The Sanskrit term aśva, Iranian aspa and Prakrit assa means horse. The name Aśvaka/Aśvakan or Assaka is derived from the Sanskrit Aśva or Prakrit Assa and it denotes someone connected with the horses, hence a horseman, or a cavalryman or horse breeder. The Aśvakas were especially engaged in the occupation of breeding, raising and training war horses, as also in providing expert cavalry services.
Ancient Greek historians who documented the exploits of Alexander the Great refer to the Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes among his opponents. The historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar has said that these words are probably corruptions of Aśvaka. It is possible that the corruption of the names occurred due to regional differences in pronunciation. Rama Shankar Tripathi thinks it possible that the Assakenoi were either allied to or a branch of the Aspasioi. The Greeks recorded the two groups as inhabiting different areas, with the Aspasioi in either the Alishang or Kunar Valley and the Assakenoi in the Swat Valley.
The Aśvaka may have been a sub-group of the Kamboja tribe that is referenced in ancient Sanskrit and Pali literature, such as the Mahabharata and Puranas, and which were partitioned into eastern and western Aśvakas. Barbara West treats the ethnonyms Kamboja, Aśvaka, Aspasioi, Assakenoi and Asvakayana as synonyms.