Vietnamese personal names generally consist of three parts: one patrilineal family name, one or more middle name(s) (one of which may be taken from the mother's family name), and one given name, used in that order. The "family name first" order follows the system of Chinese names and is common throughout the Chinese cultural sphere. However, it is different from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese names in the usage of "middle names", as they are less common in China and Korea and do not exist in Japan. Persons can be referred to by the whole name, the given name or a hierarchic pronoun, which usually connotes a degree of family relationship or kinship, in normal usage.
The Vietnamese language is tonal, and so are Vietnamese names. Names with the same spelling (ignoring diacritics) but with different tones are different names, which can confuse non-Vietnamese people when the diacritics are dropped, as is commonly done outside Vietnam.
Anyone applying for Vietnamese nationality must adopt a Vietnamese name.
The family name is positioned first and is passed on by the father to his children. It is estimated that there are around 100 family names in common use, but some are far more common than others. The name Nguy?n is estimated to be used by almost 40% of the Vietnamese population. The top three names are so popular because people tended to take family names of emperors to show their loyalty. Over many generations, family names became permanent.
The following list includes less-common surnames in alphabetical order:
In formal contexts, people are referred to by their full name. In more casual contexts, people are always on a "first name basis", which involves their given names, accompanied by proper kinship terms. There is no such thing as a "last name basis", or family name basis, in Vietnam.
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Most Vietnamese have one middle name, but it is quite possible to have two or more of them or to have no middle name at all.
In the past, the middle name was selected by parents from a fairly narrow range of options. Almost all women had Th? (?) as their middle name, and many men had V?n (?). More recently, a broader range of names has been used, and people named Th? sometimes omit their middle name.
Th? is by far the most common female middle name. That word expresses possession. For example, "Tr?n Th? Mai Loan" is a person who has the given name of "Mai Loan" and the surname "Tr?n", and the combination "Tr?n Th?" means "a female person belonging to the Tr?n family." The combination is similar to Western surname formation like "Van" in "Van Helsing", "Mac" in "MacCartney", etc. Male middle names include V?n (?), H?u (?), c (?), Thành (?), Công (?), and Quang (?).
The middle name can have three uses:
However, most middle names now do not have those uses. They can have a meaning or only make the full name sound better.
In most cases, the middle name is formally part of the given name. For example, the name "?inh Quang D?ng" is separated into the surname "?inh" and the given name "Quang D?ng". In a normal name list, those two parts of the full name are put in two different columns. However, in daily conversation, the last word in a given name with a title before it is used to address a person: "Ông D?ng", "Anh D?ng", etc., with "Ông" and "Anh" being words to address the person and depend on age, social position, etc.
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 (Khiêm, ?).
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. That contrasts with the situation in many other cultures in which the family name is used in formal situations, but it is a practice similar to usage in Icelandic usage and, to some degree, Polish. It is similar to the Latin-American and southern European custom of referring to women as "Doña" and men as "Don", along with their first name.
Addressing someone by the family name is rare. In the past, married women in the north were called by their (maiden) family name, with Th? (?) as a suffix. In recent years, doctors are more likely than any other social group to be addressed by their family name, but that form of reference is more common in the north than in the south. Some extremely famous people are sometimes referred to by their family names, such as H? Chí Minh (Bác H?--"Uncle H?") (however, his real surname is Nguy?n), Tr?nh Công S?n (nh?c Tr?nh--"Tr?nh music"), and H? Xuân Hng (n? s? h? H?--"the poetess with the family name H?"). Traditionally, people in Vietnam, particularly North Vietnam, addressed parents using the first child's name: Mr and Mrs Anh or Master Minh.
When being addressed within the family, children are sometimes referred to by their birth number, starting with one in the north but two in the south. That practice is less common recently, especially in the north.
Vietnamese Catholics are given a saint's name at baptism (Vietnamese: tên thánh or tên r?a t?i). Boys are given male saint's names, while girls are given female saint's names. This name appears first, before the family name, in formal religious contexts. Out of respect, clergy are usually referred to by saint's name. The saint's name also functions as a posthumous name, used instead of an individual's given name in prayers after their death. The most common saint's names are taken from the New Testament, such as Phêrô (Peter), Phaolô (Paul), Gioan (John), Maria (Mary), and Anna.
Saint's names are respelled phonetically according to the Vietnamese alphabet. Some more well-known saint's names are derived further into names that sound more Vietnamese.
|Saint||Name in Romance language||Vietnamese name|
|Alexander||Alexandre (Portuguese)||A L?ch S?n, Alexan?ê|
|Anthony||Antonio (Portuguese)||Antôn, An Tôn, Antôniô|
|Benedict||Benedictus (Latin)||Bi?n c, Bênê?ictô|
|Clement||Clemente (Portuguese)||Clêmêntê, Lê Minh|
|Constantine||Constantino (Portuguese)||Constantinô, Công T?ng|
|Dominic||Dominicano (Portuguese)||?a Minh, ?aminh|
|Helena||Elena (Portuguese)||Hà Liên|
|Ignatius||Ignacio (Portuguese)||Inhaxiô, Y Nhã|
|John the Baptist||Juan Bautista (Spanish)||Gioan Baotixita|
|Martin||Martinho (Portuguese), Martín (Spanish)||Martinô, Máctinô, M?c Tính, M?c Ty Nho|
|Paul||Paulus (Latin), Paolo (Portuguese)||Phaolô, B?o L?c|
|Thaddaeus||Tadeu (Portuguese)||Ta?êô, Thanh Diêu|
|Urban||Urbano (Portuguese)||Urbanô, c Bang|
Some names may appear the same if simplified into a basic ASCII script, as for example on websites, but are different names:
Typically, as in the above examples, it is middle or the last personal given name which varies, as almost any Sino-Vietnamese character may be used. The number of family names is limited.
Further, some historical names may be written using different Chinese characters (Sino-Vietnamese), but are still written the same in the modern Vietnamese alphabet.
According to the English-language Chicago Manual of Style, Vietnamese names are indexed according to the final given name and not according to the family name, with a cross-reference placed in regards to the family name. Ngô ?ình Di?m would be listed as "Diem, Ngô Dinh" and Võ Nguyên Giáp would be listed as "Giáp, Võ Nguyên".