Vietnamese Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

  • Vietnamese names are generally arranged as follows: [FAMILY NAME] [middle name] [given name]. For example, NGUYEN Van Nam (male) or LE Thi Lam (female).
  • The ‘family name’ (or ‘surname’) is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s immediate family.
  • Vietnamese names are traditionally patrilineal, whereby children inherit their father’s family name at birth.
  • The ‘middle name’, is a secondary personal name written between the person's family name and given name. For example, NGUYEN Van Nam’s middle name is ‘Van’. 
  • Some Vietnamese people may not have a middle name, e.g. NGUYEN Trai. However, most people have one or sometimes two.
  • The given name (or ‘personal name’) is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier.
  • Some personal names may be two syllables/words long. For example, NGUYEN Thi Hoa Diep’s personal name is ‘Hoa Diep’. This is more common for female names.1 
  • Vietnamese names generally range from two to five words long depending on the number of words in their middle name and given name.
  • Women do not change their legal names at marriage. However, some may choose to use their husband’s personal name to introduce themselves. For example, if LE Thi Lam married NGUYEN Van Nam, she might refer to herself (unofficially) as ‘Mrs Nam’.
  • Vietnamese people living in international or English-speaking contexts may reverse the arrangement of their given name and family name to suit English-Western naming conventions: [personal name] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, NGUYEN Van Nam may be known as Van Nam NGUYEN.
  • It has become popular to integrate both parent’s surnames into the child’s name as follows: [FATHER’S FAMILY NAME] [MOTHER’S FAMILY NAME] [middle name] [given name]. For example, if NGUYEN Van Nam (father) and LE Thi Lam (mother) had a child, they may be named NGUYEN LE Ngoc Thao. In these cases, the father’s family name remains the child’s surname, while the mother’s family name becomes a second middle name.

 

Names

  • Vietnamese given names often have a literal meaning that symbolises a positive value, attribute or characteristic that is desired for the person, e.g. Khiem (modesty), An (peace and safety), Lap (independent), Dung (courageous).2
  • Many names also have a poetic meaning representing beauty, nature, flora or fauna, e.g. Lan (orchid), Lien (lotus), Xuan (spring), Phong (wind).3
  • Many Vietnamese given names can be used interchangeably for both men and women. Some of the most common names used by both genders are Anh, Dung, Hanh, Hoa, Hong, Khanh, Lan, Liem, Nhung, Duy and Xuan.4
  • Middle names tend to be more gender specific. The most common middle names are ‘Thi’ for females and ‘Van’ for males. Other common male middle names include Huu, Duc, Xuan, Ngoc, Quang and Cong.
  • Some families may use middle names to differentiate between generations, whereby all siblings within a single generation share the same name. Other families may give the same middle name to all individuals of the same gender across generations.
  • There is also a traditional practice of using middle names that indicate the order of male siblings, e.g. ‘Manh’ (first-born), ‘Trong’ (second-born), ‘Qui’ (third-born), etc.
  • However, today it is most common to choose a middle name that offers a poetic or positive meaning, e.g. TRAN Gia Hạnh Phuc means "Happiness to the Tran family".
  • The most common family name is NGUYEN (阮), with approximately 40% of the Vietnamese population sharing this name. Other common family names include LE (黎), TRAN (陳), PHAM (范), PHAN (潘), HOANG (黃). 

 

Addressing Others

  • Vietnamese people generally address one another by their given (personal) name in any casual context. This is usually accompanied by an honorific title, based on people’s gender, age and social relationship to one another. 
  • Titles usually have familial connotations, such as ‘uncle or ‘aunt’ instead of professional meanings.
  • Younger people address older men as ‘Ong’ (grandfather) and older women as ‘Ba’ (grandmother).
  • An older person addresses non-elderly men and women as ‘Anh’ (older brother) and ‘Chi’ (older sister) respectively, and very young or unmarried men and women as ‘Chu’ (younger brother) and ‘Co’ (younger sister).
  • The term ‘Em’ (younger sibling) is used to address anyone younger than yourself of either gender, and can be a term of endearment. Similarly, the word ‘Bac’ (uncle) can be used as a term of respect to address anyone older than yourself of either gender.
  • The title always comes before the person’s given name. It is incorrect to use a persons’ family name with a title. For example, you would refer to NGUYEN Van Nam as ‘Bac Nam’, not ‘Bac NGUYEN’. 
  • People may be referred to by their full name in formal contexts. However, it is rare to address someone by their family name alone.

 

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1 John Cooke Report, 1998
2 Dang, 2021
3 Archwal, 2020
4 John Cooke Report, 1998
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