The name Ut(r)igur, recorded as Οὺτ(τ)ρίγουροι, Οὺτούργουροι and Οὺτρίγου, is generally considered as a metathesized form suggested by Gyula Németh of Turkic *Otur-Oğur, thus the *Uturğur mean "Thirty Oğurs (tribes)". Lajos Ligeti proposed utur- (to resist), while Louis Bazin uturkar (the victors-conquerors), Quturgur and qudurmaq (the enrages).
There has been little scholarly support for theories linking the names Kutrigur and Utigur to peoples such as the Guti/Quti and/or Udi/Uti, of Ancient Southwest Asia and the Caucasus respectively, which have been posited by scholars such as Osman Karatay, and Yury Zuev. No evidence has been presented that the Guti moved from their homeland in the Zagros Mountains (modern Iran/Iraq) to the Steppes, and they are widely believed to have spoken an Indo-European (rather than Turkic) language. The Udi were mentioned by Pliny the Elder (Natural History, VI, book, 39), in connection with the Aorsi (sometimes jointly as the Utidorsi), the Sarmatians and a Scythian caste/tribe known as the Aroteres ("Cultivators"), who lived "above the maritime coast of [Caucasian] Albania and the ... Udini" on the western shores of the Caspian Sea. Neither is there general acceptance of Edwin G. Pulleyblank's suggestion that the Utigurs may be linked to the Yuezhi – an Indo-European people that settled in Western China during ancient times.
The origin of relative tribes Utigurs and Kutrigurs is obscure. Procopius wrote that "Beyond the Sagins dwell many Hunnish[nb 1] tribes. The land is called Evlisia and barbarians populate the sea-coast and the inland up to the so called lake of Meotida and the river Tanais. The people living there were called Cimmerians, and now they are called Utigurs. North of them are the populous tribes of the Antes." They occupied the Don-Azov steppe zone, the Kutrigurs in the Western part and the Utigurs towards the East.
Procopius also recorded a genealogical legend according to which:
...in the old days many Huns, called then Cimmerians, inhabited the lands I mentioned already. They all had a single king. Once one of their kings had two sons: one called Utigur and another called Kutrigur. After their father's death they shared the power and gave their names to the subjected peoples, so that even nowadays some of them are called Utigurs and the others - Kutrigurs.
This story was also confirmed by the words of the Utigur ruler Sandilch, "it is neither fair nor decent to exterminate our tribesmen (the Kutrigurs), who not only speak a language, identical to ours, who are our neighbours and have the same dressing and manners of life, but who are also our relatives, even though subjected to other lords".
Agathias (c. 579–582) wrote:
..all of them are called in general Scythians and Huns in particular according to their nation. Thus, some are Koutrigours or Outigours and yet others are Oultizurs and Bourougounds... the Oultizurs and Bourougounds were known up to the time of the Emperor Leo (457–474) and the Romans of that time and appeared to have been strong. We, however, in this day, neither know them, nor, I think, will we. Perhaps, they have perished or perhaps they have moved off to very far place.
When the Kutrigurs invaded the lands of the Byzantium Empire, Emperor Justinian I (527–565) through diplomatic persuasion and bribery dragged the Kutrigurs and Utigurs into mutual warfare. Utigurs led by Sandilch attacked the Kutrigurs who suffered great losses. According to Procopius, Agathias and Menander, the Kutrigurs and Utigurs decimated one another, until they lost even their tribal names. Some Kutrigur remnants were swept away by the Avars to Pannonia, while the Utigurs remained in the Pontic steppe and fell under the rule of the Türks.
Their last mention was by Menander Protector, who recorded among the Türk forces that attacked Bosporos in 576 an Utigur army led by chieftain Ανάγαιος (Anagai, Anağay). Bosphoros fell to them c. 579 AD. In the same year, Byzantine embassy to the Türks passed through the territory of Ἀκκάγας (Akagas, Aq-Qağan), "which is the name of the woman who rules the Scythians there, having been appointed at that time by Anagai, chief of the tribe of the Utigurs".
- Golden, Peter Benjamin (1990). "The peoples of the south Russian steppes". The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 256–284. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521243049.011. ISBN 9781139054898.
Sometime about A.D. 463 a series of nomadic migrations was set off in Inner Asia... Archeological and literary evidence permits us to place the homeland of these newcomers, the Oghur tribes, in Western Siberia and the Kazakh steppes... The Oghurs were part of a large Turkic tribal grouping known in Chinese sources as the Tieh-lê, who were to be found in Inner Asia as well The fluidity of the situation in the steppes is mirrored in our sources, a kaleidoscope of dissolving and reforming tribal unions... Although some of the antecedents of this important migration are still unclear, there can be no doubt that the 0ghur tribes now became the dominant element in the Ponto-Caspian steppes. The term Oghur denoted "grouping of kindred tribes, tribal union" and figures in their ethnonyms: Onoghur, Saraghur, etc. The language of these Oghur tribes, which survives today only in Chuvash, was distinct from that of Common Turkic. In 480 we find our earliest firm notice on the Bulghars ("Mixed Ones"), a large conglomeration of Oghur, Hunnic and other elements. In addition, we have reports about the activities of the Kutrighurs and Utrighurs who appear in our sources under their own names, as "Huns" and perhaps even as "Bulghars." Their precise relationship to the latter cannot be determined with any certainty, but all three clearly originated in the same Hunno-Oghur milieu.
- Golden 2011, p. 71, 139.
- Golden 2011, p. 139.
- Golden 1992, p. 99.
- Karatay 2003, p. 26.
- Zuev 2002, p. 39.
- Plinius, Gaius (1996). Naturkunde, Buch VI, Geographie: Asien. Walter de Gruyter. p. 36. ISBN 9783050061849.
- John Bostock (ed.). "Pliny the Elder, The Natural History". Perseus Project. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- Zuev 2002, p. 21, 39.
- Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. p. 99. ISBN 9781400829941.
Like the name Scythian up to the early medieval period, the name Hun became a generic (usually pejorative) term in subsequent history for any steppe-warrior people, or even any enemy people, regardless of their actual identity.
- Dickens, Mark (2004). Medieval Syriac Historians' Perceptionsof the Turks. University of Cambridge. p. 19.
Syriac chroniclers (along with their Arab, Byzantine, Latin, Armenian, and Georgian counterparts) did not use ethnonyms as specifically as modern scholars do. As K. Czeglédy notes, "some sources... use the ethnonyms of the various steppe-peoples, in particular those of the Scythians, Huns and Türks, in the generic sense of 'nomads'".
- D. Dimitrov (1987). "Bulgars, Unogundurs, Onogurs, Utigurs, Kutrigurs". Prabylgarite po severnoto i zapadnoto Chernomorie. kroraina.com. Varna.
- Golden 1992, p. 98.
- Golden 1992, p. 99–100.
- Golden 2011, p. 140.
- Golden 2011, p. 140–141.
- Golden 1992, p. 100.
- Golden 2011, p. 91.
- Golden 1992, p. 131.
- Zuev 2002, p. 62.
- Golden, Peter Benjamin (1992). An introduction to the History of the Turkic peoples: ethnogenesis and state formation in medieval and early modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. ISBN 9783447032742.
- Golden, Peter B. (2011). Studies on the Peoples and Cultures of the Eurasian Steppes. Editura Academiei Române; Editura Istros a Muzeului Brăilei. ISBN 9789732721520.
- Karatay, Osman (2003). In Search of the Lost Tribe: The Origins and Making of the Croatian Nation. Ayse Demiral. ISBN 9789756467077.
- Zuev (2002). Early Turks: Essays of history and ideology. Almaty: Daik-Press.