Heavenly Stems

The 10 heavenly stems are based off the Sexagenary cycle also known as Stems and Branches. The system was used in the past similar to record and keep track of dates and years.

What many people don’t know about the Vietnamese zodiac is that it takes does not 12 years to complete a full cycle through the animal list but rather 60 years.

A complete cycle can be thought of as a the 12 months of a year. Usually a year will start off on January and end in December. The same holds true for the Zodiac but applied to years starting with the Rat and ending with the Pig.

The Vietnamese names for the 10 heavenly stems are:


Why is this helpful to know?

One useful application is to decipher the names of the years. The Vietnamese name their years by combining:

1 Heavenly Stem + 1 Earthly Branch = Current year name.

Ex: Nhâm Rồng

Nhâm = Heavenly Stem
Rồng = Earthly Branch.

Another twist is to get a full meaning of the year you must also know that each of the 10 heavenly stems above are also associated with each of the 5 elements along with Yin and Yang. Below is a breakdown of the associations with the Elements:

5 Element associations:

Wood – Giáp, Ất,
Fire – Bính, Đinh,
Earth – Mậu, Kỷ,
Metal – Canh, Tân,
Water – Nhâm, Quý

Yin and Yang associations:

Yang – Giáp, Bính, Mậu, Canh, Nhâm
Yin – Ất, Đinh, Kỷ, Tân, Quý

So now that you are armed with your decoder ring you can now translate:

Nhâm Rồng

to year of the:

Yang Water Dragon