By now the whole world knows that Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad. When I first saw this place name, I thought that it was curious in being composed of a British surname followed by a Hindi-Urdu-Persian ending. We may dispense with the English part of the name through a bit of historical research: the town was founded by Major James Abbott in 1853. As for the ending, I was familiar with it from many other South Asian city names, e.g., Allahabad, Hyderabad, and Ahmadabad.
Then I came across this assertion, "the 'abad' in its name meaning 'a place of living' in Urdu," and that set me off on a merry linguistic goose chase, especially after a correspondent made the following suggestion: "'-abad' means 'place of living'. I wonder if it is cognate with English 'abode'." Such conjectures always stand to me as challenges — they're either right or they're wrong. Thus, even though I am en route to Hong Kong, I'm trying to write up this little note on Abbottabad before my plane departs (am in the Chicago airport at this moment). I'm determined to find out whether "-abad" is cognate with "abode".
Looking up "abode" in the Online Etymological Dictionary, one becomes even more seduced by the possibility that -abad might be related to it:
mid-13c., "action of waiting," verbal noun identical with O.E. abad, pp. of abiden "to abide" (see abide), used as a verbal noun. The present-to-preterite vowel change is consistent with an O.E. class I strong verb (ride/rode, etc.). Meaning "habitual residence" is first attested 1570s.
So "abad", the Old English past participle of abiden ("to abide") even *looks* just like Hindi-Urdu-Persian -abad. Case closed?
Far from it.
First of all, the a's of -abad are both long, thus I will henceforth write this ending as -aabaad to indicate the vowel lengthening.
Now, I shall convey the opinions of experts on various Indian and Iranian languages (I'm not identifying them by name, since their views were conveyed to me informally, but I do thank them in a general way at the bottom of this post):
I. a specialist in ancient Iranian religions:
"-abad" means "built place" in Persian.
II. a specialist on Sogdian (Middle Iranian language):
aabaad is a Persian word meaning "watched over, cultivated, inhabited". The root is *pâ "to watch, guard, protect". I doubt whether a connection with abide/abode is possible.
III. a specialist on Modern Persian:
It's a Persian word. I don't remember the pre-Islamic form…. I could probably find it. It is the most common place name suffix. It is also an adjective meaning fertile or prosperous (of places). Abadan, the oil city in Khuzistan, is presumably abad plus the place suffix an. The influx of Persian speakers to India between 1200 and 1700 or so brought it with them and spread it around. I don't know if -abad is cognate with abode.
IV. a specialist on Mughal history:
Abad means city, inhabited or cultivated place and yes it if from the Persian. Abadan is the more emphatic or plural form of abad. In Persian texts the word is sometimes paired with an Arabic synonym ma'mur.
V. another specialist on Modern Persian:
Abad means cultivated land, and it is a Persian suffix for villages and areas which have been cultivated and inhabited. The word "ab" means water, and there should be a middle Persian explanation for "ad", but since I am in Berlin I have no access to my reference books now. Abadan, therefore means somewhere that is cultivated, has water, and is inhabited. Abadi is another cognate of the same word. Ironically, Abbottabad, is a place that has been cultivated probably by someone called Abbott, during the colonial era, and became the abode of the supreme anti-colonialist fighter now. I like the abode-abad connection, which is very likely the case.
VI. an expert on the history of Hindi-Urdu:
Abad is a locational suffix and it is western Iranian. Here is an article from Encyclopedia Iranica by Ahmad Ashraf…. Nyberg's etymology (the Persian word derives from Middle Persian āpāt, “developed, thriving, inhabited, cultivated” [see H. S. Nyberg, A Manual of Pahlavi II, Wiesbaden, 1974, p. 25]) is probably correct, but somehow I wonder. In any event, -abad doesn't seem related to "abode" which would appear to be from a + bidan (ME "to bide"), which is from PIE *bheidh "to stay, wait".
VII. An expert on Middle Iranian languages
Pahlavi has both "AbAd" and "AbAdAn" as "populous, thriving, prosperous" according to MacKenzie’s dictionary.
I’d be reluctant to make the "abode" connection without more intervening information. A classic wrong-at-first-glance connection with English is Persian “bad” meaning “bad”, but Pahlavi has “wad”.
I can’t find "AbAd(An)" in either Avestan or Old Persian in what I have at hand this morning. OP does have "Avahana" (A + vah-[Skt. vas-] "to dwell) meaning "village". Platts gives Zend "AvAda" and Skt. "AvAsa" for AbAd — so that's along the same lines. I don’t know how this fits with the roots of "abode"
Johnny Cheung gives another possibility for AbAd(An) in his Etymological Dictionary of the Iranian Verb (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series), pp. 288-289. He takes it from the root: paH — to protect, guard….
VIII. A specialist on Khotanese (a Middle Iranian language)
The Persian word -aabaad (mostly as the second member of a compound) comes from the past participle of the root "paa-" (to protect), thus "protected, fortified (place)" with the phonetic change of p > b between vowels. All the North Indian and Pakistani (as well as Central Asian) place names are from this Persian word. It has nothing to do with the English word "abode" (together with "abide") which is cognate with numerous Latin derived words with the root element fed / fid "to trust" (not found in Indo-Iranian, but well-attested in Greek, Germanic and Slavic).
So where does all of this leave us? On the one hand, the experts are not entirely agreed upon the etymological derivation of the Persian place name ending -aabaad, but it most likely comes from an Iranian root paa ("protect"). On the other hand, the English word "abode" appears to come from a Proto-Indo-European root *bheidh ("stay, wait"). In any event, I have not discovered any etymological or historical evidence indicating that Persian -aabaad and English "abode" are related.
[Thanks are due to Julie Wei, Nicholas Sims-Williams, Hiroshi Kumamoto, Wilma Heston, David Nelson, Stephen Dale, Brian Spooner, Pardis Minuchehr, and Richard Foltz.]