Few years back, there was an article in the Sun-Times about a murder in the Vietnamese community here.
The victim's name was Nguyen.
Someone else interviewed for the piece was named Nguyen (no relation).
And a second person interviewed -- the investigating officer, I think -- was also named Nguyen (no relation).
Murder isn't funny.
But when I hit the second parenthetical "no relation", I had to stiffle a laugh.
Anyway, my ignorance bothers me. Much more so than that of other people -- have finally realized there's not a hell of a lot I can do about that, other than mock it relentlessly -- but I've wondered for a while why that name is so ubiquitous.
Just not enough to look into it. And inaction is a form of action.
So, taking action to resolve my ignorance (or this one small bit of it, at least), from the Vietnamese Adoptee Network, It's All in a Name:
Vietnamese people usually have three names. The first of these three names is the name which identifies the person's family. The middle name appears next and the given name (what we generally call the first name in our western society) appears last. Thus if John Howard Carrison was Vietnamese, he would be known as Garrison Howard John. Or Helen Elizabeth Jones would be Jones Elizabeth Helen.
Because there are many similar sounding names, it is very important (when correctly identifying a person) to obtain an accurate listing of the name. Vietnamese names cause particular challenge for the investigator because they are so similar in sound and because it is difficult to ascertain the gender of the individual soley from his/her name.
It is important to understand that Vietnamese is a monosyllabic language. Every word in the Vietnamese language is a single syllable when it is correctly pronounced. As an example, let's look at the most common name--Nguyen. If we were to apply an English translation to this spelling, the result might be Nih-goo-yen. Understanding that the pronunciation is correctly just one syllable, however, the correct way to say Nguyen is Winn.
[. . .] There are more than 70 million people in Vietnam, and almost half of them carry the last name of Nguyen. However, despite the size of the nation and its large population, there are only about 100 family names. Adding to the confusion is the fact that nearly 85 percent of the entire Vietnamese population have one of the following family names:Dang; Dao; Dinh; Do; Duong; Hoang; Huynh; Le; Ngo; Nguyen; Pham; Tran; Vo; Vu. Other names you may see are Au, Bui, Cao, Chau, Chu, Chuong, Cu, Doan, Gia, Ha, La, Lai, Lam, Loung, Ly, Ma, Phan, Ta, Trinh, Truong and Tu.
Unlike the American custom, a Vietnamese bride does not assume her husband's family name. She retains her own family name throughout her life. Traditionally, the children of the marriage will take the family name of the father. The only time husband and wife will share the same family name is when they both have the same name prior to the marriage. The most common instance, because of sheer numbers, is Nguyen.
So, there's something. I'm going to continue pronouncing it wrong, unless I think about it -- tend to go with how things are spelled, despite knowing full well from English that it ain't necessarily so.
The academic approach is all well and good, but sometimes a personal touch helps. Concordantly, from The Meaning of Names at Mission College:
My name is Yen Ha. I was born in Vietnam. My last name is Nguyen, which is the most common name in Vietnam. My name is Ha because my parents lived near a romantic river in the center. When I was a kid, some people called me "Ha ha ha" and they laughed. I was embarrassed. I asked my parents to change my first name again and they were annoyed . When I grew up, I understood all the meaning of the name Yen Ha is Smoke flying above a river. These words come from Chinese. Actually, I really love the sound and the meaning of this name.I am Nguyen Vo. Vo is my family name. My first name, Nguyen, means Pray. When my mother was pregnant, she wanted to deliver a girl. My mother was in luck. She had a girl: me. At that time, she named me Nguyen. I really love my name.
Yes, I'm wondering why Vo only has two names too. . .
Try to dispell my ignorance, and just end up with more -- albeit different -- questions.
No wonder most people don't bother trying.