In Saigon, there’s a story and a person behind nearly every street name. They range across every economic and social class in the country, from those who lived during the Chinese millennium, to those who made their marks during the French colonial era.
Among these characters, women played an important role, but the roles they had were many. Here you’ll find poets, rebel leaders, revolutionary fighters and street vendors.
The streets named after famous women immortalised in history books include Hai Ba Trung, Huyen Tran Cong Chua, Ba Huyen Thanh Quan, Ho Xuan Huong, Doan Thi Diem, Vo Thi Sau, Mac Thi Buoi, Bui Thi Xuan, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Co Giang, Co Bac, Nguyen Thi Nghia, Nguyen Thi Dieu and Nguyen Thi Nho.
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Hai Ba Trung, literally translated as “the two Trung sisters”, was named after the Trung sisters. They are among the most popular heroines who fought against foreign domination.
Their names were Trung Trac and Trung Nhi, and they led the first national uprising against the Chinese conquerors in AD 40, and then went on to rule the country for three years.
The sisters were born into a military family. Their father was a prefect of Me Linh, a rural district of Hanoi. They studied the art of warfare and other fighting skills from a young age.
In AD 40, the two sisters, after successfully repelling a small Chinese unit from their village, assembled a large army, consisting mostly of women. Within months, they had reclaimed around 65 citadels from the Chinese, and had liberated Nanyue, the ancient kingdom that covered parts of northern Vietnam.
They became queens regent of Nanyue and managed to resist subsequent Han attacks for over three years.
Their reign was short-lived, however, as the Chinese gathered a huge expeditionary army under the veteran general Ma Yuan to suppress the rebellion. The Trung sisters were defeated in battle in AD 43.
The story of the Trung sisters is usually ended with the quote, “Giặc đến nhà đàn bà cũng đánh” (When the enemy is at the gate, the woman goes out fighting).
Ho Xuan Huong (1772-1822) may be the most interesting character in the list of streets named after women. One of Vietnam’s greatest classical poets, she is sometimes dubbed the sex symbol of Vietnamese poetry.
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Her name means “spring essence” (in Vietnamese, xuan huong — Ho is her last name). She was born at the end of the Later Le Dynasty (1428–1788) and wrote poetry using chữ nôm (southern script), which adapts Chinese characters for colloquial Vietnamese. Xuan Dieu, a prominent modern poet, dubbed her "The queen of Nôm poetry".
She is believed to have married twice as her poems refer to two different husbands. In one of the marriages, she was the second-ranked wife, or a concubine, of a local official, a role that she was clearly not happy with.
In a Confucian society where males dominated, she was a rebel, a feminist, and the candid voice of a liberal female. She lamented the miseries of concubines, spoke of the desire of women and boldly discussed various aspects of religious life, social justice and equality, including sexual freedom.
She was famous for poems with unusual irreverence and shockingly erotic undertones for her time. She was humorous, independent-minded and resistant to societal norms, especially through her socio-political commentaries and her use of frank sexual humour and expressions.
Almost all her poems were double entendres with hidden sexual meaning. Here’s an example:
“My body is like the jackfruit on the branch:
Its skin coarse, its meat thick
Kind sir, if you love it, pierce it with your stick
Don’t fondle around, or sap will stain your hands.”
On the surface the poem is about jackfruit, a popular fruit in rural areas. As a traditional kitchen trick, people pierced the unripe jackfruit along its core with a stick and kept it in an enclosed area to speed up the ripening process.
But considering the details about the skin, the meat, the stick, the fondling and the sap... people can guess what she was really talking about.
The Nguyen Thai Hoc - Co Giang junction is located under the Ong Lanh Bridge in District 1. Not many people know that these intersecting streets are named after a couple with a tragic love story.
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According to Ho Chi Minh City Streets, a book by Nguyen Q. Thang and Nguyen Dinh Tu, Co Giang (Miss Giang), or Nguyen Thi Giang, met and fell in love with Nguyen Thai Hoc, an anti-French revolutionary, in 1929.
Nguyen Thai Hoc was captured and executed by the French colonial authorities after the failure of the Yen Bai mutiny.
After witnessing her lover’s death, Co Giang wrote a letter to his spirit and then shot herself dead.
In 1955 the Saigon regime renamed the street, formerly known as Douaumont by the French since 1920, in Co Giang’s honour.
A street that runs parallel with Co Giang is called Co Bac (Miss Bac), named after Giang’s younger sister. She was among the Vietnamese revolutionaries in the Yen Bai uprising.
When the uprising failed, she was sentenced to five years in prison by the French.
Saigon’s streets are not only named after famous people. Vendors came to some of these streets to open their small businesses before they were named. Gradually, the streets were named after these vendors.
Ba Hat (Mrs Hat) Street in District 10, Ba Ky and Ba Lai streets in District 6 and Ba Hom Street in Binh Tan District are some examples. No one knows where these ladies came from and when they died. It is said that these streets were named several hundred years ago.
According to researcher Nguyen Dinh Tu, Ba Lai (Mrs Lai) was a vendor in the Chinatown. When the French established Cholon (Chinatown), the street that ran through her stall was named after her.
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When Ba Lai moved her stall to District 6, the name was used for another street in District 6.
Today many vendors set up their stalls on Ba Hat Street and work hard everyday to make ends meet. Perhaps they don’t know that someone like them is now immortalised on their street.
The way Vietnamese people named their streets is a reflection of their personality: they’re open-minded, warm-hearted and liberal; everyone is welcomed here in Saigon, and everyone gets a place and recognition in our crowded city.
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In Saigon, some streets are named after mythical figures and many are named after real women. Whoever they were, the names of the city streets reflect how Vietnamese people love, admire and honour extraordinary women who made their marks in the country’s history.
Here are just some notable examples.
Au Co is often honoured as the mother of Vietnamese civilization. According to the Vietnamese creation myth, she married Lac Long Quan (literally: "Dragon Lord of Lac") and bore an egg sac that hatched a hundred children collectively known as Bach Viet (meaning 100 Viets), the ancestors to the Vietnamese people.
Here’s how the story goes. A very long time ago, in the country of Lac Viet there was a god named Lac Long Quan. According to the legend, Lac Long Quan was the son of Kinh Duong Vuong, the ruler of Linh Nam kingdom. Because Lac Long Quan’s mother was a water dragon, he had most of his mother’s features: he had the body of a dragon and he possessed magical powers and good health.
One day, a beautiful fairy named Au Co, who was living in a mountain, visited the country of Lac Viet to see the kingdom’s legendary beauty. Lac Long Quan and Au Co met, fell in love, and got married. On the day Au Co gave birth, she laid a sac of 100 eggs, from which 100 humans were hatched. These children grew up quickly and became normal, healthy adults.
After some time living with Au Co, Lac Long Quan began to miss the water. He told his wife one day: “I am by nature like a dragon in the water, while you are like a fairy in the mountain. We are different. We must live apart from each other. Now of all our children, half will go with me to the underwater palace, and the other half will stay on land with you. If either group encounters misfortune, then one group will help the other.”
Here came the first-ever separation (or divorce?) in the legends of Vietnamese people.
The hundred children of Lac Long Quan and Au Co understood their father’s wish and divided themselves into two groups. Fifty followed their mother to the mountains, and 50 followed their father into the ocean. They became the ancestors of the Vietnamese people. Because of this legend, the Vietnamese people refer to themselves as the Dragon and Fairy’s descendants who come from the same family a long time ago.
Many cities in Vietnam have a street named Au Co in her honour. In HCMC, Au Co Street is located in Tan Binh District.
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Lady Trieu was a female warrior in 225-248 CE who managed, for a time, to successfully resist the Chinese state of Eastern Wu during its occupation of Vietnam. She is also called Trieu Thi Trinh, although her actual given name is unknown.
In the year 43, Vietnam came under the rule of the Chinese Han dynasty. This foreign domination was to last for hundreds of years, with the Chinese campaigning to “civilise” and assimilate the native people. Though the Chinese ruled Vietnam for centuries, their rule was not accepted by the Vietnamese and there were many organised rebellions against the foreign regime.
Before she even turned 21, Lady Trieu successfully fought 30 battles with her rebel army against the Han Chinese, and legend has it that she stood nine feet tall and that her voice was loud, strong and showed sheer determination. She rode an elephant into battle, wore gold armour and held a sword in each hand as she charged into the fight of her life.
History states that in 248 CE, the Chinese won over Lady Trieu and her rebel army, causing her to commit suicide by throwing herself into a river. But the memory of Lady Trieu remains and inspired many Vietnamese heroes to fight against the Chinese after her death.
A famous quote of Lady Trieu: “I just want to ride the strong wind, walk the rough wave, slay the big whales on the Eastern sea, reclaim my country’s land, establish an independent nation, free my people from slavery, rather than resign myself to be someone’s concubine.”
Her name is now a street in District 5, HCMC.
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Nguyen Thi Minh Khai was born on 1 November 1910 in the central province of Nghe An, Annam.
In 1927, she co-founded the New Revolutionary Party of Vietnam, which was a predecessor of the Communist Party of Vietnam. In 1930, she went to Hong Kong and became a secretary for Ho Chi Minh (at the time known as Nguyen Ai Quoc) in the office of the Orient Bureau of the Communist International.
“You can find documents in French archives that said Nguyen Thi Minh Khai was his wife, but the documents could be false, a cover-up to allow him to carry out patriotic activities. In France in those days, communists were tracked and pursued by the police,” he told Vietnam News Agency.
From 1931 to 1934, she was jailed by the British administration in Hong Kong. In 1934, she and Le Hong Phong were voted to be attendees in the Seventh Congress of Communist International in Moscow. Later she married Le.
In 1936, she returned to Vietnam and became the top leader of the communists in
Saigon. She was seized by the French colonial government in 1940 and was executed by firing squad the next year. Her husband Le had been jailed in June 1939, and later died in the tiger cages at Poulo Condore prison in September 1942.
Today, Minh Khai is honored as a revolutionary martyr by the Vietnamese Communist Party, and some roads, schools and administrative units in Vietnam are named after her. Her name is used for a major street in HCMC’s District 1.
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Ut Tich (1931-1968) is the Hero of the People's Armed Force, which is awarded to Vietnamese individuals with "exceptionally outstanding achievements in combat, combat service and work, [and] represent the revolutionary heroism in the cause of national liberation, national defense and the protection of the people".
She was widely known after 1975 when Vietnamese people read Nguyen Thi’s short novel based on her life, Người Mẹ Cầm Súng (Mother With A Gun), which is now included in Vietnamese textbooks.
She was born in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh. Her real name is Nguyen Thi Ut, but after 1950 she was called Ut Tich when she married Lam Van Tich, a local Viet Minh soldier.
She was the youngest in her family. Her family was poor, so they worked as helpers for a local landlord.
Among the three daughters, she was known as the most disobedient, as she sometimes dared to fight back against the landlord.
When she turned 13, her father died, and the same year, Viet Minh forces helped her escape from the landlord and she joined the Viet Minh.
When the French re-occupied the south and expanded their colonial rule over Indochina, she volunteered to take part in the fight against the French, but was rejected given her young age.
She had a saying that was then used in the novel: “They attacked us, we must fight against them”.
She became an active liaison officer for military officials in charge of providing intelligence on the French army in the area.
After marrying a Viet Minh soldier, she joined a local guerrilla group, taking part in eight attacks against the French.
After the signing of the Geneva Accords in 1954, Ut Tich and her husband were assigned to stay in the South. The South Saigon regime launched a campaign to take revenge on Communist soldiers like Ut Tich and her husband.
The couple was arrested and then released following protests.
After the Dong Khoi Movement in 1959, which was led by members of the Viet Minh in Southern Vietnam who urged people to revolt against the United States and the Republic Of Vietnam, the couple joined the communists’ Southern Vietnam National Liberation Front.
Ut Tich gave birth to eight children. She and her third daughter were killed in a bombardment by American troops in 1968.
She has been immortalized with streets named after her across Vietnam, including one in HCMC’s Tan Binh District.
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