Why did people use “Dz” in names in the old days?

Have you ever wondered if there is something special hidden behind the names with “Dz”?

Learn Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh City – A lot of people seeing the name of the musician “Dzoãn Mẫn” or the craftsman and food specialist “Nguyễn Dzoãn Cẩm Vân” in the newspapers or on TV might be thinking the writers must be misspelling the names because there can’t be a name starting with ‘Dz’ in Vietnamese.

The truth is, there were many poets and celebrities with that special name. So was the “Dz” just an emphasis, or was it more special than that?

Famous people whose names start with ‘Dz’

In his 60 years of writing, Hồ Dzếnh the poet gifted us with numerous poems and made his mark with lines from poems that are still read to this day.

Hồ Dzếnh’s hand-written

The people who visited Ghềnh Ráng in Quy Nhơn City (Bình Định Province) before 2008 would have found it difficult to resist the chance to visit “poet hill”, where lies the tent of the famous artist Trương Dzũ Kha, the one who spent 30 years drawing the love poems of Hàn Mặc Tử on the surface of paper and wood with a fire-pen. Many artists working abroad changed the first letter of their name from “D” to the unique and flamboyant “Dz”.

The people mentioned are all outstanding. And their ‘Dz…’ names are also the names that they used to call themselves in public.

Trương Dzũ Kha – the artist that spent 30 years drawing Hàn Mặc Tử’s poems with a fire pen.

The standard Vietnamese alphabet obviously does not have this special “Dz” and neither does English. A lot of people might have thought “Dz” must be a non-native letter.

The secrets behind the mysterious “Dz”

In order to understand more about this special “Dz”, let’s break down the letters “D” and “z”. “D” is an odd letter in the Latin alphabet, its pronunciation is almost the same as that of the letter “Y” (as in Yes, You, etc.). “D” is gradually used for that specific pronunciation instead of “Y”.

From that, we can divide the pronunciations of “D” into 2 groups: D – English style, as in “Doctor” and “Dancing”; and D – Vietnamese style, with its pronunciation sounds like the “Y” in English.

By coincidence, Han-Vietnamese words also have the pronunciation of the “Y” in Mandarin and Guangdong Chinese, i.e. dương – yang, dừa – ye, etc.

The two ways to pronounce the letter “D” accidentally caused serious spelling problems in history, especially the name of Đà Lạt city.

Đà Lạt was originally called “Ya Lạc” – which means the area near the stream belongs to a tribe where everyone’s last name is “Lạc”. The simple Vietnamese language at that time might not have distinguished between “Lạc” and “Lạt” due to their similarity in pronunciation. People got used to calling it “Lạt”; eventually, “Ya Lạc” became “Ya Lạt”.

Only a few people knew that Đà Lạt’s original name was Ya Lạc

Since the Vietnamese script at that time didn’t have the letter “Y”, the foreign people – who only knew about Ya Lạt – wrote “Da Lạt” instead, as a habit. And as a result, Da Lạt became Đa Lạt (in Vietnamese, the pronunciation of Đ is the same as the pronunciation of D in English). And that’s how Ya Lạc became Đà Lạt.

Furthermore, the Vietnamese people with the names such as Dung, Duyên, Danh, Dinh were mispronounced by the natives. And obviously, they can’t stand seeing their names being mispronounced like that.

That’s why Vietnamese living in English speaking countries decided to change their name to Dzung, Dzuyên, Dzanh, Dzing. Some even changed into “Y” just to be sure.

Hồ Dzếnh’s real name was Hà Triệu Anh. He was Guangdong-born, where his name was pronounced Hồi-Tsìu-Díng, Hồi-Díng in short. It was rumored that he thought the name Hồi-Díng was not catchy in Vietnamese, so he changed his name to Hồ Dzếnh instead.

Over to Mr. Trương Dzũ Kha, there are 2 explanations: one – his real name was Trương Vũ Kha, or “wǔ” in Chinese, pronounced like “Dzũ”. Or two – in the Southern Vietnamese accent, Vũ is pronounced “Dzũ”.

In conclusion, people whose names start with “Dz” sound flamboyant, but they actually have reasons to do so. The writer hopes to find out more reasonable research on the subject in the future, as well as finding the real reasons behind the “Dz” in famous names like Dzoãn Mẫn and Nguyễn Dzoãn Cẩm Vân.


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