The first attestation of the term is in the charter of duke Trpimir from 852 AD, whose original has been lost but a copy has been preserved from 1568 transcript (Lujo Margetić has proposed in 2002 that the document is in fact of legislative character, dating to AD 840). In it is mentioned:
The Old Croatian ethnonym *xъrvatъ (hŭrvatŭ) is of variant stem, and is attested in the earliest Croatian written monument, the Baška tablet from 1100 AD: zvъnъmirъ kralъ xrъvatъskъ ("Zvonimir, king of Croats").
The word is not of native Slavic lexical stock, but a borrowing. Generally are accepted theories from the 20th century that is of the Iranian origin, connection being a 3rd-century Χοροάθ- (Kh/Horóathos, Kh/Horoúathos) Scytho-Sarmatian form attested in the Tanais Tablets, an inscription from Tanais. It is considered that it passed from an Iranian to a Slavic language cultural sphere.
This form is also used to substantiated the derivation of Proto-Slavic *xъrvatъ / xŭrva:tŭ from the Old Persian xaraxwat-, attested on an Old Iranian toponym Harahvait-, the native name of Arachosia. "Arachosia" is the Latinized form of Ancient Greek Ἀραχωσία - Arachosíā. In Old Persian inscriptions, the region is referred to as Harahuvatiš (). However, although the suggestive similarity, it is etymologically incorrect. In Indo-Iranian it actually means "one that pours into ponds", which derives from the name of (mythological) Sarasvati river.
The first etymological thesis was that of Constantine Porphyrogennetos (10th century), who connected the name of the Croats, Βελοχρωβάτοι and Χρωβάτοι (Belokhrobatoi and Khrobatoi), with the Greek word χωρα (khora, land) (Croats in Slavic language means those who have many lands). Thomas the Archdeacon (13th century) considered that it was connected with the name of inhabitants of the Krk isle, Curetes, Curibantes. J. Rattkay (17th century) saw in the name verb hrvati (se) (to wrestle).
In the 19th century, there were given many different propositions to intrepret the Croatian ethnonym. J. Dobrovský saw in it the root hrev (tree), J. K. Zeuss haru (sword), S. Mikucki connected it with Old-Indian šarv- (strike), P. J. Šafárik with words xrъbъtъ, xribъtъ, xribъ, F. Miklošič from hruv/hrъv (dance), Đ. Daničić considered the root sar- (guard, protect), L. Geitler considered that to the ethnonym are related the Lithuanian words šárvas (armor) and šarvúotas (cuirassier), F. A. Braun in the name Harvata saw German Harfada (Harvaða fjöllum from Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks), what would be German name form of the Carpathian Mountains. R. Much connected it with a Proto-Germanic word hruvat- (horned), or as proposed Z. Gołąb "warriors clad with horn-armour", as a self-designation.
The 20th century gave rise to many new interpretations of the origin of the name of the Croats. A. I. Sobolevski derived it from the Iranian words hu- (good), ravah- (space, freedom) and sufiks -at-. G. A. Ilyinsky derived it from kher- (cut), as seen in the Greek word kárkharos (sharp), kharah (tough, sharp), and xorbrъ (brave). H. Hirt saw a connection with the name of a Germanic tribe Harudes (Χαροῦδες). A. Bruckner linked it with Slovak charbati se (to oppose), while skъrv-/xъrv- linked with Lithuanian šárvas (armor). K. Oštir considered valid the connection with an unspecified Thraco-Illyrian word xъrvata- (hill). M. Vasmer first considered it as a loanword from Old-Iranian, haurvatā (shepherd) (Avestan haurvaiti means pasturage), then later from Old-Iranian hu-urvatha- (friend) (accepted also by N. Zupanič). M. Budimir saw in the name Indo-European *skwos (gray, grayish), which in Lithuanian gave širvas. S. K. Sakač linked it with the Avestan name Harahvaitī, which once signified the southwestern part of modern Afghanistan, the province Arachosia. V. Miller saw in the Croatian name the Iranian hvar- (Sun) and va- (bed), while P. Tedesco had a similar interpretation from Iranian huravant (Sunny). O. Kronsteiner derived it from Tatar-Bashkir *chr (free) and *vata (to fight, wage war).
From the Iranian theses it is mostly accepted the derivation by Oleg Trubachyov, from *xar-va(n)t (feminine, rich in women, ruled by women), which derives from the etymology of Sarmatians name, the Indo-Aryan *sar-ma(n)t (feminine), in both Indo-Iranian adjective suffix -ma(n)t/wa(n)t, and Indo-Aryan and Indo-Iranian word *sar- (woman), which in Iranian gives *har. According Radoslav Katičić this thesis doesn't entirely abide with the Croatian ethnonym, as the original form was Hrъvate not Hъrvate, and the vowel "a" in the desired Iranian harvat- is short, while in Slavic Hrъvate is long.
The Medieval Latin name "Croātia" is derived from North-West Slavic xrovat-, by liquid metathesis from Common Slavic *xorvat-, from Proto-Slavic *xarwāt-. The Croatian ethnonym Hrvat in the Kajkavian dialect also comes in the form Horvat, while in the Chakavian dialect in the form Harvat.
Thus in the Duchy of Carinthia one can find Hrvatski kotar and Chrowat along upper Mura; in Middle Ages the following place names have been recorded: Krobathen, Krottendorf, Krautkogel; Kraut (before Chrowat and Croat) near Spittal. In the Duchy of Styria there are toponyms such as Chraberstorf, Krawerspach, Chrawat, Chraberstorf and Krawerspach. Along middle Mura Krawerseck, Krowot, Krobothen, Krobathen.
In Slovenia there are Hrovate and Hrovača; in Germany along Saale river there were Chruuati near Halle) in 901 AD, Churbate, Grawat in 11th century, and Korbetha, west of Leipzig; In Moravia are Charvaty near Olomouc, in Slovakia are Chorvaty and Chrovátice near Varadka.
In the southern Balkans, the Republic of Macedonia has a place named Arvati (Арвати) situated near lower Prespa; in Greece there is a Charváti (Χαρβάτι) in Attica and Harvation in Argolis, as well as Charváta (Χαρβάτα) on Crete; and in Albania Hirvati.
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