Vietnamese names –
right order and meaning

Vietnamese names are usually compose of three elements and should be placed in the following order:

               Family name + Middle Name + First Name

You can see the last (family) name is written first, then the middle, and finally the first name. Let’s take an example. My full name is Dao Van Long, which means my surname Dao, middle name Van, and then my given name Long.

When you call a Vietnamese person, make sure you refer his/her given (first) name, not surname. In my case, call me Long (rather than Dao).

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of those elements, first of all with…

Family names

The exact number of Vietnamese surnames is unknown; the estimated number is about 300.

Among those, the most popular Vietnamese family names are Nguyen, Tran, Le, and Pham. An interesting fact is that Nguyen ranks the fourth in the top popular family names in the world, and will soon become the most popular in Australia (Read more about Fun Facts about Vietnam).

A new trend is that Vietnamese name their children by combining the spouses’ surnames (the father’s first) together with a middle then given name. This of course is not applicable for all cases, as combination of 2 surnames may make up an awkward word.

For example, my surname is Dao, meaning "peach", and my wife's is Ngo meaning "corn". If we choose the combination of Dao Ngo for my children, it doesn't sound smoothly or naturally at all.

According to a data from Wikipedia, the popular Vietnamese surnames and population percentage are listed as follows:

  1. Nguyễn (38%)
  2. Trần (11%)
  3. Lê (9.5%)
  4. Phạm (7.1%)
  5. Huỳnh/Hoàng (5.1%)
  6. Phan (4.5%)
  7. Vũ/Võ (3.9%)
  8. Đặng (2.1%)
  9. Bùi (2%)
  10. Đỗ (1.4%)
  11. Hồ (1.3%)
  12. Ngô (1.3%)
  13. Dương (1%)
  14. Lý (0.5%)

There’re still many other surnames that are not popular, and I’m not mentioning them here.

Middle names

Middle names are place in the middle, of course, and take a role of cushion words.

Middle names may consist of one or more words. Sometimes, however, there are no middle elements at all. For examples, Tran Canh, Le Loi, and Nguyen Trai are Vietnamese heroes with no middle name.

In the past, middle names denoted they were for men (e.g. Van, Huu, Duc) or women (Thi). Now, though that rule is still applicable, but less strict. Several middle names, e.g. Minh, Bao, can be used for both genders.

First names

First names in many cases suggest gender correctly, say Hung, Long, Tuan for men or ex., Tuyet, Lan, Huong for women. Yet, some can be used for both ex., Ha, Ngoc.

In the old day, Vietnamese deliberately selected given names with bad or even no meanings at all. They believed a child with ugly names could easily survive and be raised, and avoid to be captured by spiritual forces.

Back then, it was also forbidden to name descendant’s offspring with the same first name as their precedent generations’. That means in the whole extended family and genealogy, there should be no two people with same first names.

Nowadays, things have changed a lot. People in a family can have same name, and we prefer nice and meaningful names.

Our first name can be translated in pure Vietnamese meaning or in Sino-Vietnamese basis. You may know that we're affected a lot by Chinese language, just like several other Eastern Asian countries.

For example, my name Long means Dragon in Sino-Vietnamese, while my wife Quynh denotes flower of night-blooming cereus.

Different names possess different meaning. In this article I cannot list all Vietnamese names and their meaning. So, if you want to know, just contact me, I’ll give you feedback as soon as I can.

I hope you find interesting information in this article. If you do, would you mind clicking Like to encourage me? Thank you!

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