Ho Chi Minh City has gone by several different names during its history, reflecting settlement by different ethnic, cultural and political groups. In 1623, Khmer king Chey Chettha II (1618–1628) allowed Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Trịnh–Nguyễn War further to the north to settle in the area, which they colloquially referred to as Sài Gòn, and to set up a custom house at the city then known as Prey Nôkôr. In the 1690s, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, was sent by the Nguyễn rulers of Huế to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the Mekong Delta and its surroundings. Control of the city and the area passed to the Vietnamese, who gave the city the official name of Gia Định (嘉定). This name remained until the time of French conquest in the 1860s, when the occupying force adopted the name Saïgon for the city, a westernized form of the traditional name, although the city was still indicated as 嘉 定 on Vietnamese maps written in Chữ Hán until at least 1891. Immediately after the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, a provisional government renamed the city after Hồ Chí Minh, the late North Vietnamese leader.[nb 1] Even today, however, the informal name of Sài Gòn/Saigon remains in daily speech both domestically and internationally, especially among the Vietnamese diaspora. However, there is a technical difference between the two terms: Sài Gòn is commonly used to refer to the city center in District 1 and the adjacent areas, while Ho Chi Minh City is referred more to the entire modern city with all its urban and rural districts.
may refer to the kapok
) trees that are common around the city.
An etymology of Saigon (or Sài Gòn in Vietnamese) is that Sài is a Sino-Vietnamese word (Hán tự: 柴) meaning "firewood, lops, twigs; palisade", while Gòn is another Sino-Vietnamese word (Hán tự: 棍) 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). This name may refer to the many kapok plants that the Khmer people had planted around Prey Nokor, and which can still be seen at Cây Mai temple and surrounding areas. It may also refer to the dense and tall forest that once existed around the city, a forest to which the Khmer name, Prey Nokor, already referred.
Other proposed etymologies draw parallels from Tai-Ngon (堤 岸), the Cantonese name of Cholon, which means "embankment" (French: quais),[nb 2] and Vietnamese Sai Côn, a translation of the Khmer Prey Nokor (Khmer: ព្រៃនគរ). Prey means forest or jungle, and nokor is a Khmer word of Sanskrit origin meaning city or kingdom, and related to the English word 'Nation' — thus, "forest city" or "forest kingdom".[nb 3]
Truong Mealy (former director of King Norodom Sihanouk's royal Cabinet), says that, according to a Khmer Chronicle, The Collection of the Council of the Kingdom, Prey Nokor's proper name was Preah Reach Nokor (Khmer: ព្រះរាជនគរ), "Royal City"; later locally corrupted to "Prey kor", meaning "kapok forest", from which "Saigon" was derived ("kor" meaning "kapok" in Khmer and Cham, going into Vietnamese as "gòn" ).
Ho Chi Minh City
The current official name, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, adopted in 1976 and abbreviated Tp. HCM, is translated as Ho Chi Minh City, abbreviated HCMC, and in French as Hô-Chi-Minh-Ville (the circumflex is sometimes omitted), abbreviated HCMV. The name commemorates Hồ Chí Minh, the first leader of North Vietnam. This name, though not his given name, was one he favored throughout his later years. It combines a common Vietnamese surname (Hồ, 胡) with a given name meaning "enlightened will" (from Sino-Vietnamese 志 明; Chí meaning 'will' or 'spirit', and Minh meaning 'light'), in essence, meaning "light bringer".