Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)


North Vietnam (Annam)

Capital : Hanoi

South Vietnam (Cochinchina)

Saigon/Ho Chih Minh City/Phanh Boc Ho Chi Minh


The area known as Annam took up around half of the Indochinese peninsula in AD 500 (Siam occupied the remainder) but by the C8th, it had become much smaller and was under Chinese control. The Khmer kingdom had established itself to the south-west and the Champa kingdom to the south, both of which were under strong Indian influence. In the C10th, the Dai Viet kingdom (north Vietnam) became independent and by the C15th had gradually absorbed Champa. Annam and Champa were under loose Mongol control from the C13th.

Most of Indochina was under European colonial control by the C19th, and it was not until the mid C20th that Vietnam freed itself from French control. This was replaced by the Communist threat from China to the north which led to American involvement. The Vietnam war resulted in the country being divided into two, but the Communist North Vietnam finally won the power struggle and the country was re-unified.

Poverty and persecution caused many people to leave Vietnam by boat in the hope of a better life in the West despite facing dangers from pirates. Many of these 'Boat People' were resettled throughout the world but by the 1990s most countries were becoming reluctant to accept any more and many were held in camps in Hong Kong. Voluntary repatriation was encouraged but most were reluctant to return to Vietnam. With Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule at the beginning of 1997, it is unclear what will happen to those Vietnamese remaining in the colony although improvements in conditions within Vietnam may lead to further repatriations.


ch like ti in French tiens
hoa, huy w in we (South VN)

wh in why (North VN)

kh j in Spanish Juan

ch in German (a)ch(t)

ng + ngh as in singing
nh like 'gn' in French signe
qu w in we (South VN)

qu in queen (North VN

s in Spanish si
th as in Thomas
u as in fit
v y in yen (South VN)

v in van (North VN

Vietnamese Names

Most people have a family or clan name (ho), a middle name (chu dem or chu lot) and a personal or given name (ten) although it is becoming more common not to use the middle name. Vietnamese almost always call each other by their by the given names with the family name only appearing when the full name is used. It is considered disrespectful to give a child the name of an ancestor or relative.

Name Elements

Trung fidelity
Hung courage
Liem integrity)
Xuan Spring
Thu Autumn
Hong rose
Lan orchid
Nho grape
Le pear
Tuyet snow
Van cloud
Guyet moon

oldest child Hai (Two)
second child Ba (Three)
third child Tu (Fourth)
fourth child Nam (Five)


Boys can have two-word names but more often just use one-word.

An Anh An-Toan Bach Bat-Tuy Bay
Bichu Binh Bui Buu Cadao Ca-Dao
Cam Can Cao Cao-Ky Cham Chan
Chau Chi Minh Chi-Cong Chi-Cuong Chien Chim
Chinh Chong-Duy Cuong Da Dai Nam Dam
Dan Dang Danh-Canh Dien Dieu-Hien Dinh
Dinh-Die^ Dinh-Hy Dinh-Ty Doan Dohm-Phu Dong
Du Duc Dung Gap Gia-Long Giap
Ha Hai Hao-Ngoc Hau Hi Hiep
Hieu Hoa Hoang Hong Hong-Vu Hung
Hung-Cuong Huong Khac-Kham Kim Kim-Hu Lich
Lien Linh Loan Loc Loi Long
Luong Luu-Danh Mai Mang Manh-Dung Minh
Min-Had Minh-Duc Minh-Khan Minh-Tong Muoi Nam
Ng Ngoc Nhat Nien Pham Phat
Phuc Pin Quang Quang-Thieu Quan-Van Quoc-Tai
Sahn So Son Tai Tam Tan
Tang-Thuy Tanh Teo Thach Thai Thang
Thanh Thian Thien Tho Thu Thung
Thuy Tich Tien Tien Dung Tiet Tin
Tinh Toan Tong Trai Trong Tu
Tuan Tung Tuyen Viet Viet-Tam Vo
Vui Xuan Yen Yu-Duk    


Girls are often given names associated with virtues although no names are exclusively masculine or feminine. It is fashionable to give girls compound names rather than single word names.

Ai Am An Au Be Bich
Bich-Hong Bich-Thuy Bua Cam Cam-Hong Can
Chau Diet Dieu-Kiem Gung Ha Hang
Hanh Hien Hoa Hoai Hong Hue
Huong Huyen Kieu Kim Lan Lang
Le Lien Lieu Loan Luan Lui
Mai Mai-Ly Mieu Minh My My-Khanh
Ngoc Nguyet Nhu Nu Nuc Phan
Phuong Phuong-Hanh Quy So Tam Tan-Xuan
Tao Thanh-Huong Thanh-Thuy Thao The Tho
Thoa Thu Thuam Thu-Hong Thu-Lan Thu-Lee
Thuy Thuy-Hong Trac Trang Trinh Tron
Truc Tuyet Ut Vinh Xuan Xuan-Lan

Middle Names

Middle names can often be used to distinguish between branches of a larger family. They do not usually indicate generation but they may be shared by the male members of a family and can also indicate position within a family.

eldest son of first wife/elder brother Ba
eldest son of later wife Manh
second son Trong
third son Qui/Quy
further sons Gia
younger brother Thuc

Anh Ba Cao Cong Dinh Duc
Huu Huy Kim Minh Ngoc Nhu
Phuc Quang Si Thuc Trong Tuong
Van Viet Xuan      

Women almost always take 'Thi' as a middle name but this is often dropped nowadays.

Dieu Nu Thi      


There are only about a hundred family names in Vietnam of which only about twenty are common and only thirty actually of Vietnamese origin. Most family names are of Chinese origin and are written in Chinese characters but some come from the Cham people of the south and other ethnic minorities such as Deo, Giap, Linh and Ma.

They usually have only one element but some compound surnames do exist. These were formed when an individual was adopted (adoptive name first, original name second) or to distinguish between different branches of a family. Vietnamese women keep their own family name on marriage.

Most people have the surname of one of the sixteen royal families who have ruled Vietnam. 'Nguyen', the name of the last dynasty, accounts for about half the population. Male descendants of the royal family not in the direct line take the name 'Ton-that' and females 'Ton-nu'.

Ba Bilh Bui Cahn Cao Chau
Che Chien Cu Dai Dang Danh
De Dinh Do Doan Due Duong
Giap Ha Heng Ho Hoan Hoang
Ho-Dac Hung Huynh Khong Khuc Kieu
Kim Kwan Lam Lang Le Lok
Long Lu Luong Luu Ly Ma
Mac Mai Minh Ng Nghia Ngo
Ngo-Dinh Ngoc Nguyen Nguyen-Dinh Nguyen-Khoa Nguyen-Tan
Nien O Ong Pham Phan Phang
Phong Phu Phuc Phung Sa Sam
Son Tanh Thach Thai Thé Thu
Thuan Thuc Thuy Toai Tra Tran
Tran-Dinh Tran-Nhu Tran-Thanh Trieu Trinh Tru
Trung Truong Tuan Tung Ut Vo
Vu Vu-Pham Wang Xuan    


Ly Dynasty

C11th to C13th

Tran Dynasty

overthrew Ly

Nguyen Dynasty

Gia Long 1802-20 Nguyen Phuc Anh  
Minh Mang 1820-1840 4th son of Gia Long  
Thieu Tri 1841-7    
Huong Nam/Tu Duc 1847-1883    
Bao Dai abd 1945 Nguyen Vinh Thuy  

Minh Mang wrote this poem from which the middle names of his descendants were to be taken, believing that his family would rule for twenty generations. Although it actually ended only five generations after him., his descendants still follow the tradition.

Mien Huong Ung Buu Vinh

Bao Dinh Qui Long Tuong

Hien Nang Kham Ke The

To Quoc Bao Gia Xuong

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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