Popular Vietnamese Last Names/Surnames With Meanings And Origins

38 Popular Vietnamese Last Names With Meanings And Origins

November 2, 2020 Updated March 1, 2021

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If an American TV show or movie features a character either from Vietnam or of Vietnamese ancestry, chances are their last name is Nguyen. Is it a case of lazy writing, or is Nguyen really that common? Maybe it’s a little of both, but Nguyen is definitely a popular Vietnamese last name, shared by between 30 and 40 percent of the country’s population. In other words, if you’re attempting to do any type of historical or genealogical research involving someone named Nguyen, it may take a while. And it’s not only Nguyen: More than 90 percent of the Vietnamese population shares the same 15 popular last names. That is a lot. By comparison, the 14 most popular last names in the United States account for fewer than six percent of the population.

So why all the repetition? Like many Asian countries, the modern concept of last names in Vietnam is relatively recent, only dating back to the 18th century. And while they’re now in regular use, culturally, they’re not that significant. Names have great meaning within Vietnamese culture. They are sewn with a deep appreciation for ancestors and family. There are also notes of deep respect for community and family. Manual labor and diligence are also portrayed in their meanings and academics and elders are revered. The Vietnamese started to use last names around 111 B.C. after China conquered during the Han Dynasty rule. It was during this 1,000-year rule that Vietnamese people were given last names so they could be taxed according to the family they belonged to.

In Vietnamese culture, there are almost 300 family names to choose from. Apart from their unique names, Vietnamese culture has an uncommon naming structure as well. In their titles, the family name is written first, then the middle, and then the person’s actual name. Let’s say your name is Tran Van Lu. Tran is the family name (last name), Van is the middle name and Lu is the first or given name. Therefore this person would be referred to as Mr. Lu. Middle names are also significant because they show which generation the person belongs to. Families use different middle names for each generation. This means that brothers and sisters would all share the same middle name since they were born in the same period. Chinese naming structure follows a similar style. The Vietnamese also value religion and the big three that most people practice include Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. All are very common within Vietnamese culture. They also a big appreciation for folktales and storytelling. 

Having said that, here are the most popular Vietnamese last names (plus a bonus name), along with their meanings and origins.

  1. Anh
    Meaning: Flower, petal; brave, hero; intelligent, bright
    Origin: Vietnamese
  2. Au
    Meaning: Peace, quiet; Safe, secure
    Origin: Chinese-Vietnamese
  3. Bi
    Meaning: Finish
    Origin: Chinese
  4. Bian
    Meaning: Secretive or a woman with many secrets
    Origin: Vietnamese
  5. Bui
    Meaning: Match
    Origin: Chinese
  6. Dang
    Meaning: Political party
    Origin: Chinese
  7. Do
    Meaning: Gift of God
    Origin: Greek
  8. Duong
    Meaning: Virile
    Origin: Vietnamese
  9. Ho
    Meaning: Good
    Origin: Chinese
  10. Hoang/Huynh
    Meaning: Yellow
    Origin: Vietnamese
  11. Lam
    Meaning: Full of knowledge
    Origin: Vietnamese
  12. Le
    Meaning: Joy
    Origin: Chinese
  13. Ly
    Meaning: Reason
    Origin: Vietnamese
  14. Mac
    Meaning: A Vietnamese clan that ruled the dynasty within the Tonkin area of northern Vietnam from 1527 to 1592
    Origin: Chinese/Vietnamese
  15. Mai
    Meaning: Plum flower
    Origin: Chinese-Korean
  16. Ngo
    Meaning: Someone from the ancient Chinese state of Wu
    Origin: Chinese
  17. Ngu
    Meaning: Foolish, doltish, or stupid
    Origin: Vietnamese
  18. Nguyen
    Meaning: A plucked stringed instrument
    Origin: Chinese
  19. Nhan
    Meaning: Person
    Origin: Vietnam
  20. Pham
    Meaning: Plants
    Origin: Chinese
  21. Phan
    Meaning: Descendant of Ji Sun’s clan
    Origin: Chinese
  22. Thi
    Meaning: Poetry, poem, verse
    Origin: Sino-Vietnamese
  23. Thong
    Meaning: To be intelligent
    Origin: Vietnamese
  24. Tian
    Meaning: Fairy
    Origin: Vietnamese
  25. Ton
    Meaning: Sun
    Origin: Chinese
  26. Tram
    Meaning: Luxury, kind, special, thoughtful, considerate
    Origin: Vietnamese
  27. Tran
    Meaning: Exhibit, display, old, ancient
    Origin: Vietnamese
  28. Trang
    Menaing: Elgeant
    Origin: Vietnamese
  29. Tri
    Meaning: Smart, brain, intelligent; idea
    Origin: Vietnamese
  30. Trieu
    Meaning: Million
    Origin: Vietnamese
  31. Trinh
    Meaning: Pure, virginal
    Origin: Vietnamese
  32. Troung
    Meaning: School, field
    Origin: Vietnamese
  33. Tu
    Meaning: Bright, sharp
    Origin: Vietnamese
  34. Tuan
    Meaning: Chivalrous, gentleman
    Origin: Vietnamese
  35. Van
    Meaning: Cloud
    Origin: Vietnamese
  36. Vang
    Meaning: Golden
    Origin: Vietnamese
  37. Vien
    Meaning: Complete, full
    Origin: Vietnamese
  38. Vu/Vo
    Meaning: Rain
    Origin: Chinese