The changing names of Hanoi

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Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi City

Thang Long (Hanoi) has been the capital city through out most of Vietnam’s history. Before it became the capital of the Dai Viet Kingdom in 1010, Hanoi had severed as the administrative headquarters of Chinese governors in Vietnam during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties. Since its founding, the city has been called by many different names.

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Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi City

The following gives a rough chronological order.

*Official names:

These are names found in historical records and used by various dynasties.

1. Long Do

Legend has it that the Tang Dynasty Governor Gao Pian dreamed he saw a genie called Long Do while building the Dai La Citadel on the current site of Hanoi. Based on this story, Hanoi is sometimes called Long Do in historical records. For example, in 1397, under Tran Thuan Tong’s reign, Ho Quy Ly wanted to move the capital Thang Long to Thanh Hoa Province because he intended to usurp the throne.

2. Tong Binh

The Chinese used Hanoi as their administrative headquarters to rule over Vietnam and called the city Tong Binh during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Before that, their headquarters had been located in Long Bien (across the river from present-day Hanoi).

3. Dai La

The capital used to have three encircling walls. Within the inner wall was the Purple Citadel or the Forbidden Citadel, where the King and royal family lived. The area between the inner and the middle walls was called Kinh Thanh (the Royal Capital), and the area between the middle and outer walls was called the Dai La Citadel. In 866, Gao Pian enlarged and reinforced the Dai La Citadel. From then on, the capital was officially called Dai La. For instance, King Ly Thai To’s Royal Edict on the Transfer of the Capital in 1010 said, “The Dai La Citadel, Governor Gao Pian’s old capital lies in the centre of the universe…”

4. Thang Long

Meaning “Rising Dragon,” this is the most literary and meaningful name among the names of Hanoi. According to The Complete History of Dai Viet (printed the first time in 1697), “In July, Canh Tuat Year (1010), King Ly Thai To transferred the capital from Hoa Lu to the Dai La Citadel. When his boat stopped outside the citadel, he saw a golden dragon appearing above the royal boat. He then decided to change the capital’s name to Thang Long.”

5. Dong Do

The Complete History of Dai Viet says, “In April of the Dinh Sửu Year (1397), General Hồ Hán Thương was appointed to rule the area called Dong Do.” Or, as a Nguyen Dynasty writer explained in An In-depth History of Vietnam, “By then Thanh Hoa was called Tay Do (Western City), and Thang Long, Dong Do (Eastern City).”

6. Dong Quan

The Ming Dynasty of China called Hanoi “Dong Quan” to humiliate Vietnam after they defeated Hồ Quý Ly in 1408. Dong Quan means “the eastern gate” of the Chinese empire.

7. Dong Kinh

The Complete History of Dai Viet relates: “In April of the Dinh Mui Year (1427), King Lê Lợi moved from the Bo De Place to Dong Kinh (the Eastern Capital). He named his reign “Thuan Thien” and the country “Dai Viet” (Great Viet), and used Dong Kinh as the capital. On the 15th day, he acceded to the throne in Dong Kinh, also known as Thang Long.

Since Thanh Hoa already had Tay Do, Thang Long was then called Dong Kinh.”

8. Bac Thanh

During the Tay Son period, under the rule of Nguyen Hue (Quang Trung), 1787–1802, the capital was located in Phu Xuan (present-day Hueế). Thang Long was renamed Bac Thanh (the Northern Citadel).

9. Thang Long

In The History of the Hanoi Capital (1960), Tran Huy Lieu wrote: “In 1802, King Gia Long decided to continue to use Phu Xuan as the capital instead of Thang Long. He appointed Nguyen Van Thanh as Governor of the North, and turned Thang Long into a regional citadel to control the North. However, King Gia Long decided to keep the name Thang Long unchanged as it was very popular among the people. He therefore, in 1805, changed only the word “Long” (Dragon) into its homophone “Long” (Prosperity) [written with a different Chinese character]. His argument was that the King no longer lived there, so “Long” (Dragon), which was the King’s symbol, could not be used.” Gia Long also ordered the size of the Hanoi Citadel to be reduced, because it was too large and grand for a regional city.

10. Hanoi

The History of the Hanoi Capital also explains, “In 1831, King Ming Mạng merged Thang Long with surrounding districts such as Tu Liem, Ung Hoa, Ly Nhan and Thuong Tin to establish the province of Hanoi, and used the former area of Thang Long as the provincial capital.

* Unofficial names

These include names used in literary works, popular sayings and spoken Vietnamese to refer to Thang Long (Hanoi).

1. Truong An (or Trang An)

Truong An (in Mandarin, “Chang’an”) was the capital of China during the powerful Han and Tang dynasties (present day Xi’an, Shanxi Province). Vietnamese Confucian scholars therefore used Trang An to denote “the capital.” Common in popular sayings and proverbs to refer to Thang Long (Hanoi), such as the following:

Nothing can equal the fragrance of jasmine flowers

No one can surpass the refined lifestyle of the people of Trang An

2. Phuong Thanh (or Phung Thanh)

Doctoral laureate Nguyen Thanh Gian Thanh wrote a famous poem in Nom script about Thang Long in the early 16th century entitled The Spring Scenery of Phuong Thanh (Phoenix Citadel). The name Phoenix Citadel was therefore used in Vietnamese literature to refer to Thang Long.

3. Long Bien

From the 3rd to 6th centuries, Chinese rulers used Long Bien as their administrative headquarters for governing Vietnam. The name “Long Bien” continued to be used in literary works to refer to Thang Long–Hanoi. King Tu Duc expressed his grief at the death of Hanoi governor and doctoral laureate Tran Bích San (1838-1877) in The Book of Royal Examinations as follows:

I still remember you had just returned to the capital from the Long Bien Citadel.

I was about to summon you to a discussion in the court when you suddenly parted forever.

4. Long Thanh

Long Thanh (Dragon Capital) is an acronym for the City of the Flying Dragon (Thanh phố Thang Long). A Tay Sơn Dynasty poet, Ngo Ngoc Du, followed his paternal grandfather to Thang Long where the family opened a school and practiced traditional medicine. After witnessing King Quang Tring’s great victory over the Qing invaders in Dong Da, Ngoc Hoi in 1789, Ngo Ngoc Du wrote The Notes on the Restoration of the Dragon Capital (Hanoi).

5. Ha Thanh

Similar to Long Thanh, this is an acronym for the City of Hanoi. It was frequently used in literary works to refer to Hanoi, such as in the anonymous Song of the Fall of the Capital, and The Song of the Indomitable Capital by Nguyen Van Giai.

6. Hoang Dieu

The name of commander Hoang Dieu, who led his soldiers to defend the Hanoi Citadel against the French attackers in 1882, was sometimes used to refer to Hanoi immediately after the August 1945 Revolution.

7. Ke Cho, Thuong Kinh, Kinh Ky, and Kinh

These are other informal names for Thang Long – Hanoi sometimes found in literary works and popular sayings. There are many other names for Hanoi of this type, of which this is only a partial list.