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 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 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.
This section does not cite any sources. (April 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
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 Thị (氏) as their middle name, and many men had Văn (文). More recently, a broader range of names has been used, and people named Thị sometimes omit their middle name.
Thị is by far the most common female middle name. That word expresses possession. For example, "Trần Thị Mai Loan" is a person who has the given name of "Mai Loan" and the surname "Trần", and the combination "Trần Thị" means "a female person belonging to the Trần family." Male middle names include Văn (文), Hữu (友), Đức (德), Thành (誠), Công (公), and Quang (光).
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 "Đinh Quang Dũng" is separated into the surname "Đinh" and the given name "Quang Dũng". 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 Dũng", "Anh Dũng", 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, 謙).
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 Thị (氏) 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 Hồ Chí Minh (Bác Hồ—"Uncle Hồ") (however, his real surname is Nguyễn), Trịnh Công Sơn (nhạc Trịnh—"Trịnh music"), and Hồ Xuân Hương (nữ sĩ họ Hồ—"the poetess with the family name Hồ"). 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 rửa tội). Boys are given male saints' names, while girls are given female saints' names. This name appears first, before the family name, in formal religious contexts. Out of respect, clergy are usually referred to by saints' 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 saints' names are taken from the New Testament, such as Phêrô (Peter), Phaolô (Paul), Gioan (John), Maria (Mary), and Anna.
Saints' names are respelled phonetically according to the Vietnamese alphabet. Some more well-known saints' names are derived further into names that sound more Vietnamese.
|Saint||Name in Romance language||Vietnamese name|
|Alexander||Alexandre (Portuguese)||A Lịch Sơn, Alexanđê|
|Anthony||Antonio (Portuguese)||Antôn, An Tôn, Antôniô|
|Benedict||Benedictus (Latin)||Biển Đức, Bênêđictô|
|Clement||Clemente (Portuguese)||Clêmêntê, Lê Minh|
|Constantine||Constantino (Portuguese)||Constantinô, Công Tăng|
|Dominic||Dominicano (Portuguese)||Đa Minh, Đaminh|
|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, Mạc Tính, Mạc Ty Nho|
|Paul||Paulus (Latin), Paolo (Portuguese)||Phaolô, Bảo Lộc|
|Thaddaeus||Tadeu (Portuguese)||Tađêô, Thanh Diêu|
|Urban||Urbano (Portuguese)||Urbanô, Ước 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 Đình Diệm would be listed as "Diem, Ngô Dinh" and Võ Nguyên Giáp would be listed as "Giáp, Võ Nguyên".
In Vietnamese, Vietnamese names are sorted by given name, then family name, then middle name.