Ho Chi Minh City has gone by several different names during its history, reflecting settlement by different ethnic, cultural and political groups.
Originally a trading port city of the Khmer Empire
known as Prey Nokor (Khmer: ព្រៃនគរ), it is
still known as Prey Nokor to Cambodians even today.
In time, under the control of the Vietnamese it was officially renamed Gia Dinh (嘉定), a name that is retained until the time of the French conquest in the 1860s, when it then adopted the name Sài Gòn, westernized as Saïgon,
although the city was still indicated as 嘉定 on Vietnamese maps written in Chữ Hán until at least 1891.
The current Ho Chi Minh name was given after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 to honor Ho Chi Minh.[nb 1]
Even today, however, the informal name of Sài Gòn 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 refers 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 Ho Chi 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".