A Q for you: Why is Kazakhstan changing its name?

By the middle of the next decade КАЗАХСТАН will no longer be Kazakhstan. The country is changing alphabets and, with that move, appears set to change the leading “K” to a “Q” such that the new name is apparently Qazaqstan.

The move comes as the country transitions from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin letter set. In a presidential decree on Thursday the new, 32-character Latin alphabet was announced along with a translation scheme. Part of that adjustment is that the “K with a thorn” used today will become a “Q” in the new letter set.

The Kazakh president noted earlier this year that the diaspora already uses a version of Latin characters and also that kids in schools learn them such that “there will be no problems for the younger generation.” New textbooks will be prepared starting in 2018 as part of the switch. Similarly, a national commission will be created to oversee the broader implementation of the move.

The transition chart for the new Latin alphabet of Kazakhstan, announced by presidential decree this week.
The transition chart for the new Latin alphabet of Kazakhstan, announced by presidential decree this week.

I’m slightly confused by the new name in that the “X” in the middle should become a “H” under the new chart but seems to be another “Q” for some reason. So maybe this is a bit more speculation than 100% confirmed. But it seems to be a thing.

The switch also means a change for those who make lists of their travel exploits. Qatar will no longer be the only country that starts with the letter “Q.” Which is, of course, a silly thing to track but it does mean I need to plan another journey now.

The transition to the Latin alphabet has been discussed in the country for a decade now and is finally coming to pass. No doubt that there are political motivations in addition to the economic benefits that come with sharing an alphabet with a greater portion of the global population.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. To address your confusion over the x and the q: The x (a hard h sound, corresponding to the kh in Kazakh) in the Cyrillic alphabet was used in the Russian word for Kazakh to avoid confusion with the word for Cossack – the two words sound very close if both of the q’s in the word Qazaq are rendered as k’s, so the second q was rendered as kh instead. But Qazaq is indeed the closest transliteration from Kazakh to English.

    This is a little like the oddity of the transliteration “Farsi” – the f is in there only because of a third language, Arabic, which has no p’s. The closest direct transliteration is Parsi (= Persian).

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