VietnamCulture and HistoryWhy Do Many Vietnamese Have the Nguyen Surname

Why Do Many Vietnamese Have the Nguyen Surname

Have you ever heard of or known someone with Nguyen as a family name? On an international scale, it is a tip for identifying people of Vietnamese descent. Nearly 40% of Vietnamese have their surname as Nguyen (according to an unofficial research published in 2005 in Vietnam). This is in about 37 million people worldwide, making Nguyen one of the most popular family names worldwide.

The Use of Surnames in Vietnam

Like other countries, Vietnamese names consist of three parts: first, middle, and surname. The middle name is unnecessary; thus, some do not have one. For example, the name Nguyen Trai has Nguyen as a surname and Trai as the first name, and there is no middle name in this case. Moreover, contrary to American names, Vietnamese surnames stand before first names.

In many countries, surnames play a tremendous role. They can be proof of where you were born, your ancestors’ emigration to the country, your religion, and your social status. However, not every family name has an extensive history, with the exception of the Nguyen royalty’s line.

The Reasons behind Many Vietnamese Have the Nguyen Surname

The use of surname did not appear until the colonial period. The colonizing nations such as France, China, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and the United States of America brought surnames into practice to differentiate among many people who had the same first names. And thus making it easier to manage taxes.

See also Who Invented the Vietnamese Alphabet?

As for why many Vietnamese have the Nguyen surname, there are many theories about when the surname became famous. One of the most popular reasons was that the Nguyen surname was randomly forced on people by the local governors.

1. The Chinese Immigration and Rulers’ Law

In the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 – 589) and later dynasties (907-960), some Chinese moved to the south, where ancient Vietnam was, to avoid the great disturbance, especially people who lived in Anhui, Zhejiang, and Hubei provinces. These people were believed to have the Nguyen surname and gradually assimilated into the indigenous population.

2. The French Research on Vietnam Population

Before the 19th century, Vietnamese in the low and middle classes usually did not have or record their surnames. Only those in the royal families were of importance. When Vietnam became a French colony, the French started an extensive nationwide population investigation. In the process, they encountered a problem: so many people had the same first names. To solve this confusion and continue the data gathering, they assigned the surname Nguyen to the unknown families because Nguyen was the name of the latest dynasty, which ruled from 1802 to 1945. So again, the Nguyen surname was expanded to a greater extent.

3. The Lengthy Ruling of the Nguyen Dynasty

As mentioned, the Nguyen dynasty was the last and longest feudal reign in Vietnam’s history. The era had 13 kings in total, and most of them had multiple wives and offspring, who would eventually share the same surname. Under this powerful reign, some people would also voluntarily change their name to Nguyen in hopes of receiving more merits from the government.

Though this sounds like a plausible explanation, some people don’t think the extensive royal family significantly contributes to why many Vietnamese have the Nguyen surname. This is because those who are not under direct inheritance of the thrown don’t carry the surname Nguyen. They are under the class of “Ton That”, “Ton Nu”, etc., instead

4. Many Families Changed Their Surname to Nguyen

Vietnam’s history went under numerous dynasties represented by different last names. Most of the time, a dynasty would be overthrown by either a revolution or a war. The new ruler would try to eradicate the entire bloodline of the previous royalty to prevent an upsurge or revenge. As a result, the overthrown family tried to hide their identity by changing their last name, and the most popular option (for some unknown reasons), was Nguyen.

Summary of Why Do Many Vietnamese Have the Nguyen Surname

Now you have an idea of why many Vietnamese have the Nguyen surname. These reasons include many historical events throughout Vietnamese history, from the Chinese to French-dominated Vietnam.

If you are interested in Vietnamese history, there are museums where you can learn more about past events, especially the Vietnam War.

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