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Versions of the Origin of the Word "Sibir"

A chapter on various theories about the origin of the word "Sibir", yet scientists have not definitively determined which one is true...

In our Book of Siberia, we have already delved into many of the mysteries and enigmas of this vast and mighty region. For many of us, the word "Sibir" (the Russian name for Siberia) embodies the grandeur of this land, its rich history, culture, and unique nature. On November 8, Russia celebrated Siberia Day, prompting us to ponder a simple yet significant question: Why is it called that?

Scientists have no consensus on the etymology of the word "Sibir". There are several versions of the origin, and each has its own arguments and justifications. However, they all affirm one fact: The vast territories stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean were referred to as "Sibir" long before the arrival of the Russians. Let's consider the most popular hypotheses.

Official versions

One theory suggests that the words "sibar" or "chibar" in Turkic languages translate to "beautiful" or "lovely". It is conceivable that the ancient Tatars were equally captivated by the beauty of Siberian nature, just as we are today. It is also known that they had a penchant for giving straightforward and descriptive names. For instance, Lake Chebarkul translates to "beautiful lake" in Tatar.

Another theory posits a connection to Mongolian roots. The word "shibir" translates from Mongolian as "swampy area covered with forest". If we consider the landscape of southern Siberia, it aligns with this description: Birch groves interspersed with swamps. The Mongols, arriving in Siberia from the southeast, inevitably traversed through the swampy lowlands.

The third theory is associated with the name of an ethnic group known as "sabyr" or "sipyr". It is believed that this group resided along the banks of the Irtysh River near modern Tobolsk, engaging in extensive interactions with other ethnic groups across Western Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia. It is plausible that Russians might have named the lands after the people who inhabited them. It is known that until the 13th century, the term "Sibir" was commonly used only in reference to the ethnic group, and it was only later that it came to denote the geographical area of human habitation.

Unofficial versions

Perhaps the least popular theory suggests that the word "Sibir" originated from the Russian term for "north", although in relation to Moscow Russia, this territory lies in the east, not the north. The theory that the toponym "Sibir" originated from the combination of the English words "sea" and "bear" appears somewhat improbable. Indeed, the English became acquainted with Siberia much later than the Russians, making any connection with English words unlikely.

According to another Turkic hypothesis, the word "Sibir" might have been formed from two roots: "su", meaning "water", and "bir", signifying "wild forest".

In the Tatar language, there is a word "seber", which means "blizzard", and can be associated with the severe Siberian winters. Mongolian and Buryat tales and beliefs often mention Mount Symyr, which might have also contributed to the naming of the region.

In certain Caucasian languages, there are consonant male names such as Sibir and Sibirbek, while among Turkic peoples, the name Shibir was widespread. There is speculation that numerous Turkic surnames, such as Saburov, Sierov, Shipurov, and others, are derived from these personal names.

We have listed only a part of the known versions of the origin of the Russian word "Sibir". As modern scientists continue to debate the etymology of the name, we are left to closely follow and study their hypotheses. Which version appears most credible to you?