Nguyễn Last Name in Vietnam: History, Origin and Meaning

Nguyen, pronounce Nguyễn in Vietnamese, is the most common last name if you have come across any individuals of Vietnamese descent. More than 40% of the Vietnam Population has Nguyễn as their family name, meaning one in every three people in the country has this as their last name. According to International Business Times, There are around over 38 million people who have Nguyen as their last name around the world.


Surname Popularity of Most Common Names in Vietnam

Nguyen is also among the top 100 last names in the United States, Australia, and France. Meaning "musical instrument" and actually rooted in Chinese, Nguyen is an interesting name that you'll encounter throughout the world. Alternate spellings include Nyguyen, Ruan, Yuen, and Yuan.

History and Origins of the Surname Nguyen in Vietnam

The etymology of Nguyen, like many other Vietnamese names and even words, comes from the neighbouring country of China. Beginning in the 4th century AD, Chinese migrants with the surname referring to an ancient string instrument, Ruan (Mandarin)/Yuen (Cantonese), started to trickle into the country. Over time, they would assimilate into the population while their family name morphed into the Vietnamese-adapted Nguyen.

Correct Pronunciation of Nguyen in Vietnamese

Vietnam Language is written with diacritics, the correct Vietnamese pronunciation of Nguyễn can be a bit challanging for foreigners. But because Vietnamese tones are unique to the language (and thus difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce), there are several acceptable ways for foreigners to say Nguyen:

  • Win/When: Silent Ng
  • N’win/Ng’win: One syllable. Ng’win is closest to the correct Vietnamese pronunciation
  • Noo-yen/Ngoo-yen: Two syllables
  • Nuh-goo-yen: Three syllables. Avoid this one due to the incorrect hard G sound


Former Vietnam President Ho Chi Minh was borned Nguyễn Sinh Cung

Notable Nguyens in Vietnam: A little known fact is that the most prominent figure and founder of Communist Country in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho), was borned Nguyen Sinh Cung. Though just a tiny list, some other well-known Nguyens today include:

  • Nguyen Hue: Founder of the Tay Son Dynasty in Vietnam (1789-1802)
  • Nguyen Anh: Founder of the Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam (1802-1945)
  • Nguyen Xuan Phuc: Former Prime Minister and President of Vietnam
  • Nguyen Huy Thiep: Considered Vietnam’s most influential contemporary writer
  • Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao: Self-made businesswoman and founder of VietJetAir
  • Betty Nguyen: Anchor of CBS News
  • Dustin Nguyen: Actor, main character of 21 Jumpstreet (TV series)
  • Johnny Tri Nguyen: Actor, recently in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloodz
  • Tyga (real name Michael Ray Nguyen-Stevenson): American rapper
  • Jeff “Phi” Nguyen: Jabbawockeez dancer
  • Nguyen Cao Ky Duyen: MC and singer
  • Son Tung M-TP (real name Nguyen Thanh Tung): Singer-songwriter
  • Nguyen Tran Khanh Van – Miss Universe Vietnam (2019)

Why There Are So Many Nguyens in Vietnam Today

Throughout the last millennia, political intrigue and endless power struggles between families and dynasties of the country heavily influenced aristocratic family names. The first mass-conversion of surnames took place in the mid of 1220s when the Ly dynasty was overthrown by the Tran dynasty. In order to remove the Ly family name from existence, those with the name were forced to change to Nguyen (the reason as to why Nguyen was chosen specifically is unknown).

When the Le Dynasty seized power in 1400, the surviving Trans also took on the Nguyen name in order to escape deadly retribution and persecution. This process would repeat itself several times over the following centuries, with the losing family changing their surnames to Nguyen.

The final royal dynasty change occurred in 1802 – this time by a Nguyen. In addition to awarding the name to those loyal to the royal family, many commoners (who did not have surnames) also adopted Nguyen in order to gain favour with royal officials. 1945 was a monumental year, as it marked Vietnam’s transition from fighting the Japanese in the World War 2 and straight into the battle for independence, parallel to the nation’s final monarch abdicating the throne.

Now free from royal dynastic rule, Vietnamese no longer have any political motives to change their surnames, resulting in today’s proliferation of Nguyens. Also, Nguyen can be used as a first name as well as a family name, keep in mind that in Vietnamese it is traditional for the surname to be used before an individual's given name.

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Nguyễn Last Name in Vietnam: History, Origin and Meaning Nguyễn Last Name in Vietnam: History, Origin and Meaning
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