Karbala Center for Studies and Research of Al Hussain Holy Shrine, through its peer-reviewed scientific journal "Al-Sibt", published a specialized study on the names and titles belonging to the holy city of Karbala throughout its blessed history
The study, titled “The Etymology of the Name of Karbala and its Location,” by the experienced professor, Dr. Abd al-Hussein Mahdi al-Rahim, stated that “there have been many opinions and theories among historians, townspeople, and linguists among the Arab Muslims regarding the meaning and derivation of the name Karbala, as well as defining its place and determining its area, and this is a common matter in the history of media,” noting that “with regard to the name, the ancient writers among the Arab Muslims preferred that it is derived from the linguistic meanings For the word (Karbala), which is looseness under the feet, so it is permissible for the land of this place to be loose, or it is derived from the word (Karbal) meaning (pure), so this land is purified of gravel and bush.
Al-Rahim quotes another linguistic opinion as saying that it is “derived from a plant that abounds in that region and is called (Al Karbal), and Imam Al-Hussain (peace be upon him) described it when he visited it and inquired about its name, so he was told (it is Karbala) and he said about it (it is of distress and affliction)”, adding that “on the other hand, the opinions of modern researchers have multiplied in the formulation of the name Karbala and its meaning, and they prefer the foreignness of the name, so some of them said that it was formulated from the two words (Kur-Babil) meaning (a collection of Babylonian villages), or from the words (anguish) and (el or ella), which mean Haraam Allah (God’s sacred place) or Qudsiat Allah (God’s sanctuary) in the Aramaic language, or from the Assyrian word (karbalato), which is a headdress, or from the Persian words (Kabila) and (Kar-Bala) meaning (highier work) or (heavenly deeds, i.e. worship and prayer), or it is derived from the place (Karbalah) with the exaltation of the Arabic letter Lam after Ha, which is located southeast of Karbala today.
The study adds that "there is an issue worthy of attention, which is that the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) in Karbala added to it other names such as (Al-Taff) and (Al-Ha'ir), which have a spatial character, while some researchers went to add other names as they were delusional about their reality, as they were not names of Karbala, but are either names of nearby villages and landmarks, or they derived names that stem from their loyal, emotional and spiritual feelings."
Source: Al-Sabit Scientific Journal, first issue, first year, one of the publications of the Karbala Center for Studies and Research, 2015, pp. 19-20.