VietnamCulture and HistoryHow to Distinguish Male and Female Vietnamese Names

How to Distinguish Male and Female Vietnamese Names

Vietnamese parents give meaningful names to their boys and girls with certain hopes. Names in Vietnam often embody beauty in nature, like flowers and mountain trees, or a desirable feminine or masculine characteristic. This appeal of Vietnam’s naming culture is a good reason to find out more about Vietnamese names.

This post provides the basics of Vietnamese name structure and how to distinguish male and female Vietnamese names. But first, know that if you see some Vietnamese with a name like this: “Nguyễn Tuấn”, their first name is undoubtedly not Nguyen.

Vietnamese Name Structure

Vietnamese names follow an order similar to that of Chinese and Korean people: Family name + Middle name + Given name. Accordingly, the typical length of a Vietnamese name is 3 words (or 3 syllables), corresponding to the 3 positions as mentioned. Vietnamese children take the family name of their father.

Moreover, this above name order is the reason why the alternative vocabulary “First name” and “Last name” in English do not work for Vietnam; apparently, “first name” in the sense of English goes last in the Vietnamese name order.

However, unlike Korean, where 3-word (or 3-syllable) names are a defined norm with infrequent exceptions, there are Vietnamese names with 2 words (quite rare), 3, 4, or sometimes even 5 words. In such cases, chances are the middle name lasts 2 syllables or the person takes their family name from both parents, not just the father (the women keep their maiden name even after marriage).

Side notes:

  • This blog only mentions some of the most common names in Vietnam, and the rules are generalized.
  • Contrary to English where most words are comprised of multiple syllables, the Vietnamese language consists of all 1-syllable words. Therefore, the middle and first name can incorporate to have one specific meaning
  • The Vietnamese language has many tone marks, so even words with same letters can have different meanings if they have different tone marks. For example, “Dung”, a girl name meaning tolerant, and “Dũng”, a boy name meaning brave, have the same letter “D”, “U”, “N”, “G”, but the later has “~” tone marks.
  • While given names may vary, the range of family names (surnames) in Vietnam is limited, such as Nguyễn (yes, the legendary and most common Vietnamese surname), Trần, Lê, Phạm, Huỳnh, Phan, and Vũ.

How to Distinguish Male and Female Vietnamese Names

The middle name

The middle name is the best telltale sign to differentiate between male and female names in Vietnam! “Thị” is the characteristic middle name for females, while “Văn” is one for males. So if you look at a Vietnamese name and see the middle being either “Thị” or “Văn”, now you can tell.

Nevertheless, “Thị” and “Văn” are ancient middle names that go way back to the distant past of a male-dominant society where women were even deprived of the right to go to school. Therefore, it has become increasingly rare to see girls and boys with these middle names over recent years. The middle name is now used to distinguish people of the same given name or just to make the name sound better.

The first (given) name

Another way is to look at their given name (the last word of their name is written in Vietnamese name order so as not to confuse with Vietnamese names that appear in the email and social media default American name order). So, for example, if you see names like Hương, Hoa, Hằng, Mai, Lan, Hồng, it’s highly likely a female. And names like Tuấn, Trương, Nam, Khang, Phúc, Phước, Quang, Hùng, Hưng are very expected male.

However, since memorizing a list of Vietnamese names to say which one is male or female doesn’t quite make sense to a one-off visitor, distinguishing names should apply only to those already learning (or interested in learning) Vietnamese. That way, they have regular exposure to Vietnamese names (which warrants the need to tell the difference also), and they can look at names, know the meaning of the vocabulary, and tell whether it’s a male or female name.

Common Vietnamese Given Names for Males and Females

Have a look at the most popular given names in Vietnam and their associated meanings.

Common female Vietnamese names

  • Duyên: charming, feminine
  • Hiền: composed, congenial
  • Hồng, Huệ, Lan: (names of flowers) beauty, feminine nature
  • Hằng: angel of the full moon
  • Thảo: caring, generous
  • Thương: loving, caring

Common male Vietnamese names

  • Bách: (name of a mountain tree) strength, perseverance, eternity
  • Cường: strength, power
  • Dũng: bravery (with tone: Dũng, not to be confused with Dung – female name, meaning calm and feminine)
  • Đức: ethical, with respectable principles
  • Đạt: success, achievement
  • Hải: ocean, generosity, with big dreams

Vietnamese names for both boys and girls

  • An: peace, serenity, safety
  • Anh: brilliance, intelligence
  • Bảo: precious, invaluable gem
  • Bình: peace, calmness, composure

Summary of How to Distinguish Male and Female Vietnamese Names

Knowing how to distinguish male and female Vietnamese names can help you to appropriately address or refer to a Vietnamese person, in your email contacts list for example, and creates a good impression. Otherwise, it is a fascinating strategy to impress your Vietnamese friends with your Vietnamese cultural knowledge.

Check out more posts on Vietnam culture and travel on our blog!

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