In the weeks coming up to the birth of a child, there is always a temptation to think of suitable names. That may be the case in different societies around the world but it is not the case in Vietnam. In Vietnam, parents do not even name their baby when the happy day arrives. It comes from belief, custom and former government policy.
A Vietnamese man or woman can have many names throughout his or her life. At birth a baby boy will be called ‘’thang’’ and a girl ‘’con’’ together with something like Cu, Co, Him or Muc. Later after they reach adulthood and get married, the male is Anh Do, the female Chi Xa. After that it can change again; to the name of a first-born child then grandchild. After someone dies it changes again, a name that is used when living members of the family remember ancestors. It is known as a taboo name.
Those with a significant social standing may well have a family name though it is the taboo name that is recognised in family histories and by government agencies. Those agencies only regard those who have attained the age of 18 as important. There are financial reasons for this and of course conscription and other adult responsibilities come into play.
Every country needs comprehensive details on its citizens. In some places that is difficult but each government is keen on keeping as good records as possible. In Vietnam, people are likely to have three names, a family name, a middle name (sometimes more) and a given name.
Some of the family names are so common that to index people by their family name would almost be futile. Someone called Nguyen Tan Dung, with Nguyen being a very common family name would be addressed as Mr. Dung and not by his family name, Mr. Nguyen. Likewise, in an index, the entry would be Dung, Nguyen Tan. It is the given name, chosen by parents, that is the one most commonly used. In most cases the given name has a literal meaning in Vietnamese and inevitably it is something attractive, either a trait that parents would like in their child, or a flower or bird.
As with many things in Vietnam, there are regional variations. In the North, married women may be referred to be their maiden name and doctors are sometimes called by their family names.
When it comes to tourists travelling in Vietnam, they may find things a little confusing. Vietnam tour packages come with a guide and you should call him or her by the name used at first introduction. Guides are usually a mine of information and invite questions along the way. By all means do your research before touring in Vietnam and you will enjoy the holiday all the more. What is certain is that you will learn more as you travel around and at the end of your holiday in Vietnam your mind will be full of images and information, as full as your camera will be of photographs.
Read more: Vietnam lifestyle