Sunday 28 August 2016

Vietnam Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing a tour of the world and a look at the largest of Vietnam's settlements.

Ho Chi Minh City is the capital and, as many will know, named after the first leader of Vietnam after the communist takeover of South Vietnam, this adopted in 1976. Prior to this the city has been known by many names including Saigon. Here Sino-Vietnamese Sai meaning 'firewood, twigs, palisade' and Gon or 'stick, bole, pole' and understood as 'cotton stick'. This is not named after something used for personal grooming but to the kapok trees, a common sight in the area.

Hanoi is on the banks of the Red River, hence its name meaning 'the river within'. Historically there have been many official and unofficial names of the place: Long Bien 'dragon edge'; Tong Binh 'song peace'; Long Do 'dragon belly'; Dai La 'big net'; Thang Long 'ascending dragon'; Dong Do 'eastern metropolis'; Dong Kinh 'eastern capital'; Dong Quan 'eastern gate'; Ke Cho 'marketplace'; Trang An 'long peace'; and Thu Do ''capital'.

Haphong translates as 'coastal defence'.

Da Nang sits on an estuary and its name means 'opening of a large river'.

Hoi An translates as 'the peaceful meeting place'.

Bac Giang means 'north of the river' in Sino-Vietnamese.

Cai River means 'mother river' in Vietnamese.

Ha Long is Sino-Vietnamese for 'descending dragon'.

My Tho is named after its river, itself named for the local fauna as it means 'beautiful tree'.

Phan Thiet is a Vietnamese name, the latter an abbrivated form of Lihit or 'near the sea' with the addition of Phan, a family name.

Da Lat refers to itself as 'the stream of the Lat', these the local ethnic group. This does not prevent the story of this being of Latin origin in Dat Aliis Laetitiam Aliis Temperiem. which translates as "It gives pleasure to some, freshness to others".

Bac Ninh is sino-Vietnamese for 'northerrn serenity'.

Nha Trang is claimed by some as a spelling error and should be Ya Trang or 'the reed river'.

Vung Tau transaltes as 'anchorage'.

Cao Bang refers to itself as 'the high plateau'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.


  1. Hello. Many thanks :) Useful article!.

  2. Good afternoon. Thanks.Love your blog!.