What’s in a name?

Some Vietnamese parents choose to saddle their children with an odd name.

By Le Diem on December 08,2017 11:43 AM

What’s in a name?

Illustration: Kan Trant

One day, the Department of Justice in the central province of Quang Nam received a request from a local resident seeking to change her name. The 17-year-old, Duong Thi Ly Tan, was often teased because her name, Ly Tan, means ‘broken relationship’. Her request was approved. Another young woman in Quang Nam, Le Thi Vo Ly, made a similar request, as her name means ‘unreasonable’. All around Vietnam are people with names that may make others laugh but are a burden for their owner’s.

Naming a newborn is one of the first things parents worldwide take care of. In Vietnam, some names are taken from actual things in life.

Parents’ expectations

In the past, it was believed, especially among people from the countryside, that a good name would attract evil to the newborn. Ugly names were therefore selected, such as Cho (dog), Ty (mouse), Den (black), Suu (buffalo), Chum (jar), and Noi (pot).

It’s a belief no longer practiced anywhere. Many people now choose a name with a positive meaning, in the hope it may somehow help them in life. Such names include Dung (brave), Manh or Hung (strong), Tuan (handsome and good), Hoang (yellow - the colour of the emperor and the palace), Thang (victory), Vinh (glory), Minh (intelligent), Phu (rich), Phuc (good luck), Duc (virtuous), and Trung (faithful). Some names elicit an image of strength, like Duong (sun), Son (mountain), Hai (sea), Lam (forest), and Phong (wind) for boys, or for girls are types of flowers, like Lan (orchid), Hong (rose), Cuc (daisy), Hue (tuberose), Dao (peach), have pleasant characteristics, such as Huong (fragrant), Trang (graceful), and Hien (gentle), or elicit a soft and charming image, like Ha (river), Thuy (water), Thu (autumn), Hang and Nguyet (moon), and Van (cloud).

Some parents’ hopes go a little overboard at times, with them giving their kids a name that turns into something of a burden.

When a couple from the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho named their daughter My Nhan (extremely beautiful), they would have hoped she would blossom into a woman fitting of the name. Unfortunately for all concerned, she didn’t. Another girl in the north-central city of Vinh, Cao Chot Vot (extremely tall). grew up to be just 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall, to the amusement of many. Ngoc Bich Kim Cuong (sapphire and diamond) in HCMC and Ruc Ro (splendid) in the northern province of Thanh Hoa have also had problems because their names are quite unusual.

Some parents, meanwhile, choose an unusual name so their children may stand out from the crowd. Like Dao Thi Long Lanh Kim Anh Duong (sparkling golden sun), who apparently has the longest name in the northern province of Thai Nguyen. Her name on official and personal documents is written as Dao T L L K A Duong, which of course piques the interest of those who see it, and many people just call her ‘Ms Long Name’.

Unforgettable memories

An unfortunate few have names based on certain events that happened around their birth, and for some reason this most often occurs in Quang Nam.

Ly Tan and Vo Ly were both given their names because their father left their mother when she fell pregnant. Both mothers chose to mark their resentment by lumbering their innocent newborns with names reflecting their pain. Ly Tan and Vo Ly always felt bad, as their name reminded everyone of their parents’ unhappy circumstances.

Everything is relative, of course, and ‘broken relationship’ and ‘unreasonable’ aren’t the worst names in Quang Nam. There is Phat Sau Nghin Ruoi (fined six thousand five hundred dong), for example. Born in 1987, the fifth and last boy of a boatman, he was named after the amount of money (6,500 dong) his father was fined for having more children than was then allowed. Similarly, another father in the province named his daughter Xin Thoi (stop here), to remind himself not have any more kids or else face a fine.

Elsewhere, there is Ba Xi (three bottles) in HCMC, who was born when his father had just finished drinking three bottles of liquor, and Lang Thang (wandering and homeless) in the Mekong Delta’s An Giang province, named so as his grandparents refused to accept his mother into the family home. Such people go through life being laughed at when they introduce themselves.

Renderings of foreign names

Using Vietnamese transcriptions of foreign names is also not uncommon.

The parents of a man in the Mekong Delta’s Dong Thap province admired Cuban President Fidel Castro so much they named their son Do Phi Den Cacstro. There is also five-year-old Ro Nan Do in Hanoi and seven-year-old Messi in the central highlands province of Gia Lai, whose parents maybe love football a little too much.

South Korean movies have also been an influence. Back in Quang Nam, two sisters in the Co Tu ethnic minority group are named San U and San Oc; two characters from ‘First Love’, one of the first South Korean movies to be popular in Vietnam. In neighbouring Quang Ngai province, some ethnic minority people have gone half and half when naming their children, with Dinh On Jun So, Bling Giang Gun, PoLong Kim Su, and Bnuoc Thi Chu In being half minority and half Korean.

Some kids even have the misfortune of being named after mobile phones. At one point in time, a number of children in the Ca Dong ethnic minority group in Quang Ngai were named so, such as No Ki A, Sam Sung, or Mo To Ro La. According to the proud parents of No Ki A, when mobile phones first appeared in Vietnam they could only see them on TV but couldn’t afford to buy one. Naming their son No Ki A was apparently the next best thing.

Others name their children after foreign words in the belief it sounds ‘cool’. There is Dinh Good Otani in the southern province of Dong Nai (perhaps Vietnamese-English-Japanese), three sisters and brothers in the central province of Quang Binh named Vo E Vo (after the Hungarian name Evo), Vo Ghi Ta (perhaps ‘guitar’) and Vivien Vo (which is popular), while two brothers in Dong Thap are named Huynh Two School Boy and Huynh Tree School Boy, for reasons that remain unclear.

According to psychologist Nguyen Hong Le from the Centre for Youth and Life Skills, giving children a strange and unique name is increasingly popular among Vietnamese parents these days. But a name that’s ‘too special’ is only going to result in the child being teased and mocked and, in some cases, even the target of discrimination. She encourages Vietnamese people to respect and preserve Vietnamese culture by not using foreign names.

To save kids from a future of embarrassment, regulations on what names parents can give their child have been introduced this year.  

All Comments (0)

Other news

Missing the old, discovering the new

11AM, 07 December


  • VnEconomy - Nhịp sống kinh tế Việt Nam và thế giới

Vietnam EconomicTimes © 2014. All right reserved

An electronic media of Vietnam Economic Times - Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam.

Other publications of the contents this website as well as their reproductions must be approved in writing by Vietnam Economic Times.

Editor-in-Chief: Professor Dao Nguyen Cat

Licence No 04/GP-PTTH&TTDT on April 23,2014

Head Office: 98 Hoang Quoc Viet, Cau Giay District, Hanoi

Tel: (84-24) 375 2050 / Fax: (84-24) 3755 2058

Email: info.theguide@tbkt.vn ; editortheguide@gmail.com