How to address your Vietnamese partners

A short guide to Vietnamese names

Nguyen Tien Dung, Nguyen Thi Mai, Dang Van Quoc Bao.
These are Vietnamese names that you are more or less used to depending on your exposure to the Vietnamese language. You may be wondering how to identify a business partner’s first name and last name in order to address them correctly. We hope this guide will help you get a better understanding of Vietnamese names.

Let’s first focus on the name Nguyen Tien Dung. In Vietnamese, unlike in English, the family name comes first, followed by the first name.

1) For Nguyen Tien Dung you have probably recognized the Nguyen family name, the most common one in Vietnam and among overseas Vietnamese as well. But what if you don’t see the Nguyen family name? The answer is actually quite simple as 85% of the Vietnamese population bears one of the 12 following family names: Nguyen, Tran, Pham, Le, Vu, Ngo, Do, Hoang, Dao, Dang, Duong and Dinh.

2) Out of the 2 remaining names Tien and Dung which one is the first name? First names in Vietnamese are composed of 2 parts. One is the “main first name”, or a Western first name, and the other one is what we would call middle name in English. The middle name is placed between the family name and the first name and differentiates 2 people with the same first name, Tien Dung and Tan Dung for example. Traditionally, Thi was used for women and Van for men. However, this trend is much less common nowadays. The middle name also adds precision to the full first name: Bao alone means treasure while Quoc Bao means national heritage.

3) Dung is then the main first name that you will use to address your Vietnamese partners. This is because only a few number of family names are used for the majority of Vietnamese, therefore, by calling someone “Nguyen” or “Pham” it would be less clear whom you are ardessing. Say or write Hi/Dear Mr Dung, Mrs Mai or Mr Bao but don’t use Mr/Ms Nguyen. They will answer you with Hi/Dear Mr John, Ms Carrie or Ms Elizabeth. On a side note, most first names in Vietnamese are also nouns: Dung means courage, Mai apricot blossom.

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