The name Golden Horde is said to have been inspired by the golden color of the tents the Mongols lived in during wartime, or an actual golden tent used by Batu Khan or by Uzbek Khan, or to have been bestowed by the Slavic tributaries to describe the great wealth of the khan. But the Mongolic word for the color yellow (Sarı/Saru) also meant "center" or "central" in Old Turkic and Mongolic languages, and "horde" probably comes from the Mongolic word ordu, meaning palace, camp or headquarters, so "Golden Horde" may simply have come from a Mongolic term for "central camp". In any event, it was not until the 16th century that Russian chroniclers begin explicitly using the term "Golden Horde" (Russian: Золотая Орда) to refer to this particular successor khanate of the Mongol Empire. The first known use of the term, in 1565, in the Russian chronicle History of Kazan, applied it to the Ulus of Batu (Russian: Улуса Батыя), centered on Sarai. In contemporary Persian, Armenian and Muslim writings, and in the records of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries such as the Yuanshi and the Jami' al-tawarikh, the khanate was called the "Ulus of Jochi" ("realm of Jochi" in Mongolian), "Dasht-i-Qifchaq" (Qipchaq Steppe) or "Khanate of the Qipchaq" and "Comania" (Cumania).
The eastern or left wing (or "left hand" in official Mongolian-sponsored Persian sources) was referred to as the Blue Horde in Russian chronicles and as the White Horde in Timurid sources (e.g. Zafar-Nameh). Western scholars have tended to follow the Timurid sources' nomenclature and call the left wing the White Horde. But Ötemish Hajji (fl. 1550), a historian of Khwarezm, called the left wing the Blue Horde, and since he was familiar with the oral traditions of the khanate empire, it seems likely that the Russian chroniclers were correct, and that the khanate itself called its left wing the Blue Horde. The khanate apparently used the term White Horde to refer to its right wing, which was situated in Batu's home base in Sarai and controlled the ulus. However, the designations Golden Horde, Blue Horde, and White Horde have not been encountered in the sources of the Mongol period.