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Different Names of Ho Chi Minh City you might not know

ABROADER January 01, 2023 5 minute read

You might hear people name Ho Chi Minh city or Saigon. But have you heard our beloved city’s other names and the stories behind them? Let’s find out in this blog!

Did you know that before it was named after one of the most talented and respected revolutionary leaders 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. Each reflects settlement by different ethnic, cultural, and political groups. Feeling curious to know what these names are? We got you. Here are some of the many names that people used to call the city of Ho Chi Minh in the past:

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Ho Chi Minh City’s famous Ben Thanh market. Photo: Nguyen Nguyen/Shutterstock

1. Prey Nôkôr

During the Khmer Empire, the city was a part of the Khmer Empire and people called it 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. It 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, they use the name Krŭng Prey Nôkôr to refer to Ho Chi Minh City.

Source: Wikipedia

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A part of the old Saigon. Photo source: Tumblr

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. Then they renamed Prey Nôkôr to Gia Định and the region was firmly under Vietnamese administrative control. With the city’s capture by the French in 1859, they discarded the name Gia Định and replaced it with “Saigon”.

Source: Wikipedia

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Old Saigon. Photo: Life

3. Sài Gòn

This one is a very popular name in Ho Chi Minh City that the majority of Vietnamese 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. 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).

Many people still call Ho Chi Minh City Saigon nowadays.

Where they use the name Sai Gon

Since the time of the 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. People still use Sài Gòn 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. They still also use the name in company names, book titles, and even on airport departure boards. For example, the IATA code for Tan Son Nhat International Airport is SGN.

Source: Wikipedia

4. Hồ Chí Minh City

At the end of the Vietnam War, to celebrate the reunification of North and South, the city had its name 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, or HCM in writing) is the new official name of the city, many Vietnamese – particularly in the south use this name 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? Follow us to Ho Chi Minh city, not just to find out 7 things you should not miss there, but to have a fresh start in your career in Vietnam with our customized internship opportunities!

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