Vietnamese names put the family name first followed by the middle and given names. Take Pham Van Duc, for example, Pham is the family name or what we call the last name. Van is the individual's middle name, and Duc is the given or first name.
Vietnam has about 300 family or clan names. The most common are Le, Pham, Tran, Ngo, Vu, Do, Dao, Duong, Dang, Dinh, Hoang and Nguyen - the Vietnamese equivalent of Smith. About 50 percent of Vietnamese have the family name Nguyen.
The given name, which appears last, is the name used to address someone, preceded by the appropriate title. Nguyen Van Lu, for example, would be called Mr. Lu.
A person's middle name sometimes indicates to which generation he or she belongs. Each family may use a different middle name for each generation. Brothers and sisters, for example, would then all have the same middle name.
Upon marriage Vietnamese women keep their maiden names, but typically use their husband's given name to introduce themselves to others. If Miss Le Thi Lam marries Mr. Do Van Tien, she would refer to herself as Mrs. Tien. At work or in business she would be known as Mrs. Le Thi Lam.
Catholic Vietnamese sometimes take Christian names.
Girls are often given names that embody beauty, naming them after birds, flowers, rivers or precious objects. Popular female names include Phuong (phoenix), Cuc (chrysanthemum), and Hoa (flower).
Boys typically get an abstract name representing a personal quality such as Duc (virtue) or Khiem (modesty).
Just as we use Mr., Mrs. and Ms. as terms of respect, the Vietnamese have their equivalent. But they are used in a more complex manner. A younger person addresses an older man as ong, and older woman as ba. Persons of the same age address a man by anh, a woman by co. The word em is used to address close friends, relatives or those younger. Men also call their girlfriend em. Bac, meaning uncle, is a term of respect not confined to relatives. Ho Chi Minh, for example, was widely called Bac Ho.
Vietnamese consider names to be part of the soul and thus sacred. A person's name should never be spoken angrily or casually.
Excerpted from Culture Briefing:Vietnam, published by Geotravel Research Center, Kissimmee, Florida, 800-654-0403.
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Published on 8/1/95