Names of Vietnam

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The word "Vietnam" was coined by 16th century poet Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm (right), a political prognosticator often compared to Nostradamus. Here he is depicted alongside Sun Yat-sen and Victor Hugo as a Cao Đài saint.
History of Vietnam
(geographical renaming)
Map of Vietnam showing the conquest of the south (the Nam tiến, 1069-1757).
2879–2524 BC Xích Quỷ
2524–258 BC Văn Lang
257–179 BC Âu Lạc
207–111 BC Nam Việt
111 BC – 40 AD Giao Chỉ
40–43 Lĩnh Nam
43–299 Giao Chỉ
299–544 Giao Châu
544–602 Vạn Xuân
602–679 Giao Châu/An Nam
679–757 An Nam
757–766 Trấn Nam
766–866 An Nam
866–967 Tĩnh Hải quân
968–1054 Đại Cồ Việt
1054–1400 Đại Việt
1400–1407 Đại Ngu
1407–1427 Giao Chỉ
1428–1804 Đại Việt
1804–1839 Việt Nam
1839–1887 Đại Nam
1887–1945 French Indochina (Tonkin,
Annam, & Cochinchina)
from 1945 Việt Nam
Main template
{{History of Vietnam}}

The Việt Nam (About this sound listen) is a variation of Nam Việt (Southern Việt), a name that can be traced back to the Triệu Dynasty (2nd century BC).[1] The word "Việt" originated as a shortened form of Bách Việt, a word used to refer to various peoples who lived in what is now southern China in ancient times. The word "Việt Nam", with the syllables in the modern order, first appears in the 16th century in a poem by Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm. "Annam", which originated as a Chinese name in the seventh century, was the common name of the country during the colonial period. Nationalist writer Phan Bội Châu revived the name "Vietnam" in the early 20th century. When rival communist and anti-communist governments were set up in 1945, both immediately adopted this as the country's official name. In English, the two syllables are usually combined into one word, "Vietnam." However, "Viet Nam" was once common usage and is still used by the United Nations and by the Vietnamese government.

Throughout history, there were many names used to refer to Vietnam. Besides official names, there are names that are used unofficially to refer to territory of Vietnam. Vietnam was called Văn Lang during the Hùng Vương Dynasty, Âu Lạc when An Dương was king, Nam Việt during the Triệu Dynasty, Van Xuan during the Anterior Lý Dynasty, Đại Cồ Việt during the Đinh Dynasty and Early Lê dynasty. Starting in 1054, Vietnam was called Đại Việt (Great Viet).[2] During the Hồ Dynasty, Vietnam was called Đại Ngu.[3]

Origin of the "Vietnam"[edit]

The term "Việt" (Yue) (Chinese: ; pinyin: Yuè; Cantonese Yale: Yuht; Wade–Giles : Yüeh4; Vietnamese: Việt, Early Middle Chinese: Wuat) comes from Old Chinese *wjat.[4] It was first written using the pictograph "戉" for an axe (a homophone), in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions of the late Shang dynasty (c. 1200 BC), and later as "越".[5] At that time it referred to a people or chieftain to the northwest of the Shang.[6] In the early 8th century BC, a tribe on the middle Yangtze were called the Yangyue, a term later used for peoples further south.[6] Between the 7th and 4th centuries BC Yue/Việt referred to the State of Yue in the lower Yangtze basin and its people.[6][5]

From the 3rd century BC the term was used for the non-Chinese populations of south and southwest China and northern Vietnam, with particular states or groups called Minyue, Ouyue, Luoyue (Vietnamese: Lạc Việt), etc., collectively called the Baiyue/Bách Việt (Chinese: 百越; pinyin: Bǎiyuè; Cantonese Yale: Baak Yuht; Vietnamese: Bách Việt; literally: "Hundred Yue/Viet"; Zhuang: Bouxvot).[6][5] The term Baiyue/Bách Việt first appeared in the book Lüshi Chunqiu compiled around 239 BC.[7]

In 207 BC, former Qin dynasty general Zhao Tuo/Triệu Đà founded the kingdom Nanyue/Nam Việt (Chinese: 南越; literally: "Southern Yue/Việt") with its capital at Panyu (modern Guangzhou). This kingdom was "southern" in the sense that it was located south of other Baiyue kingdoms such as Minyue and Ouyue, located in modern Fujian and Zhejiang. Several later Vietnamese dynasties followed this nomenclature even after these more northern peoples were absorbed into China.

In "Sấm Trạng Trình" (The Prophecies of Trạng Trình), poet Nguyen Binh Khiêm (1491–1585) reversed the traditional order of the syllables and put the name in its modern form: "Vietnam is being created" (Việt Nam khởi tổ xây nền).[8] At this time, the country was divided between the Trịnh lords of Hanoi and the Nguyễn lords of Huế. By combining several existing names, Nam Việt, Annam (Pacified South), Đại Việt (Great Việt), and "Nam quốc" (southern nation), Khiêm could create a new name that referred to an aspirational unified state. The word "nam" no longer implies Southern Việt, but rather that Vietnam is "the South" in contrast to China, "the North".[9] This explanation is implied by Lý Thường Kiệt in the poem "Nam quốc sơn hà" (1077): "Over the mountains and rivers of the South, reigns the emperor of the South." Researcher Nguyễn Phúc Giác Hải found the word "Việt Nam" on 12 steles carved in the 16th and 17th centuries, including one at Bảo Lâm Pagoda, Haiphong (1558).[9] Nguyễn Phúc Chu (1675–1725) used the word in a poem: "This is the most dangerous mountain in Vietnam" (Việt Nam hiểm ải thử sơn điên).[10] It was used as an official name by Emperor Gia Long in 1804-1813.[11] The Jiaqing Emperor refused Gia Long's request to change his country's name to Nam Việt, and changed the name instead to Việt Nam.[12]

The use of "Vietnam" was revived in modern times by nationalists including Phan Bội Châu, whose book Việt Nam vong quốc sử (History of the Loss of Vietnam) was published in 1906. Chau also founded the Việt Nam Quang Phục Hội (Vietnam Restoration League) in 1912. However, the general public continued to use Annam and the name "Vietnam" remained virtually unknown until the Yên Bái mutiny of 1930, organized by the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (Vietnamese Nationalist Party).[13] By the early 1940s, the use of "Việt Nam" was widespread. It appeared in the name of Ho Chi Minh's Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (Viet Minh), founded 1941, and was even used by the governor of French Indochina in 1942.[14] The name "Vietnam" has been official since 1945. It was adopted in June by Bảo Đại's imperial government in Huế, and in September by Ho's rival communist government in Hanoi.[15]

Other names[edit]

Names in other languages[edit]

In English, the spellings Vietnam, Viet-Nam, and Viet Nam have all been used. The 1954 edition of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary gave both the unspaced and hyphenated forms; in response to a letter from a reader, the editors indicated that the spaced form Viet Nam was also acceptable, though they stated that because Anglophones did not know the meaning of the two words making up the name Vietnam, "it is not surprising" that there was a tendency to drop the space.[16] In 1966, the U.S. government was known to use all three renderings, with the State Department preferring the hyphenated version.[17] By 1981, the hyphenated form was regarded as "dated", according to Scottish writer Gilbert Adair, and he titled his book about depictions of the country in film using the unhyphenated and unspaced form "Vietnam".[18]

The modern Chinese name for Vietnam (Chinese: 越南; pinyin: Yuènán) can be translated as "Beyond the South", leading to the folk etymology that the name is a reference to the country's location beyond the southernmost borders of China. Another theory explains that the nation was termed as such in order to emphasize the division of those who stayed in China in contrast to the people living in Vietnam.[19]

Japan originally used names written in kanji (Chinese characters) to refer to Vietnam: either Annan (安南) or Etsunan (越南).[20] After the independence of Vietnam, these names were replaced by the phonetic transcription Betonamu (ベトナム), written in katakana; however, the kanji form is still seen in compound words (e.g. 訪越, "a visit to Vietnam"). Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs sometimes used an alternative spelling Vietonamu (ヴィエトナム).[21] Similarly, in the Korean language, in line with the trend towards decreasing usage of hanja, the Sino-Korean-derived name Wollam (월남, the Korean reading of 越南) has been replaced by Beteunam (베트남) in South Korea and Wetnam (윁남) in North Korea.[22][23]


  1. ^ L. Shelton Woods (2002). Vietnam: a global studies handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 38. ISBN 1576074161. 
  2. ^ Nicholas Tarling (2000). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia: From Early Times C. 1500. Cambridge University Press. p. 139. ISBN 0521663695. 
  3. ^ Ring, Trudy; Salkin, Robert M.; La Boda, Sharon (1994). International Dictionary of Historic Places: Asia and Oceania. Taylor & Francis. p. 399. ISBN 1884964044. 
  4. ^ OC pronunciation from Baxter, William H. (1992). A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 806. ISBN 978-3-11-012324-1.  These characters are both given as gjwat in Grammata Serica Recensa 303e and 305a.
  5. ^ a b c Norman, Jerry; Mei, Tsu-lin (1976). "The Austroasiatics in Ancient South China: Some Lexical Evidence". Monumenta Serica 32: 274–301. 
  6. ^ a b c d Meacham, William (1996). "Defining the Hundred Yue". Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 15: 93–100. 
  7. ^ The Annals of Lü Buwei, translated by John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel, Stanford University Press (2000), p. 510. ISBN 978-0-8047-3354-0. "For the most part, there are no rulers to the south of the Yang and Han Rivers, in the confederation of the Hundred Yue tribes."
  8. ^ Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, "Sấm Trạng Trình"
  9. ^ a b Thành Lân, "Ai đặt quốc hiệu Việt Nam đầu tiên?", Báo Đại đoàn kết, March 14, 2003.
  10. ^ Nguyễn Phúc Chu, "Ải lĩnh xuân vân". This is a reference to Hải Vân Pass.
  11. ^ L. Shelton Woods (2002). Vietnam: a global studies handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 38. ISBN 1576074161.  The Vietnamese asked permission from the Qing dynasty to change the name of their country. At first, Gia Long requested the name Nam Việt, but the Jiaqing Emperor refused.
    Moses, Dirk (2008). Empire, colony, genocide: conquest, occupation, and subaltern resistance in world history. Berghahn Books. p. 207. 
  12. ^ Woodside 1971, p. 120.
  13. ^ Stein Tonnesson, Hans Antlov, Asian Forms of the Nation, Routledge, 1996, pp. 117.
  14. ^ Tonnesson & Antlov, p. 125.
  15. ^ Tonnesson & Antlov, p. 126.
  16. ^ Word Study. G&C Merriam Company. 1954. p. 401. 
  17. ^ "Spelling Lesson". Newsweek 67. 1968. p. 13. 
  18. ^ Adair, Gilbert (1981). Vietnam on film: from The Green Berets to Apocalypse now. Proteus. p. 31. 
  19. ^ "Introduction to Vietnam". International Conference on Control, Automation, Robotics and Vision.
    "CIA: East & Southeast Asia - Vietnam". CIA.
  20. ^ 山本彩加 [Yamamoto Saika] (2009). "近代日本語における外国地名の漢字表記 ――― 明治・大正期の新聞を資料として" [Use of kanji for foreign placenames in modern Japanese: based on data from newspapers in the Meiji and Taishō periods] (PDF). 葉大学日本文化論叢 10. Retrieved 2015-09-08. 
  21. ^ "漢字の現在 第92回 越の国の漢字". Sanseidō. 22 April 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  22. ^ 김정강 [Kim Jeong-gang] (2006-06-12). "한자 폐기는 大과오… 국한 혼용으로 '東 아시아성' 살려내자" [Abolition of hanja a big mistake ... rescue 'East Asianness' with mixed hangul and hanja]. Dong-a Ilbo Magazine. Retrieved 2015-09-09. 
  23. ^ 전수태 [Jeon Su-tae] (1988). "북한 문화어의 한자어와 외래어" [Hanja words and foreign loanwords in North Korea's standard language]. North Korea Life (4). Retrieved 2015-09-09.