The Kyrgyz (also spelled Kyrghyz and Kirghiz), a Turkic people, live primarily in the Kyrgyz Republic.
There are several theories on the origin of ethnonym ''Kyrgyz''. It can be derived from the Turkic word ''kyrk'' ("forty"), with -''iz'' being an old plural suffix, so ''Kyrgyz'' literally means "a collection of forty tribes".〔Pulleyblank 1990, p.108.〕
''Kyrgyz'' also means "imperishable", "inextinguishable", "immortal", "unconquerable" or "unbeatable", presumably referring to the epic hero Manas, who – as legend has it – unified the forty tribes against the Khitans.
The Chinese transcription ''Tse-gu (Gekun, Jiankun)'' allows to restore the pronunciation of the ethnonym as ''Kirkut (Kirgut)'' and ''Kirkur (Kirgur)''. Both forms go back to the earliest variation ''Kirkün'' (Chinese ''Tszyan-kun'') of the term "Kyrgyz", meaning "Field People", "Field Huns".
By the Mongol epoch, the initial meaning of the word ''Kirkun'' was already lost, evidenced by differing readings of the earlier reductions of the ''Yuán Shǐ''. The change of ethnonym produced a new version of an origin, and the memory about their steppe motherland, recorded in the ''Yuán Shǐ'', survived only as a recollection of the initial birthplace of forty women. Subsequently, however, that recollection was also lost.〔Zuev, Yu.A., ''Horse Tamgas from Vassal Princedoms (Translation of Chinese composition "Tanghuyao" of 8–10th centuries)'', Kazakh SSR Academy of Sciences, Alma-Ata, 1960, p. 103 〕
In the 18th and 19th century, European writers used the word ''Kirghiz'' (the early Anglicized form of the contemporary Russian ) to refer not only to the people we now know as Kyrgyz, but also to their more numerous northern relatives, the Kazakhs. When distinction had to be made, more specific terms were used:
the Kyrgyz proper were known as the Kara-Kirghiz ("Black Kirghiz" for their tents' colour),〔
and the Kazakhs were named the ''Kaisaks''〔Vasily Bartold, (Тянь-Шаньские киргизы в XVIII и XIX веках ) (The Tian Shan Kirghiz in the 18th and 19th centuries), Chapter VII in: Киргизы. Исторический очерк. (The Kyrgyz: an historical outline), in Collected Works of V, Bartold, Moscow, 1963, vol II, part 1, pp. 65–80 〕
or "Kirghiz-Kazaks".〔The 1911 ''Encyclopædia Britannica'': "Kirghiz" ((scanned version ))〕
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