Vientiane - Origin of The Name

Origin of The Name

The name of the city is derived from Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. In modern Lao, the meaning of the name Vientiane is ambiguous. The alternative meanings "city of the moon", or "city of sandalwood" are championed, because the words for 'moon' (chandra चन्द्र in Sanskrit) and 'sandalwood' (chandana चन्दन in Sanskrit) are written and pronounced identically as 'chan' in modern Lao. The name in Thai, เวียงจันทน์, however, retains the etymological spelling, which indicates "city of sandalwood." Yet the Lao spelling of "Chanta" means moon, and is officially spelled as "moon" in the name of the district in Vientiane spelled "Chantabuly". Perhaps the translation would mean "moon" now, since in the Lao language, any reference to plants, flowers, or trees is accompanied by "Maek"(plant/fruit), "Mai" (wood/tree) or "Dok"(flower). Without these references the word would not have that meaning. Since no reference to sandalwood without the prefix "Mai" (plant or tree) exists in the Thai or Lao language, it is difficult to insist that "Chan" means sandalwood. To correctly say sandalwood or city of sandalwood, the romanized Lao translation would have to be "Vieng MaiChan." "Chan" alone does not mean sandalwood but could mean Moon, thus the idea that it would have to mean "moon." The romanized spelling "Vientiane" is of French origin, and reflects the difficulty the French had in pronouncing the hard "ch" sound in the Lao word; a common English-based spelling is "Viangchan", or occasionally "Wiangchan".

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