Gandhara was known in Sanskrit as गन्धार gandhāra, in Avestan as Vaēkərəta, in Old Persian as Para-upari-sena, in Chinese as 犍陀罗, and in Greek as Παροπαμισάδαι Paropamisadae.
The Gandhari people are a tribe mentioned in the Rigveda, the Atharvaveda, and later Vedic texts. They are recorded in the Avestan-language of Zoroastrianism under the name Vaēkərəta. The name Gāndhāra occurs later in the classical Sanskrit of the epics. One proposed origin of the name is from the Sanskrit word gandha, meaning "perfume" and "referring to the spices and aromatic herbs which they [the inhabitants] traded and with which they anointed themselves.".
A Persian form of the name, Gandara, appearing in the Behistun inscription of Emperor Darius I, is also mentioned by Herodotus in the context of the story of the Greek explorer Scylax of Caryanda, who sailed down the Indus River starting at the city of Caspatyrus in Gandara (Κασπάτυρος, πόλις Γανδαρική). Herodotus records that those Iranic tribes, which were adjacent to the city of Caspatyrus and the district of Pactyïce, had customs similar to the Bactrians, and are the most warlike amongst them. These are also the people who obtain gold from the ant-hills of the adjoining desert. On the identity of Caspatyrus, there have been two opinions, one equating it with Kabul, the other with the name of Kashmir (Kasyapa pur, condensed to Kaspapur as found in Hecataeus).
Kandahar is sometimes etymologically associated with Gandhara. However, Kandahar was not part of the main territory of Gandhara.