• Christopher G. Moore

Naming cities: Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

An American reader recently wrote to say that it was a mistake for me to use the name “Saigon” as, in his words, everyone knows the name of the city is now Ho Chi Minh City.

If all lives were so simple. Rangoon becomes Yangon. The Lady continues to use Rangoon.

For many readers who don’t live in the region they are likely unaware of the political implications of name changes. Wars bring changes of names in their wake (the names of streets in Phnom Penh are a good example) and dictators can flex their muscles, and demonstrating their absolute power, they can with stroke of a pen change the name of a city. There is magic in a name. Dictators understand this. Doing tricks and sleight of hand are their stock in trade.

For many people Saigon remains forever the name they will always use. Are they locked in a past that no longer exist? Are they making a political statement along the lines that I refuse to accept the name of the man who led to the communist take over of Vietnam? There are many other reasons to explain why someone would wish to continue to use Saigon in 2005. The main point is that changing the name doesn’t change the identity of a place or the heart of people who associate a place with a name that long ago entered their heart and refuses to depart.

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