Toponymy is a complex science. Scientists are always interested in the origin of certain geographical names. Historians are also particularly interested in remote geographical objects, the names of which cause a lot of questions. A striking example is the Altai Mountains.
Here, dense coniferous forests grow on the gentle slopes, between them on the plains and in the highlands the purest turquoise of lakes, mountain rivers abound with noisy waterfalls — all this, together with velvety grass on alpine meadows, is the main wealth of this region.
In Altai, the cultures of several countries — Russia, China, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia - have bizarrely converged. And this is not surprising, because it is at this point that the borders of these states converge. But why did Altai get the name "Golden Mountains"? Let's look at what scientists, travelers, and locals have to say about this.
The theory of Baron Friedrich von Humboldt.
One thing is clear – the Altai got his name in honor of the mountains, the area in which Turkic people lived. Given the influence of China, Mongolia, and the local Turkic factor in the language, there are several theories of the origin of the term "Altai". One of the most popular theories is the point of view of the German scientist Friedrich von Humboldt, who often visited the Altai Mountains.
This famous traveler visited the distant expanses of the Russian Empire in the first half of the 19th century. It was then that he formed the theory that the word "Altai" comes from Chinese or Mongolian and means "Golden Mountain".
In the first half of the 20th century, this theory was developed by the Finnish philologist Gustav Ramstedt. In his opinion, "Altai" from the Mongolian means "gold-bearing". Gold has indeed been mined in Altai since ancient times. In Chinese sources, this region was also often called "Jinshan" - "Golden Mountains".
Theories about the Turkic origin of the name.
In the modern scientific community, it also exists that the name of these picturesque mountains comes from the Turkic "Alatau" - "motley", "goldish". Why did the ancient tribes of the Turkic nomads name this area so? It is not known for certain - perhaps because of the landscape of the mountains: here, in addition to snow, you can find rocky ledges, as well as rich green vegetation.
According to another theory, the name "Altai" came from two Turkic words: "al" – "high", "tai" - "mountains". Sometimes "al" is translated not as high, but as large, significant.
As we all know, geographical objects were sacred in the religions of ancient peoples. Perhaps the peaks of the Altai mountains were sacred to the Turkic tribes, hence Altai is an important, well, or high mountain. In ancient times, the Turkic tribes believed that spirits live in the high gorges of the mountains, so the mountain ("tai") is "sacred", "important", that is, "al". As you can see, this theory does not correlate in any way with the unofficial name of Altai - "Golden Mountains".
As we can see, the theories of the origin of the name reflect the presence in the history of the region of the Huns, Mongols, Chinese, as well as numerous Turkic tribes. It is likely that the name migrated to Turkic from ancient Mongol or Chinese ("Golden Mountains"), but over time the name itself changed its meaning. When European travelers explored Altai, they only stated the fact, as the locals call the mountains.