Place names of Vietnam

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For names of foreign places in Vietnamese, see Vietnamese exonyms.

Place names of Vietnam primarily deals with Vietnamese place names meaning endonyms for places in Vietnam. The names of Vietnam itself is a distinct historical and political subject.

Vietnam place name origins[edit]

The origins of Vietnam's place names are diverse. They include vernacular Vietnamese language, tribal and montagnard, Chinese language (both from the Chinese domination of Vietnam and the indigenous Confucian administration afterward 1100-1900), Champa and Khmer language names, as well as a number of names influenced by contact with traders and French Indochina.[1] Chinese geographical terms occur frequently in the place names of Vietnam.[2]

Vietnamese demotic vs. Sino-Vietnamese names[edit]

Many rivers and mountains have two or three names. For example, the Đuống River has 3 names:

  • sông Đuống - Vietnamese "river" sông, followed by a fully local Vietnamese demotic name Đuống
  • sông Thiên Đức - Vietnamese "river" sông followed by a formal tên chữ in Hán "Heavenly Virtue"
  • Thiên Đức giang - Chinese name "Heavenly Virtue" (天德), followed by fully Chinese word for "river" (江)

As in this example it is usual to follow Vietnamese syntax for sông prefix (placing it before the name), and Chinese syntax for suffix giang (placing it after the name). The 4th alternative Đuống giang does not (or should not) exist.

Villages often have a local Vietnamese name (often unwritten but known to people who live there), and a formal Chinese tên chữ name assigned by Vietnamese Confucian administrators in previous centuries for taxation and other purposes. Larger towns and Cities however generally only have 1 name - though historically a local demotic name may be remembered, or, as in the case of Saigon, the local purely Vietnamese name may have grown into the official name and a Chinese name created to mimic the sound of the Vietnamese name.

Changing names[edit]

Names of states and provinces[edit]

In addition to the many changes of the names of Vietnam, states such Tonkin and Cochinchina, provinces have had many changes due to administrative and political changes.[3]

Changing names of capitals and major cities[edit]

Hanoi has had many names.[4] Many other cities have also experienced name changes.[5][6]

District and Street names[edit]

The District and Street names of Vietnam's cities have been fluid in recent history. The French gave French names to most of the streets of Hanoi, Saigon and other major cities, often ignorant of existing Vietnamese names. When French control of Vietnam ended in 1954, these names were replaced in both the North and the South.[7]


  1. ^ Alexander Woodside Lost Modernities: China, Vietnam, Korea, and the Hazards of World ... 2009- Page 24 "Vietnamese place names illustrate the point, such as the names of some of the most important Vietnamese cities south of the Red River delta. Da Nang is probably a Vietnamese transcription of a Cham name, preserving the memory of the old Hinduized kingdom of Champa in what is now central Vietnam; Saigon (officially Ho Chi Minh City since 1975) is probably a Vietnamese transcription of a Khmer place name (although there are other theories); and Hue may well take its name from foreign traders' mispronunciations, centuries ago, of the second word in the name of its Vietnamese prefecture Thuan Hoa."
  2. ^ Soviet Geography - Volume 11 1970 - Page 811 "The places of the southern part of Vietnam are of more recent origin. ... Chinese geographical terms occur frequently in the place names of Vietnam; aside from Chinese administrative terminology ..."
  3. ^ Tana Li, Anthony Reidk Southern Vietnam Under the Nguyễn: Documents on the Economic ... - - 1993 Page 2 "All Europeans by contrast referred to the northern Trinh state as Tongking, a corruption of one of the names of Hanoi. The term Cochinchina has an interesting history, moving south as rapidly as the Vietnamese themselves. The Portuguese ...
  4. ^ Peter J M Nas Directors of Urban Change in Asia 2005- Page 49 "One of the oldest names of Hanoi, Ke Cho or 'market place', refers to the city's origins."
  5. ^ Fabian Heymer Successful Promotion of Consumer Goods in Vietnam: 2008 Page 26 "One problem about geographical terminology in Vietnam is that many changes in place names have occurred. However, the old and new "
  6. ^ Mark W. MacLeod, Thi Dieu Nguyen Culture and Customs of Vietnam - 2001 - Page 3 " Geographical terminology is a problem for students of Vietnamese culture. Given the country's tumultuous history, there have been many changes in regime and in place names; to complicate matters, the former ..."
  7. ^ Lonely Planet Vietnam - Page 350 Nick Ray, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow - 2010 "Some places have borne three or more names since WWII and, often, more than one name is still used. When French control of Vietnam ended in 1954, almost all French names were replaced in both the North and the South. Saigon's Rue ..."