The Tibetan Empire emerged in the 7th century, but with the fall of the empire the region soon divided into a variety of territories. The bulk of western and central Tibet (Ü-Tsang) was often at least nominally unified under a series of Tibetan governments in Lhasa, Shigatse, or nearby locations; these governments were at various times under Mongol and Chinese overlordship. Thus Tibet remained a suzerainty of the Mongol and later Chinese rulers in Nanjing and Beijing, with reasonable autonomy given to the Tibetan leaders. The eastern regions of Kham and Amdo often maintained a more decentralized indigenous political structure, being divided among a number of small principalities and tribal groups, while also often falling more directly under Chinese rule after the Battle of Chamdo; most of this area was eventually incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai. The current borders of Tibet were generally established in the 18th century.
The modern Standard Chineseexonym for the ethnic Tibetan region is Zangqu (Chinese: 藏区; pinyin: Zàngqū), which derives by metonymy from the Tsang region around Shigatse plus the addition of a Chinese suffix, 区 qū, which means "area, district, region, ward". Tibetan people, language, and culture, regardless of where they are from, are referred to as Zang (Chinese: 藏; pinyin: Zàng) although the geographical term Xīzàng is often limited to the Tibet Autonomous Region. The term Xīzàng was coined during the Qing dynasty in the reign of the Jiaqing Emperor (1796–1820) through the addition of a prefix meaning "west" (西 xī) to Zang.
Other pre-modern Chinese names for Tibet include Wusiguo (Chinese: 烏斯國; pinyin: Wūsīguó; cf. Tibetan dbus, Ü, [wyʔ˨˧˨]), Wusizang (Chinese: 烏斯藏; pinyin: wūsīzàng, cf. Tibetan dbus-gtsang, Ü-Tsang), Tubote (Chinese: 圖伯特; pinyin: Túbótè), and Tanggute (Chinese: 唐古忒; pinyin: Tánggǔtè, cf. Tangut). American Tibetologist Elliot Sperling has argued in favor of a recent tendency by some authors writing in Chinese to revive the term Tubote (simplified Chinese: 图伯特; traditional Chinese: 圖伯特; pinyin: Túbótè) for modern use in place of Xizang, on the grounds that Tubote more clearly includes the entire Tibetan plateau rather than simply the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The English word Tibet or Thibet dates back to the 18th century.Historical linguists generally agree that "Tibet" names in European languages are loanwords from SemiticṬībat orTūbātt (طيبة، توبات) (טובּה, טובּת), itself deriving from TurkicTöbäd, literally: "The Heights" (plural of töbän).