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Vietnamese name: Map

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Vietnamese names generally consist of three parts: a family name, a middle name, and a given name, used in that order. Like their Chinese, Korean, and other counterparts, this is in accordance to the East Asian system of personal names. In a deviation from the East Asian naming system, a person will be referred to either by the whole name, given name, or a hierarchic name in normal usage.

Due to the ubiquity of the major family names such as Tran and Nguyen, a person is often referred to by their middle name along with their given name in Vietnamese media and youth culture.

The Vietnamese language is tonal, and so are Vietnamese names. The same spelling with different tones are different names, which can confuse non-Vietnamese people when the diacritics are dropped when used outside of Vietnam.

Family name

The family name, positioned first, is passed on by the father to his children (patronymic naming system). It is estimated that there are around one hundred family names in common use, although some are far more common than others. The name Nguyễn is estimated to be used by almost 40% of the Vietnamese population. The top three names are so popular because people tended to take the family name of kings, to show their favor and loyalty. Over many generations, the family names became permanent.

The most popular family names among the Vietnamese are (the Chinese characters following each name are their Chinese equivalents):
  1. Nguyễn 阮 (38.4%)
  2. Trần 陳 (11%)
  3. 黎 (9.5%)
  4. Phạm 范 (7.1%)
  5. Huỳnh/Hoàng 黃 (5.1%)
  6. Phan 潘 (4.5%)
  7. Vũ/ 武 (3.9%)
  8. Đặng 鄧(2.1%)
  9. Bùi 裴 (2%)
  10. Đỗ 杜 (1.4%)
  11. Hồ 胡 (1.3%)
  12. Ngô 吳 (1.3%)
  13. Dương 楊 (1%)
  14. 李 (0.5%)


The following include some other less common surnames, in no particular order:

In Vietnamese cultural practice, women almost always keep their family names once they marry, just as in other East Asian cultures, including Chinese culture, to the north and northeast.

Some Vietnamese have a dual family name. Usually it is a combination of the father's family name and the mother's family name. For example, "Nguyễn Phạm", "Nguyễn Lê".

Middle name

The middle name is selected by parents from a fairly narrow range. In the past, almost all women had Thị (氏) as their middle name, and many men had Văn (文). More recently, a broader range of names have been used, and people named Thị sometimes omit their middle name.

Thị is by far the most common female middle name. Male middle names include Văn, Hữu (), Đức, Công, Quang and many others.

Generally, the middle name has three usages:
  1. To indicate a person's generation — brothers and sisters share the same middle name, which distinguish them from the generation before and after them (see generation name).
  2. To separate branches of a big family. For example, "Nguyễn Hữu", "Nguyễn Sinh", "Trần Lâm". However, this usage is still controversial. Some people consider they are dual family names, not family name + middle name. Some families may, however, set up arbitrary rules about giving a different middle name to each generation.
  3. To indicate a person's position in the family, also known as birth order. This usage is less common than others. It seems that just the Chinese still keep this convention.


Given name

The given name is the primary form of address for Vietnamese. It is chosen by parents, and usually has a literal meaning in the Vietnamese language. Names often represent beauty, such as bird or flower names, or attributes and characteristics that the parents want in their child, such as modesty (Khiem). Typical given names consists of two parts, the first is tên lót, which is just there to make it sound prettier, fancier, while the second is the one that most people go by.

Typically, Vietnamese will be addressed with their given name, even in formal situations, although an honorific equivalent to "Mr.", "Mrs.", etc. will be added when necessary. This contrasts with the situation in many other cultures, where the family name is used in formal situations. This practice is similar to Icelandic practice.

Addressing someone by his or her family name is rare, though not impossible to find. In the past, married women in the north have been called by their family name, with Thị 氏 as a suffix. In recent years, doctors are more likely to be addressed by their family name than any other group of society, though this form of reference is more common in the north than in the south. Some extremely well-known people are sometimes referred by their family names, such as Hồ Chí Minh ("Uncle Hồ") (however his real last name is Nguyễn), Trịnh Công Sơn ("Trịnh music"), and Hồ Xuân Hương ("the poetess with the family name Hồ"). In the old days, people in Vietnam, and particularly North Vietnam addressed parents using the first child's name for example Mr and Mrs Anh or Master Minh.

However, when being addressed within the family, the children are commonly referred to by their birth number, starting from one in the north but starting with two in the south.

Example

  • Nguyễn Tấn Dũng is the current Prime Minister of Vietnam. Nguyễn is his family name, Tấn is his middle name, and Dũng is his given name. In formal usage, he is referred to by his given name ("Mr. Dũng"), not by his family name ("Mr. Nguyễn").
  • Likewise, the famous general and military leader, Võ Nguyên Giáp, is referred to by his given name, eg, "General Giáp."


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