The Tibetan name for their land, Bod བོད་, means "Tibet" or "Tibetan Plateau", although it originally meant the central region around Lhasa, now known in Tibetan as Ü. The Standard Tibetan pronunciation of Bod, [pʰøʔ˨˧˨], is transcribed Bhö in
Tournadre Phonetic Transcription, Bö in the THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription and Poi in Tibetan pinyin. Some scholars believe the first written reference to Bod "Tibet" was the ancient Bautai people recorded in the Egyptian Greek works Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1st century CE) and Geographia (Ptolemy, 2nd century CE), itself from the Sanskrit form Bhauṭṭa of the Indian geographical tradition.
The modern Standard Chinese exonym 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.
The best-known medieval Chinese name for Tibet is Tubo (Chinese: 吐蕃 also written as 土蕃 or 土番; pinyin: Tǔbō or Tǔfān). This name first appears in Chinese characters as 土番 in the 7th century (Li Tai) and as 吐蕃 in the 10th-century (Old Book of Tang describing 608–609 emissaries from Tibetan King Namri Songtsen to Emperor Yang of Sui). In the Middle Chinese spoken during that period, as reconstructed by William H. Baxter, 土番 was pronounced thux-phjon and 吐蕃 was pronounced thux-pjon (with the x representing tone).
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 Semitic Ṭībat orTūbātt (طيبة، توبات) (טובּה, טובּת), itself deriving from Turkic Töbäd, literally: "The Heights" (plural of töbän).