • Stanley Kowalski (character in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, played by Marlon Brando in the film)
  • Norman Stanley Fletcher – character in TV comedy series ‘Porridge’
  • Stanley Yelnats – the character in the book ‘Holes’
  • Flat Stanley – a paper cut-out shape that travels to places
  • Erle Stanley Gardner – a writer
  • New Stanley Hotel – a famous meeting place in Nairobi
  • Stanley tools – especially the Stanley Knife (a box/carpet knife)
  • Stanley – a part of Hong Kong
  • Accrington Stanley – a football club
  • The Stanley Cup – Canadian/North American Ice Hockey trophy
  • Lord Stanley – Earl of Derby; several of these each famous for different things
  • Stanley Park – a recreational area in the seaside resort of Blackpool; a park in Liverpool
  • Stanley Park – a natural recreational area in Vancouver
  • Port Stanley – capital of the Falkland Islands
  • Stanley Falls – in Africa
  • Paul Stanley (stage name of Stanley Harvey Eisen, rock guitarist in group ‘Kiss’)
  • Morgan Stanley (bank)
  • Various places called Stanley in Derbyshire, Durham and Gloucester
  • Stanley Road (musical album – by Paul Weller)
  • Stanley Bagshaw – children’s book character
  • Stanley Morrison – writer of ‘A tally of Types’, about printing typefaces

As a surname it is one of the oldest and noblest of English surnames via the Stanley family, Earls of Derby, who can be traced back to a companion of William the Conqueror. The family’s fortune was established as early as 1400. It is from the branches of this family that some of the references in the lists above arose as they took up positions of power and influence in England and around the colonies. The most well-known is Thomas, supporter of Henry Tudor and downfall of Edward at Battle of Bosworth, with a bit of a treacherous streak.

There are undoubtedly others, with varying degrees of fame. The most exciting ones I have come across are that the spy Kim Philby had the cryptoname of ‘Stanley’; and that President Obama’s mother was called Stanley Ann Dunham and was known as Stanley through her schooldays.

At the start of this little imaginary ramble, who would have thought that we might end up connecting Kim Philby with Obama’s mother – Intriguing where a group of Stanleys can lead you …. 

Countries Ending in Stan

Countries (and other places/references) that end in -stan: Some listings; some linguistics; and a map

Linguistic context

The suffix -stan is an anglicised version of the Persian for ‘-place of’. It is connected linguistically to the Pashto -tun and to -sthna in Indo-Aryan languages. These derive from Proto-Indo-Iranian-European roots based on ‘st’ meaning ‘to stand; where one stands’. Its widespread use may be a result of commonly developing languages of various communities of nomadic people across central Asian areas over time.

The same root is also the source of the Latin ‘stare’ (to stand) and from there to English words such as stand, state and status. Other derivatives are the Russian word ctah (stan) referring to settlements/camps of semi-nomadic people of Central Asia; some Slavic languages where stan originally meant ‘settlement’ but more recently has come to mean ‘apartment’ ; various Germanic languages where the root can be found in Stand and Stadt (German), stad (Dutch/Scandinavian), Stan (Polish) and stead (English; as in ‘homestead’).

The -stan suffix often simply meant ‘land of the ..’. So Uzbekistan = land of the Uzbecki people; Afghanistan = land of the Afghani people; and so on. Pakistan does not follow this construction. The name Pakistan is not derived as the land of some (historical) ‘Paki’ people but means Land of the Pure. The difference is because Pakistan is a new, and invented, name to describe a politically-defined area and not a historical word for the traditional homelands of a single long-established cultural/ethnic group of people.

In a number of languages the -stan ending is also used more generally within everyday words: as in the Urdu rigestan (a place of sand ie desert), as in golestan (a place of roses ie rose garden); as in qabristan, (a place of graves ie cemetery or graveyard); and as in the Hindi/Sanskrit devasthan (place of devas ie temple).

Countries whose names end in -stan

In English we have several most obviously-recognised countries whose names end in -stan. These include:

Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

The same linguistic root also shows through in the names for different countries in other languages. For example Arabestan (Persian for Saudi Arabia), Armanestan (Persian for Armenia), Bulgaristan (Turkish for Bulgaria), Chinastan (Armenian for China), Ermenistan (Turkish for Armenia), Hunastan (Armenian for Greece), Hayastan ( Armenia in Armenian), Gurjistan (Georgia in Persian and Turkish), Lehastan/ Lehestan (Armenian and Persian for Poland; and the older Ottoman use referring to the Polish empire ; derived from name of ancient Lech tribes), Macaristan (Hungary in Turkish), Parsqastan (Iran in Armenian), Rusastan (Armenian for Russia), Vrastan (Armenian for Greece) and?? Yunanistan (Turkish for Greece), Engelestan (Persian for England). Hirvatistan (the Turkish name for Croatia) and Srbistan (the Turkish name for Serbia).

These are far from fixed names. There are older usages that have become obsolete. Language is an evolving thing and this is as true of names of places as for other changes in language usage.

Some regions are regarded as independent by some groups but not by others. What counts as a country can be a complicated question. For a good summary the reader is referred to the Economist article ‘In quite a state: How many countries in the world?’ ( This describes how on one set of criteria a place may be included as a country on some lists yet be excluded on other lists (because not officially recognised by the owners of that list). Many of the regions whose names end in -stan are in areas that are diverse and multi-ethnic with boundaries that are the result of historical events. The boundaries, name, or existence of some -stans may therefore be matters for disagreements. Even for disputed territories, however, the linguistics can still apply: Chechenestan is the Persian and Turkish name for Chechenya. South Ossetia is another self-proclaimed state which has varying degrees of formal recognition. Iriston/Iristan (from aryi+stan) is a self-proclaimed name of Ossetia.

Regions/ towns whose names end in -stan (an extensive but probably incomplete list including some descriptions that might be disputed by groups seeking independence of / or opposed to independence from certain historical arrangements)

Arabistan – refers to Arabian peninsular lands in Middle East; was also historically used in some reports to refer to Khuzestan

Ardestan – a town, founded in ancient Sassanian times, in Isfahan Province, Iran.

Avaristan – the Avari name for homeland in Western Dagestan (fromC12th to C19th).

Baharestan – is an area in downtown Tehran where the Iranian Parliament is located.

Balawaristan – (balawar = highlander); another name for northern Pakistani Kashmir; alternative name for Gilgit- Baltistan).

Balochistan/ Baluchistan – regions in Iran, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

Baltistan – a mountainous northern region in Kashmir Pakistan; alternatively a slang reference to an area of a midland city where there are many Balti restaurants

Bantustan – used to refer to Apartheid-era South African black ‘homeland’ areas.

Bargustan/Borgustan – an area to the north of modern Kislovodsk, Russia.

Bashkortostan (Bashkiria) – a constituent republic of Russia.

Baloristan (Gilgit-Chitral) – the name of a region of Pakistani Kashmir.

Cholistan Desert – a desert region in Punjab, Pakistan.

Dagestan – (literally “place of mountains”) an ethnically-diverse, North Caucasian, constituent republic of the Russian Federation.

Dardistan – ‘area inhabited by the Dards’; is a region spreading over northern Pakistan, Indian Punjab and North Eastern Afghanistan.

Dashtestan – a region in Bushehr Province, Iran.

East Pakistan (or Bangalistan / Bangistan – refers to the historic name for pre-independence Bangladesh).

Frangistan/ Frengistan/ Frankistan – a central Asian term used to refer to Western Europe in general (Based on Europeans being known as Franks).

Gulistan/Golestan – a province in northern Iran and a city in Uzbekistan.

Hazarastan/ Hazaristan – the homeland of the Hazara people in central highlands of Afghanistan.

Hindustan – (land of the Indus/ Hindus). Coined by the ancient Persians. Also used by the British ruling in the former British India when generally talking about South Asia. Now primarily refers Republic of India.

Hunistan – ‘kingdom of the Huns’; in Semnon Province, Iran.

Kabulistan – (The Kabul land). An old term used in many historical books and old Persian literature books for an area around Kabul, larger region than today’s Kabul Province.

Kafiristan – (‘land of the infidels’). An historic region in Afghanistan until 1896, now known as Nuristan. A similarly named region exists in north Pakistan.

Karakalpakstan – an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan.

Khuzestan – a province of south-western Iran.

Kohistan – there are several districts with this name in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Tajikistan and in Iran.

Kurdistan – a Kurdish region spanning Eastern Turkey, Northern Iraq, North western Iran and Northern Syria.

Lazistan – a name for a region in the Caucasus; home of the Lazuri speaking people. Has been part of a series of occupations and empires. In 1922 the area was split between the then Soviet Union and Turkey.

Lorestan/ Luristan/ Larestan – a province of Iran.

Moghulistan (Mughalistan) – an historical geographic unit in Central Asia that included parts of modern-day Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Xinjiang.

Nuristan Province – Afghanistan; formerly was an area that was known as Kafiristan (land of the infidels) but changed its name to Nuristan (land of light) when area converted to Islam.

Pashtunistan or Pakhtunistan or Pathanistan – what many Pashtun nationalists call the Pashtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Registan – (meaning “place of sand”) a UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Samarkand, Uzbekistan. This large open space was a public gathering area between three madrassas.

Sakastan – historically, a region of Afghanistan/ Pakistan where the Scythians or Sakas lived in the 2nd century BC.

Sarvestan – a town in Fars Province, Iran.

Seistan or Sistan – a border province between North Eastern Iran and South Western Afghanistan.

Tabaristan – an historical region along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea.

Takestan/ Takistan – a town in Qazvin Province, Iran.

Talyshistan – an ethnolinguistic region in the SE Caucasus and NW Iran.

Tangestan – a region in Bushehr Province, Iran.

Tatarstan – a constituent republic in the Volga District of the Russian Federation.

Tocharistan, Tukharistan or Tokharistan, also known as Balkh or Bactria – the ancient name of a historical region in Central Asia, located between the range of the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya (Oxus).

Turkistan/Turkestan – an ethnolinguistic region encompassing Central Asia, northwest China, parts of the Caucasus and Asia Minor; Russian Turkestan refers to that portion of Turkestan that was in the Russian Empire, later becoming Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. There are also Afghan Turkistan and Chinese Turkistan 9Xinjang area). The city of Turkestan is in present-day Kazakhstan.

Waziristan (North and South) – semi-autonomous regions of northwest Pakistan.

Zabulistan – an historical region in the border area of today’s Iran and Afghanistan, around the city Zabol.

Zanjistan, or Zenjistan – a term used in medieval texts to refer to the homeland of the Zanj, ie black slaves of East African origin, ie area around Zanzibar.

There well be many others, of varying sizes. 

Proposed/disputed names ending in -stan (These names are far less accepted/formalised than the ones in the list above – so may be even more contentious; and, again, is a far from complete list)

Uyghurstan/East Turkestan – a region dominated by the Turkic Uyghur people, located in the north-west of the People’s Republic Of China. Proposed ethnic name for Xinjiang, People???s Republic of China

Nuristan – a proposed name for North West Frontier Province, Pakistan

Khalistan or Sikhistan – a proposed country created from areas within India with a Sikh majority. A secession movement seeking to create a separate Sikh state (including land in Punjabi speaking India and in Pakistan) unsuccessfully declared independence in 1986

Maronistan – a proposed name for Maronite state in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War.

Saraikistan – a proposed region in southern Punjab province of Pakistan

Zazaistan – a proposed independent area where Zaza is the language of groups of people who regard themselves neither as Kurds nor as Turks – their ethnolinguistic roots being closer to Persian/Iranian/Parsi.

Uyghuristan/ Uighurstan) proposed ethnic name for Xinjiang, People’s Republic of China (also referred to as East Turkestan)

Fictional/cultural references to places ending in -stan

Adjikistan – a fictional central Asian country in the videogame’ SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs: Combined Assault’.

Aldestan – a fictional central Asian/ Soviet country (based on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), from ‘Command & Conquer: Generals’.

Ardistan – from the novel ‘Ardistan and Dschinnistan’ by Karl May.

Avgatiganistan – a pun of ‘Afghanistan’, it means ‘Fried eggs’ (‘Avga tiganista’) in Greek. Fictional country by author Eugene Trivizas.

Azadistan – from the anime series ‘Mobile Suit Gundam 00’.

Bazrakhistan – a fictional former Soviet republic in the 1998 movie ‘Act of War’.

Belgistan – a fictional Middle Eastern country in the anime ‘Gasaraki’.

Berzerkistan – a fictional republic run by genocidal terrorist godhead and President for Life Trff Bmzklfrpz, in the comic strip Doonesbury.

Bradistan – seen in graffiti on a sign for the city of Bradford, England, in the film ‘East Is East’.

Carjackistan – used occasionally in the comic strip Tank McNamara.

Derkaderkastan – a fictional Middle Eastern country in the 2004 film ‘Team America: World Police’.

Dondestan, an album by Robert Wyatt. Sounds like Donde estan? (Where are they?) in Spanish.

Donundestan – a fictional country in the Middle East in ‘A Prairie Home Companion’.

Doofistan – mentioned in Ziggy in an April 2002 panel: Ziggy stares at his television and says “Doofistan? Now I know they’re making this stuff up.”

Douchebagistan – a fictional member of the U.N. mentioned by the Gregory Brothers in ‘Autotune the News’.

Durkadurkastan – a fictional Middle Eastern country in ‘Team America: World Police’. Also used (derogatorily) in various online boards to describe all of the middle eastern countries.

Franistan – a fictional country referred to in the television show ‘I Love Lucy’.

Gupistan/Guppistan – a fictional place in Pakistani comic literature where everything is hearsay.

Helmajistan – a fictional area from the anime ‘Full Metal Panic!’

Hotdogestan – a fictional country in the Middle East in ‘A Prairie Home Companion’.

Howduyustan – a fictional country from Uncle Scrooge comic book stories.

Iranistan – an oriental region of Hyborea (In the Conan the Barbarian stories).

Istan – a fictional island state in the online role-playing game ‘Guild Wars Nightfall.

Kamistan (Islamic Republic of) – a fictional Middle Eastern country featured in the television series ’24’.

Karjastan – a fictional country mentioned in the 2006 film ‘The Sentinel’.

Kehjistan – the state of the eastern jungles in the game ‘Diablo II’.

Kerakhistan – a fictional Middle Eastern country featured in the table-top wargame ‘Battlefield Evolution’.

Kreplachistan – a fictional country in the movie ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’. (“Kreplach” – Eastern European Jewish dish consisting of meat-filled dumplings.)

Lojbanistan – the fictional country of the lojbanists ; where Lojban is the national language.

Londonistan – a book warning of the cultural shifts resulting from high concentrations of recent arrivals from certain countries

Nukhavastan – a fictional country that has nuclear weapons, in ‘The Onion’

Paristan or Pari-estan – (Pari meaning fairy in Urdu/Persian) – a fairyland in the folklore of Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia

Pianostan – a fictional country mentioned in an episode of Inspector Gadget.

Pokolistan – a fictional country in DC Comics

Richistan – A book by Robert Frank describing the lifestyle impacts of rich sections of the US population.

Salvjakestan – fictional country in the ‘Death Enrising’ Novels

Serdaristan – fictional country in ‘Battlefield: Bad Company’

Skateistan, a skateboarding/educational organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Takistan – a fictional country in ‘ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead’.

Turaqistan – fictional country in the film ‘War, Inc.’.

Tyrgyzstan – fictional country in the BBC television drama ‘The State Within’.

Wheretheheckistan – a pun for “where the heck is…?” in Dear Dumb Diary series where a lot of poor people live and is where all charities focus on in ‘Jamie’s World’.

Zekistan – a fictional central Asian nation in the video game ‘Full Spectrum Warrior’.

Satirical and other uses of the -tan ending

Absurdistan – a satirical book by Gary Shteyngart ; also sometimes used to satirically describe a country where everything goes wrong. Used by East European dissidents to refer to aspects of the former Soviet Union.

Bananastan – used by Pakistani media to describe a ‘banana republic’.

Blogistan – alternative reference to the blogoshere

Boratistan – name used by Kazakh press secretary Roman Vasilenko to describe an image of Kazakhstan created by Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Borat.

Canuckistan/ Soviet Canuckistan – derogatory description of Canada (by Pat Buchanan)

Cavaquisto (“Cavacostan” in Portuguese) – used to describe mainly the areas of central Portugal where former Prime Minister Cavaco Silva had more votes in the decade 1985-1995.

Elladistan – self-mocking term used by Greeks to compare Greece with a third world country where there is little progress in social/political affairs and where public services are less than satisfactory.

Electistan – fictional and satirical term used with Incumbistan.

Ethniclashistan – sometimes used satirically to describe countries in which multiple ethnic groups were thrown together, who then began fighting each other, e.g. Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union. It was featured in the satirical The Onion newspaper in June, 2001 as being placed in the West Bank in the article Northern Irish, Serbs, Hutus Granted Homeland In West Bank (here spelled Ethniklashistan)

Hamastan – a concept of a Palestinian Islamic government with Sharia as law.

Incumbistan – introduced by columnist Mark Steyn to refer to the efforts of politicians of all parties to unite to enact rules seen as assuring their continued re-election.

Jafastan – a derogatory term for Aukland, New Zealand (deriving from the acronym JAFA: ‘Just another f***ing Auklander’)


The three Jetlag parody travel guides contain faux ads for guides to other countries, each with a -stan reference. Molvana contains an ad for “Surviving Moustaschistan” (mentioning also “Carpetstan”), Phaic Ton contains an ad for “Sherpastan”, and San Sombrero contains an ad for “Tyranistan”.

Verweggistan – Dutch expression to mean ‘place very far away from here’

There are numerous examples of places being referred to as -stans because of high Afghan, Pakistani or other populations. Examples are Hollandistan (used to describe the rise of Islam in the Netherlands), Fremont California (Kabulistan), Spokane Washington (Spokanistan), the Red States of USA (Redneckistan) and so on. London was nicknamed Londonistan by French counter-terrorism agents.

There would appear to be almost as many fictional/virtual -stans as there are real ones.

References – and a note of caution

The information above has been collated from a variety of sources. Most of these have been internet-based resources (the best starting point for which is wikipaedia)

Whilst the above information seems highly plausible, some of it has simply been taken as reliable without detailed checking. It is intended to give an overall impression of the subject. Readers are advised to thoroughly delve further into any particular detail before using it in ways that are important. As an example of how the internet can contain some deliberately misleading content, the uncyclopedia site has an article on this very topic (names ending in -stan) but which on reading soon is seen as a joke article containing such elements as: In the Middle East there are 44 million countries ending in -stan , some so small and pointless that they cover only a few metres in diameter. (This, however, is not as ludicrous as first seems: If -stan means ‘the place where you stand’ then there will be a place/stan for each person in the whole Central Asian region). Or: the first -istan recorded was ruled over by king Stan, who subject paid homage to by dancing the stanlyton. In one part a new ruler emerged called Charlie – his subjects danced the Charleston. Civil war broke out between the Charlies and the Stanlies. And so on. So, Reader Beware at all times.

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