Did you know that before it was named after one of the most talented and respected revolutionary leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City used to have different names?
The most dynamic metropolitan of Vietnam has gone by several different names during its history, reflecting settlement by different ethnic, cultural and political groups. Feeling curious to know what these names are? We got you covered. Here are some of the many names that people used to call the city of Ho Chi Minh in the past:
1. Prey Nôkôr
During the Khmer Empire, the city was a part of while a part of the Khmer Empire and originally known as Prey Nôkôr.
The area where present-day Ho Chi Minh City is located was likely to be inhabited long since prehistory; the empire of Funan and later Chenla maintained a presence in the Mekong Delta for centuries. The city was known as Prey Nôkôr to the Khmer Empire, which likely maintained a settlement centuries before its rise in the 11th and 12th centuries. The most popular interpretation of the name, and one supported by former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk is: prey meaning forest or jungle, and nôkôr being a Khmer word of Sanskrit origin meaning city or kingdom suggests that the name means “forest city” or “forest kingdom”. Currently, in the Khmer language, the name Krŭng Prey Nôkôr is used to refer to Ho Chi Minh City.
2. Gia Định
The name of Prey Nôkôr, along with Cambodia’s rule over the area, remained until the 1690s, when Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyen rulers of Huế to establish Vietnam’s administrative structures in the Mekong Delta and its surroundings. This act formally detached the area from Cambodia, which found itself too weak to intervene due to its ongoing conflict with Thailand. Prey Nôkôr was officially renamed Gia Định and the region was placed firmly under Vietnamese administrative control. With the city’s capture by the French in 1859, the name Gia Định was discarded and replaced by the name “Saigon”.
3. Sài Gòn
This one is a very popular name of Ho Chi Minh City that the majority of Vietnamese people are still using. This can cause a rather confusing affair for foreigners arriving in South Vietnam, when the airport code itself is SGN (Saigon) but signs on the way into the city center proudly welcome you to Ho Chi Minh City. Now when you are finally in the hood, you’ll hear half of the population calling it ‘Ho Chi Minh City’ while the other half referring to it as ‘Saigon’. So, why is that?
From the 1620s, Prey Nôkôr was gradually settled by Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trịnh–Nguyễn War. In 1623, Khmer king Chey Chettha II allowed the Vietnamese to settle in the area, which they colloquially referred to as Sài Gòn, and to set up a custom house at Prey Nôkôr. The increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers which followed overwhelmed the Khmer kingdom—weakened as it was due to war with Thailand—and slowly turned into a Vietnamese area. Upon capturing the city during the Cochinchina Campaign in 1859, the French officially westernized the city’s traditional name into “Saigon” (French: Saïgon).
Since the time of original Vietnamese settlement, the informal name of Sài Gòn has remained in daily speech; apart from official matters, it is still the most common way to refer to the city inside Vietnam, despite an official name change after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Sài Gòn is still used to refer to the central district, District 1. Sài Gòn Railway Station in District 3, the main railway station serving the city, retains the name. The name is also found in company names, book titles and even on airport departure boards: the IATA code for Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport is SGN.
4. Hồ Chí Minh City
At the end of the Vietnam War, to celebrate the reunification of North and South, the city had its named changed from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh, the name of the communist revolutionary leader credited with uniting the country.
Although Ho Chi Minh City (often shortened to HCMC, HCM, or HCMc in writing) is the new official name of the city, Saigon is still used daily by many Vietnamese — particularly in the south. Despite official mandates, the label “Saigon” is used more often in daily speech. Why? Many say it’s much shorter to use Saigon, many say the name Saigon reminds them of the old and charming pearl of the East that the city once was.
So which names above of Ho Chi Minh City do you prefer?