Traditional Vietnamese personal names generally consist of three parts, used in Eastern name order.
- A family name (normally patrilineal, although matrilineality is possible, in cases such as divorce, children of a single mother, or if a child hated his father and didn’t want to have the father's surname. The father's family name may be combined with the mother's family name to form a compound family name).
- A middle name (normally a single name but some have no middle name).
- A given name (normally single name but some have multiple given names).
This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in Vietnamese. (January 2016) Click [show] for important translation instructions.
But not every name is conformant. For example:
- Nguyễn Trãi has his family name Nguyễn and his given name is Trãi. He does not have any middle name.
- Phạm Bình Minh has his family name Phạm and his given name is Bình Minh (lit. 'dawn'). He does not have any middle name.
- Nguyễn Văn Quyết has his family name Nguyễn, his middle name is Văn (lit. 'literature') and his given name is Quyết (lit. 'decide').
- Nguyễn Ngọc Trường Sơn has his family name Nguyễn, his middle name is Ngọc (lit. 'pearl') and his given name is Trường Sơn (lit. 'long mountain').
- Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Tường (a Vietnamese poet) has his family name Hoàng Phủ (natural compound family name), his middle name is Ngọc and his given name is Tường (lit. 'wall'). Sometimes his family name is confused with Hoàng.
- Trần Lê Quốc Toàn has his compound family name combined from Trần (from his father) and Lê (from his mother), his middle name is Quốc (lit. 'country') and his given name is Toàn (lit. 'fully').
The "family name first" written order follows the system of Chinese names and is common throughout the East Asian cultural sphere. However, it is different from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese names in the usage of a "middle name," which is less common in China and Korea and uncommon in Japan. Persons can be referred to by the whole name, the given name, or a hierarchic pronoun, which usually connotes a degree of family relationship or kinship – but referring via given name is most common, as well as if degree of family relationship or kinship is unknown. In more informal contexts given name can be written first then family name e.g. Châu Bùi or Thanh Trần.
The Vietnamese language is tonal and so are Vietnamese names. Names with the same spelling but different tones represent different meanings, which can confuse people when the diacritics are dropped, as is commonly done outside Vietnam (e.g. Đoàn ([ɗʷà:n]) vs Doãn ([zʷǎ:ˀn]), both become Doan when diacritics are omitted). Additionally, some Vietnamese names can only be differentiated via context or with their corresponding chữ Hán, such as Vũ (武) and Vũ (巫). Anyone applying for Vietnamese nationality must also adopt a Vietnamese name. Vietnamese script is fully transliterated (romanized), because Hán-Nôm was replaced by Chữ Quốc ngữ, which was made compulsory during the French colonial era.