Before starting a communication with Vietnamese people, you should know some essential knowledge about their names. Vietnamese names may be complicated to foreign people and addressing them incorrectly may put you in uncomfortable situation. For businessmen, if possible, it is recommended to have a native speaker advise you how to address your Vietnamese business partners.
Components of Vietnamese name
In Vietnamese culture, generally, a full name has 3 components: family name, middle name and given name. For example, Hoang Xuan Vinh is a common version of the full name, in which Hoang is the family name, Xuan is the middle name and Vinh is the given name. Keep in mind that the full name always begins with the family name and the given name will always be at the end.
Addressing a Vietnamese person
Normally, a person is referred to by his or her given name. Due to the frequency of the major family names such as Nguyen, Tran, and Le, it will be very confusing and inconvenient to use the family name to refer to someone (see the funny picture below from 9gag). In addition, nowadays, people are often referred to by their middle name along with their given name in Vietnamese media and youth culture. For example, people will usually refer to Nguyen Tien Duc as either Duc or Tien Duc.
Fun fact: Around 40% of Vietnamese share the surname Nguyen
In the Vietnamese culture, most women keep their maiden family names. In the past, married women in the north were called by their maiden family name, with Thi as a suffix. Furthermore, women also use their husbands’ given names in some rare and extraordinary occasions.
Vietnamese names and business meetings
As mentioned in my post about essential tips for Vietnamese business culture, formality plays an important role in doing business with Vietnamese people. You should always address your Vietnamese partner in a formal manner. When addressing someone, you should use an appropriate honorific before his or her given name. You can also address them with their professional title such as chairman, CEO, director, doctor, chef, etc. Otherwise, try to use at least Mr, Mrs or Ms. Such honorific titles will give face to your Vietnamese partner and may help you in further communication or negotiation with them. In any case, you should establish early on in the relationship that the person is comfortable with the title you are addressing them with.
If you are a communist talking to a Vietnamese communist, you can use ‘’Comrade’’ (“dong chi” in Vietnamese language) to address to that person.