Over the summer my husband and I discovered a yummy little Vietnamese place called Pho-natic. The name is a play on the word fanatic (pho sounds like “fuh”).
Why am I mentioning a neighborhood restaurant on my name blog? Because the woman behind the restaurant has a great story, and part of that story has to do with her name.
Oi Thi Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1956. “Oi started working as soon as she can walk. From the rice fields to fishing boats–Oi did it all.”
Her family was in the noodle soup business. Oi also sold fish and meat — not at the local markets, but at American military bases. “It was against the law and punishable by death but Oi didn’t care.”
The U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, and Saigon fell in 1975.
In 1984, Oi tried to escape from Vietnam in an overloaded boat. It capsized at sea. The people were rescued and taken to a refugee camp in the Philippines.
Oi lived there for ten months until a letter stated that Oi Thi Nguyen was awarded to come to the United States for aiding Americans during the war. The American soldiers remembered Oi’s name and wrote people in high places to make sure she has a safe passage.
She finally made it to the U.S. in 1986.
Here’s a photo of Oi (scroll down) I found in an article about Pho-natic from a few years ago.
I’m very curious about the name Oi now. What does it mean? The internet gives me various definitions for the Vietnamese word oi, depending on the diacritics: ơi means “hey,” ổi means “guava,” etc. I’m not sure how Oi writes her name, though, so it’s hard for me to guess the source.
Next time we go out for pho, I’ll have to ask…
Image: Pho by David Joiner