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What Does Vietnam Mean?


According to many historical Vietnamese experts, the name of this country has been changed more than 20 times since the country was established in the primordial period. Some of the names were derived either unofficially or officially to define an area or region belonging to Vietnam.

To understand what does Vietnam mean, one must track back to when the country's land was first established. Even though the word “Vietnam” was first mentioned in many ancient documents recorded by historians in the 14th century, it only became the nation's official name in 1840. Many people traveling to Vietnam might wonder what Vietnam means, and we hope this article will help to answer "What does Vietnam mean?".

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The Meaning of Vietnam

As a matter of fact, “Vietnam” is a combination of two Vietnamese words, “Viet” in ancient Vietnamese language meaning preeminent or descendants of a dragon soaring to the sun, “Nam” means of the southern territory. 

However, the word "Viet" can also be understood as moving away from something in ancient Chinese. Some people believe that Vietnam stands for a group of people in ancient China (before the formation of the Chinese Empire) who moved to a new land in the southern area (from the south of the Yangtze River to the northern borders of Vietnam today in the Bronze Age).

Vietnameses ancestors

The group of Viet people was the ancestors of Vietnamese nowadays

These people, the Viet ethnic group, had created a distinctive cultural identity at Song Hong (the Red River Basin) in Vietnam nowadays and continuously fought against the powerful Chinese Empire to protect their territory for more than 1,000 years. They were the Vietnamese’s ancestors in the present day.

Read about Different Vietnam Ethnicities

When the Name Vietnam was First Recorded

In 1802, the word “Vietnam” was adopted officially by Emperor Gia Long in the Nguyen Dynasty. The king first named the country “Nam Viet”, but this name was similar to another ancient name in China, so he changed it to “Viet Nam”. However, after succeeding in the reign in 1834, Emperor Minh Mang changed the nation's name to “Dai Nam” which means a large/great country in the south. The word “Vietnam” was no longer popular until it was mentioned again in historical books by patriots and historians at the end of the 19th century.

01 Gia Long emperor

This picture depicting the portrait of Gia Long

On March 9th, 1945, a Japanese coup took over Vietnam from the French colonial government and authorized Emperor Bao Dai, the last king of feudatory dynasties in Vietnam, to control the country. He declared the country as “De Quoc Viet Nam”. After the Japanese government's defeat in the August Revolution and Emperor Bao Dai was forced to give up his position, President Ho Chi Minh officially read the Independence Declaration of Vietnam on September 2nd, 1945, and asserted the nation's name as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In 1976, Congress institutionalized the name and replaced it with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which remains Vietnam's official name present day.

ho chi minh independence declaration 2

Ho Chi Minh officially declared the independence of Vietnam

Conclusion on What does Vietnam Mean

With the answer to "What does Vietnam mean?" mentioned above, the Vietnamese proudly take pride in the special cultural origin as well as ancient traditions and the great country of the people in a southern land. Vietnamese are always hospitable and friendly, welcoming visitors and adventurers to the country.

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family outing in ho chi minh city motorcycle

You can read more about Vietnam’s history in our other articles:

The Meanings of Vietnam's Flag

Worthy Vietnam Tours to Understand the Vietnam War

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Guest - Tyler Swansea on Thursday, 12 March 2020 13:58

Lots of things to learn in your blogs. Absolutely amazing local guides

Lots of things to learn in your blogs. Absolutely amazing local guides
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Friday, 31 March 2023

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