Soon after April 30th 1975, Saigon's name ("Pearl of the Far East") has changed, but since that fatal day the name of Saigon has still being used when ever needed daily and widely. On this web page you can review a brief history of the name of Saigon and enjoy the slide show of ancient Saigon and the beloved city by 1975 (linked show located at the end of article).
Original Khmer name
The city was known by its original Khmer inhabitants as Prey Nokor (). Prey Nokor means "forest city", or "forest land" in Khmer (Prey = "forest"; Nokor = "city, land", from Sanskrit nagara). The name Prey Nokor is still the name used in Cambodia today, as well as the name used by the Khmer Krom minority living in the delta of the Mekong.
Traditional Vietnamese name
After Prey Nokor was settled by Vietnamese refugees from the north, in time it became known as Sài Gòn. There is much debate about the origins of the Vietnamese name Saigon, whose etymology is analyzed below.
Before the French colonization, the Vietnamese name of Saigon was Gia Định (Hán nôm: 嘉定). In 1862, the French discarded this official name and adopted the name "Saigon", which had always been the popular name.
From an orthographic point of view, the Vietnamese name Sài Gòn is written in two syllables, which is the traditional convention in Vietnamese spelling. Some people, however, write the name of the city as SàiGòn or Sàigòn in order to save space or give it a more westernized look.
A frequently heard etymology is that Sài is a Chinese loan word (Chinese: 柴, pronounced chái in Mandarin) meaning "firewood, lops, twigs; palisade", while Gòn is another Chinese loan word (Chinese: 棍, pronounced gùn in Mandarin) meaning "stick, pole, bole", and whose meaning evolved into "cotton" in Vietnamese (bông gòn, literally "cotton stick", i.e. "cotton plant", then shortened to gòn).
Some people say that this name originated from the many cotton plants that the Khmer people had planted around Prey Nokor, and which can still be seen at Cây Mai temple and surrounding areas. …
Trương Vĩnh Ký, "Souvenirs historiques sur Saigon et ses environs", in Excursions et Reconnaissances, Imprimerie Coloniale, Saigon, 1885.
Another explanation is that the etymological meaning "twigs" (Sài) & "boles" (Gòn) refers to the dense and tall forest once existing around Saigon, a forest to which the Khmer name Prey Nokor already referred.
Chinese people both in Vietnam and in China do not use the name 柴棍 (pronounced Chaai-Gwan in Cantonese and Cháigùn in Mandarin), although etymologically speaking it is the Chinese name from which the Vietnamese name Sài Gòn is derived (if the theory here is correct). Instead, they call the city 西貢 (pronounced Sai-Gung in Cantonese and Xīgòng in Mandarin), which is a mere phonetic transliteration of the name "Saigon".
Another etymology often proposed is that "Saigon" comes from "Sai Con", which would be the transliteration of the Khmer words prey kor () meaning "forest of kapok trees" (prey = forest; kor = kapok tree). The Khmer word prey kor should not be confused with the Khmer name "Prey Nokor" discussed above (kor is a Khmer word meaning "kapok tree", while nokor is a Khmer word of Sanskrit origin meaning "city, land").
This Khmer etymology theory is quite interesting given the Khmer context that existed when the first Vietnamese settlers arrived in the region. However, it fails to completely explain how Khmer "prey" led to Vietnamese "Sài", since these two syllables appear phonetically quite distinct.
A less likely etymology was offered by Vuong Hong Sen, a Vietnamese scholar in the early 20th century, who asserted that Sài Gòn had its origins in the Cantonese name of Cholon (Vietnamese: quoc ngu Chợ Lớn; chu nom ), the Chinese district of Saigon. The Cantonese (and original) name of Cholon is "Tai-Ngon" (堤岸), which means "embankment" (French: quais). The theory posits that "Sài Gòn" derives from "Tai-Ngon".
Current Vietnamese name
On May 1, 1975, after the fall of South Vietnam, the now ruling communist government renamed the city after the pseudonym of their leader Hồ Chí Minh. The official name is now Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, often abbreviated TPHCM. In English this is translated as Hồ Chí Minh City, abbreviated HCMC, and in French it is translated as Hô Chi Minh Ville (the circumflex is sometimes omitted), abbreviated HCMV. Still, the old name Sài Gòn/Saigon is widely used by Vietnamese and is found in company names or on book titles.
(Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Click on the two links below to see slide shows of Saigon photos
• SAIGON'S OLD IMAGES • ANCIENT SAIGON
Click on the two thumbnails to see large images of Saigon topographic map and aerial photo map in details.