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Chữ Hán for Nguyễn
PronunciationHanoi: [ŋwiə̯n˧ˀ˥]
Saigon: [ŋwiə̯ŋ˧˩˧]
Other names
Variant form(s)Ruan, Yuen

Nguyễn (sometimes abbreviated as Ng̃) is the most common surname of the Vietnamese people.

Outside of Vietnam, the surname is commonly rendered without diacritics as Nguyen.[a]

By some estimates 30 to 39 percent of Vietnamese people bear this surname.[1][2][3]

Origin and usage[edit]

Nguyễn is the transcription of the Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation of the character , which originally was used to write a name of a state in Gansu or an ancient Chinese instrument Ruan.[4][5] The same Chinese character is often romanized as Ruǎn in Mandarin and as Yuen in Cantonese.[6]

The first recorded mention of a person surnamed Nguyễn is a description dating AD 317, of a journey to Giao Châu undertaken by Eastern Jin dynasty officer Nguyễn Phu and his family. Many events in Vietnamese history have contributed to the name's prominence. In 1232, after usurping the Lý dynasty, Trần Thủ Độ forced the descendants of the Lý to change their surname to Nguyễn. When Hồ Quý Ly overturned the Trần dynasty, he killed many of their descendants so when the Hồ dynasty collapsed in 1407, many of his descendants changed their surname to Nguyễn in fear of retribution.[7] In 1592, on the collapse of the Mạc dynasty, their descendants changed their surname to Nguyễn. In late 16th century, the Tư Mã clan from Thanh Hóa changed to Nguyễn and settled in Cochinchina.[citation needed] When the Nguyễn dynasty (the descendants of the Nguyễn Lords) took power in 1802, some of the descendants of the Trịnh Lords fearing retribution changed their surname to Nguyễn, while others fled north into China.[7]

Other countries[edit]

The Nguyen surname also appears in China (Chinese: ; pinyin: Ruǎn) but is significantly less common than its Vietnamese counterpart.[citation needed]

Distribution of Vietnamese family names. Họ khác means "other surnames."

Overseas Vietnamese usage[edit]

The prevalence of Nguyễn as a family name in Vietnam extends to outside the country, due to numerous and widespread Vietnamese emigrants. Outside Vietnam, the surname is commonly rendered without diacritics, as Nguyen. Nguyen was the seventh most common family name in Australia in 2006[8] (second only to Smith in Melbourne phone books[9]), and the 54th most common in France.[10] It was the 41st most common surname in Norway in 2020[11] and tops the foreign name list in the Czech Republic.[12]

In the United States, Nguyen is the 38th most-common surname and is shared by more than 437,000 individuals,[13] according to the 2010 Census; it was the 57th and 229th most-common surname, respectively, in the 2000[14] and 1990[15] censuses. It is also the most common exclusively East Asian surname.[citation needed] It is ranked 124th in the U.S. Social Security Index.[16] Nguyen was the 57th most common surname in the whole of Australia in 2022.[17]


In Vietnamese tradition, people are referred to by their personal names and not by their family names even in formal situations. However, some groups distinguish themselves from other Nguyễn by passing elements of their names that are usually considered middle names to their children. This practice is more common with male than with female children. Some of the prominent subgroups within the Nguyễn family are:

  • Nguyễn Phước or Nguyễn Phúc (阮福): Surname for the Nguyễn Lords family members, and all members of the Nguyễn dynasty emperors.
  • Nguyễn Đình 阮廷
  • Nguyễn Hữu 阮有
  • Nguyễn Cảnh 阮景
  • Nguyễn Khắc 阮克
  • Nguyễn Tiến 阮進
  • Nguyễn Đức 阮德
  • Nguyễn Minh 阮明
  • Nguyễn Thanh 阮清
  • Nguyễn Ngọc 阮玉
  • Nguyễn Văn 阮文
  • Nguyễn Quang 阮光
  • Nguyễn Xuân 阮春
  • Nguyễn Huy 阮輝
  • Nguyễn Hoàng 阮黃
  • Tôn Thất 尊室 (Tôn Nữ 尊女 for females): surname for members of the Nguyễn dynasty royal family that were not direct descendants of the Emperor.


The Vietnamese pronunciation is [ŋwiən˦ˀ˥] in Northern dialect or [ŋwiəŋ˨˩˦] in Southern dialect[citation needed], in both cases, in one syllable. [ŋ] is the velar nasal found in the middle of the English word singer.[18] [w] is the semivowel found in the English word win. [iə] is a rising diphthong, the sound of which is similar to the diphthong /ɪə/ found in the British English Received Pronunciation of ear. Finally, [n] occurs in the English word net.

Furthermore, in Vietnamese Nguyễn is also pronounced with a tone. In Southern Vietnam, it is pronounced with the dipping tone: the pitch of the voice first drops from a mid-level to the bottom of the speaker's range of pitch and then rises back to mid. In Northern Vietnam, it is pronounced with the creaky rising tone: the pitch of the voice rises from mid-level to the top of the speaker's range of pitch, but with constricted vocal cords, akin to a glottal stop in the middle of the vowel.

Common pronunciations by English speakers include /wɪn/ win,[19][20] /nˈjɛn/ noo-YEN and /ˈnjən/ NEW-ən.[21]

Changes of family name[edit]

There have been various points in Vietnam's history at which people have changed their family name to Nguyễn. When the Lý dynasty fell in 1232, Trần Thủ Độ, who orchestrated its overthrow, forced descendants of the Lý dynasty to adopt the name due to the naming taboo surrounding Trần Lý, grandfather to emperor Trần Cảnh.

From 457 to Hồ Quý Ly (1401), in Hải Dương and a part of Haiphong today there is the district of the Phí family (Vietnamese: huyện Phí Gia). At the end of the Lý and the Trần dynasty there were many people who changed their names to Nguyễn and Nguyễn Phí. By the Lê dynasty, the court changed the name of the district to Kim Thành.

When the Mạc dynasty fell in 1592, their descendants changed their family name to Nguyễn.

Trần Quang Diệu (like his wife Bùi Thị Xuân) worked as a major officer for the Tây Sơn dynasty, against Nguyễn Ánh. After the Tây Sơn dynasty was defeated, his children adopted various names or changed names (one of them into Nguyễn) in order to flee retaliation.

Historically in Vietnam and many East Asian countries, the rulers may let their courtiers share their family name as a reward for their loyalty.[citation needed] Many officials thereby changed their name to match that of the last Nguyễn dynasty (1802–1945).[citation needed] Civilians also adopted the name during the Trịnh–Nguyễn Civil War for purposes of social climbing, having migrated from the north to the south. Even the Tây Sơn Brothers changed their name to Nguyễn from Hồ.[b]

Notable people[edit]

People with the name include:

Hồ Chí Minh was born Nguyễn Sinh Cung and used various names with the surname Nguyễn throughout his career (Nguyễn Tất Thành, Nguyễn Ái Quốc). He was not known as Hồ Chí Minh until late in his life.


  1. ^ It may be sometimes confused with Nguyên is a different word and surname if written without diacritics.
  2. ^ This is only according to some sources. Other sources say Quang Trung took his mother's surname (Nguyễn Thị Đồng) which was Nguyễn.


  1. ^ Lê Trung Hoa, Họ và tên người Việt Nam, NXB Khoa học - Xã hội, 2005
  2. ^ "Vietnamese names". Archived from the original on 1 July 2008.
  3. ^ Kelly, Maura (27 July 2011). "Nafissatou and Amadou". Slate.
  4. ^ "阮". Hanyu dacidian. Shanghai cishu chubanshe. 2011.
  5. ^ "Why Are So Many Vietnamese People Named Nguyen?". IB Times.
  6. ^ "Why Are So Many Vietnamese People Named Nguyen?". International Business Times. 18 February 2014.
  7. ^ a b Lê, Hiền (10 February 2023). "How Vietnamese Surname 'Nguyễn' Became One Of The Most Popular Surnames In The World". Vietcetera. According to a study by the Faculty of Literature, VNU HCMC, changing surnames to 'Nguyễn' was quite common among the descendants of the dethroned dynasties. The main purpose was to change the identity and avoid revenge on the ruling family before or after. Typically, when the Hồ Dynasty collapsed in 1407, the descendants were afraid of revenge by the Trần descendants (because Hồ Quý Ly had overturned the Trần dynasty before), so they changed their surnames to Nguyễn.
  8. ^ The Age (4 September 2006). "Nguyens keeping up with the Joneses". Retrieved 9 September 2006.
  9. ^ Melbourne City Council. "City of Melbourne - Multicultural Communities - Vietnamese". Archived from the original on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2006.
  10. ^ "Les noms de famille les plus portés France". www.journaldesfemmes.com.
  11. ^ Statistics Norway. "Top 200 last names". Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  12. ^ "Žebříčky nejčastějších jmen vedou Nováci a Nguyenové" (in Czech). Novinky. 17 May 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2007.
  13. ^ "Frequently Occurring Surnames from the 2010 Census".
  14. ^ "Frequently Occurring Surnames from the 2000 Census".
  15. ^ "Frequently Occurring Surnames from Census 1990 – Names Files".
  16. ^ PBS, POV: The Sweetest Sound: Popularity Index
  17. ^ "Most Common Australian Surnames & Meanings". forebears.io. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  18. ^ Bac Hoai Tran; Ha Minh Nguyen; Tuan Duc Vuong (2012). Colloquial Vietnamese: The Complete Course for Beginners. Routledge. p. 4. ISBN 9781136682865. OCLC 823723353. The combination of consonants ng often comes at the beginning of a word, as in the surname Nguyễn, and it is one of the other difficulties (fortunately there are not many) that Vietnamese consonants pose.
  19. ^ "Either way, in the 1st district, it's a Nguyen for taxpayers". The Orange County Register. California. 11 February 2007. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
  20. ^ "Nguyen-Nguyen situation". Total Buzz (blog). Orange County Register. 7 February 2007. Archived from the original on 3 March 2007. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
  21. ^ Sharwood, Anthony. "Pronouncing this name right is a Nguyen Nguyen situation". news.com.au. News Corp. Retrieved 20 November 2023.

External links[edit]