Ho Chi Minh City


Origin of name Sai Gon

Photo of Entry:  Origin of name Sai Gon

According to a book titled Dại Nam Quoc Am Tu Vi of Huynh Tinh Cua, they find the explanation of the word Sai Gon: Sai is the firewood; Gon (for the south Vietnam inhabitants) is the name of the kapokier. In the north of Vietnam, one also calls it "bong gao". They use kapok (from the kapok tree) to stuff cushions and mattresses. Therefore, Sai Gon means the wood of kapok tree. Beside this explanation, people also found other one. Sai Gon, on the one hand, was the name of the locality Cho Lon and now Sai Gon indicates Ben Nghe. In addition, Sai Gon belonged to Gia Dinh province.

Center market - Ben Thanh market today 
Center market - Ben Thanh market today

The above definition shows that the former name Sai Gon refers to the locality Cho Lon now and the place which they currently calls Sai Gon was Ben Thanh in the past. This assertion was ensured by two English peoples Crawford and Finlayson having come Vietnam en 1922. According to what they told, Sai Gon and Ben Nghe were two different cities. They accounted for one or two miles each from other. Ben Nghe was the administrative and military center. Sai Gon where Chinese people and tradesmen lived was the shopping mall (according to the Bulletin of the Indochinese Studies Company, in 1945, the 2nd volume). In 1861, following the arrival of the French Army, three provinces in the East Cochinchine were taken. The French used the name Sai Gon to call Ben Nghe (the administrative center at that time) because this one seemed difficult to pronounce for the foreigners. Then, Vietnamese were obliged to follow them and they named Cho Lon at that time Sai Gon. In order to better understand origin of the name Sai Gon, they must take time to study on the people having lived on these thousands years grounds.

Sai Gon theater
Sai Gon theater

Firstly, according to traces of the people in Fou-nan in the antiquity, according to the China history, it invaded this country including Cochinchine (Tchen of water) and part of Siam country (Tchen of ground). At that time, Tchen of water was a forest and muddy area. Sai Gon did not exist yet. After Fou-nan, Khmers arrived in this area. They lived on fruit and products of the forest. Until this moment, Tchen of water was still covered by forests. Khmers named it in two ways: Prie Kor and Prie Nokor.

 Sai Gon street in front of Notre Dame
 Sai Gon street in front of Notre Dame

According to Mr. Le Van Phat, Prie Kor means the forest of kapok tree. Moreover, he let know that Laotians (whose the language resembles to Siams one) named Prie Kor "Cai Ngon" (i.e. the forest of the Thai kapok trees). But why was the nomination of this area relating to the Laotian and Thai languages? Basing on historical documents, at the beginning of the 17th century, Kampuchea was seriously threatened by Siam (Thailand today). In 1620, in order to resort to the Vietnam force against Siam, king Chey Ghetta married princess Ngoc Van (daughter of the dignitary Nguyen Phuc Nguyen). Then, in 1623, a messenger of lord Nguyen came there to require the the tax establishments installation in Prie Kor and Kas Krobey. After having had the permission, lord Nguyen imposed taxation on some products including kapok. It appears that before the arrival of lord Nguyen, the Siam tradesmen were presents there. As there was much kapok, they bought some to bring to their country. This is why they gave the name "the forest of the kapok trees" to Prie Kor. Then, the Vietnamese mandarins, to exchange with the tradesmen, they took this name (instead of transcribing or translating Prie Kor). But in the book "Sai Gon of the last years" of Vuong Hong Sen, Khmer Kor means kapok and also ox. Therefore, it was not certain if Prie Kor means the kapok trees or oxen forest.

 The city people's committee
 The city people's committee

As for Prie Nokor, according to Mr. Etienne Aymonier, "Nokor" is the country and Prie Nokor wants to say forest of the king. However, according to the priest Tandart, Nokor comes from the Sanskrit and means forests city or the city in the middle of forest. In other words, Prie Nokor means the city. Moreover in document on Prie Nokor of French scientist Loui Mallerett, it told that the name Sai Gon took its origin of the word Tay gon (the service of the west, in Sino-Vietnamese). To lead to this assertion, Loui Mallerett based on an historical event recited by Trinh Hoai Duc. At that time, Kampuchea was divided into two parts reigned by two kings. They all offered services to the lord Nguyen in Prie Nokor, the former capital of the 2nd king from 1674 (the first king was in Uudong, in the North of Phnom Penh).

 Sai Gon at 1970s
 Sai Gon at 1970s

Secondly, according to the steps of Chinese people, Mr. Vuong Hong Sen (in the book "Sai Gon of the last years") stated that Chinese appeared in Cho Lon current from 1778. Front, they were in Cù Lao Pho (Close to Bien Hoa today). This city was created by the marketing activities at the end of 17th century. But Tay Son army destroyed it on their course towards the south. Then Chinese built the Cho Lon channel, enforced by stones to strengthen it. They also named this new locality "Tai Ngon". If they pronounce it in Chinese, it will be "Thay Ngonn". All these two words "Tai Ngon" and "Thay Ngonn" pronounced in Vietnamese are "De Ngan". "De" is on a side the dam (direction clean) and on another side the catch of the principal part (illustrated direction). "Ngan" is the high and leaning bank. Therefore, "De Ngan" means the high and leaning bank where a dam is located at the top. Then, Sai Gon comes from "Thay Ngonn".

Lately, as for Vietnamese, the name Sai Gon indicates the fortress Sai Gon built by king Minh Mạng in 1836 close to Ba Son. The market Ben Thanh formerly was divided into two parts: one was called Ancient market (current National treasure) and the other New market (Ben Thanh market today). All these two gathered places had as name Ben Nghe. On arrival from abroad, as it was difficult to pronounce Ben Nghe, they called it Sai Gon. The Vietnamese used from now on this name. As from this moment, the name Sai Gon became popular. All these opinions above are drawn from several sources of documents.

However, much of questions are still posed around the origin of the name Sai Gon. Then, to know exactly from which this word comes, it is necessary to more study the language and the grammar of Khmer and Thai. In this way, one can finally find a conclusion right of the origin of Sai Gon.

Source: simplevietnam.com

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