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.
Mother Au Co
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.
Image source: vietnamnet.vn
Ba Trieu (Lady Trieu)
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.”
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.
According to Son Tung, the author of some novels about President Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader had to pretend to be married during his underground years.
“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.
Image source: thanhnien.vn
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.