Tâm, a common given name for both boys and girls in Vietnam, meaning "the heart" but can be understood as a person with dedication
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 is an appeal of Vietnam's naming culture and a good reason to find out more about Vietnamese names.
In this post, we provide you with 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 given name is certainly not Nguyen.
Vietnamese names follow the order that is 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 does not work for Vietnam; apparently “first name” in the sense of English goes last in the Vietnamese name order.
Parents in Vietnam give names to their children with loving hopes
However, unlike Korean where 3-word (or 3-syllable) names are a defined norm with very rare 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 that the person takes their family name from both parents, not just the father (the women keep their maiden name even after marriage).
The best telltale sign to differentiate between male and female names in Vietnam is the middle name! “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 very old middle names that go way back to a distant past of a male-dominant society where women were even deprived of the right to go to school. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly rare over recent years to see girls and boys with these middle names. The middle name is now simply used to distinguish people of the same given name or just to make the name sound better.
Another way is to look at their given name (the last word of their name written in Vietnamese name order, 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 likely male.
However, since memorizing a list of Vietnamese names just to say which one is male or female doesn't quite make sense to a one-off visitor, this strategy of distinguishing names should apply only to those who are 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 can tell whether it’s a male or female name.
Phúc, meaning happiness, is a common name for boys but can sometimes be used to name a girl (but much less common)
Get a travel insurance plan for your backpacking trip to Vietnam:
Have a look at the most popular given names in Vietnam and their associated meanings.
- 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
- 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
- An: peace, serenity, safety
- Anh: brilliance, intelligence
- Bảo: gem, invaluable property
- Bình: peace, calmness, composure
A student handwriting of Lê (family) Diễm (middle) Phước (given) - Diem Phuoc means a blessed being
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!
Check out our private motorbike tours with professional local guides