Commonly, in writing, the country name in Vietnamese is Việt Nam, in English is Vietnam; its capital city name in Vietnamese is Hà Nội, in English is Hanoi; its largest city name in Vietnamese is thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, in English is Ho Chi Minh city.

My questions:

  1. Should this rule apply to other normal city/province names like Đà Nẵng (to Danang?), Nha Trang (to Nhatrang?), etc?

  2. There are place named after a person name: Hồ Chí Minh, Hai Bà Trưng. Will it be written as Ho Chi Minh city or Hochiminh city, Hai Ba Trung ward or Haibatrung ward?

  3. There are names formed by other names, like Bình Trị Thiên is formed by Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị, Thừa Thiên. So will it be written as Binhtrithien or Binh Tri Thien?

  4. Lastly, how should I write people names? Mostly, people will change the order of the name in Vietnamese (last - mid - first) to English order (first - mid - last), like Lý Minh Nhật to Nhat M. Ly or just Nhat Ly. As a consequence, Hồ Chí Minh should also be written as Minh C. Ho or Minh Ho. Why don't people do that? What about not-that-much-well-known but important person like the current president? Nguyen Tan Dung or Dung Nguyen? And should I keep the tones of the names or subtract them (Nhat Ly or Nhật Lý)?

I want to know the answer from the view point of a native speakers.

  • 1
    As I recall, back maybe 1965 standard usage in the US switched from using "Viet Nam" to "Vietnam". I'm not sure what provoked this, other than perhaps newspaper typesetters simply tiring of the extra keystrokes.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 27, 2014 at 20:16
  • Because English people prefer run discrete elements together, as Erik Kowal has stated.
    – Ooker
    Oct 27, 2014 at 20:23
  • Instead of asking four questions in one, it might be better to phrase the body as an umbrella question about how to write Vietnamese proper names in general in English. Jan 27, 2021 at 13:48
  • You can write them as you like.
    – Lambie
    Dec 23, 2023 at 18:28
  • @Lambie well, if so then people whose native languages are not Latin-based can also simply write their names in their own languages
    – Ooker
    Dec 24, 2023 at 3:10

7 Answers 7


You can certainly assume that English speakers will omit the tone-denoting diacritics in the Vietnamese versions of the names of people and places — partly because they don't understand what they signify, and partly because they would have no idea how to reproduce them even if they wanted to — and that most of them will be confused about the different conventions regarding the order of names in conventional Vietnamese versus English usage.

However, the name Ho Chi Minh is so well-known to speakers of English that it has become fixed in that form, and is therefore probably immune to the reordering of its elements.

Where Vietnamese place names consist of several discrete elements (e.g. Việt Nam and Hà Nội), it seems to me that English speakers prefer to run them together, as you have already observed.

I suspect the greatest influence on all aspects of how native English speakers treat Vietnamese names is the way they are presented in newspapers, although the easier access to information about Vietnamese culture that has been made possible thanks to the Internet may prompt a few English speakers to try harder to conform to at least some of the Vietnamese norms.

You might also find some of my remarks in this discussion relevant.

  • So, in summary, in question 1 and 3, I should write them in Binhtrithien and Danang, right? What about question 2? Should I write Haibatrung ward also? I've also updated question 4, can you read it again? And for your link, I find no guide to write correctly, just how to pronounce correctly (which is no correctly one).
    – Ooker
    Sep 17, 2014 at 10:45
  • 2
    @Ooker - I do not claim to be an authority on how to handle Vietnamese names, so I cannot give you guidance on how you should or should not write them in an English text. I merely indicated what I thought English speakers are likely to do with them. Alas, I cannot point you to a suitable guide. The best I can do, if you cannot find anything meeting your needs online, is to suggest you contact a university in an English-speaking country that possesses a department which teaches Vietnamese language and/or history, and ask them for help.
    – Erik Kowal
    Sep 17, 2014 at 10:59
  • 3
    There is no such thing as a universal authority on how to write English. There are many style guides, and you can take your pick which you choose to follow.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 17, 2014 at 11:43
  • @ColinFine Can you suggest me a style guide? Or where I can find it? Online if possible. Thanks
    – Ooker
    Sep 17, 2014 at 21:49
  • There are lots of them (though I don't know how many cover Vietnames names). Just google "Style guide foreign names"
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 18, 2014 at 22:28

I am from Viet Nam. In my school, when we learn English, in our books and my teacher teach us that:
1) Đà Nẵng -> Da Nang, Việt Nam -> Viet Nam
2) Hai Bà Trưng -> Hai Ba Trung
3) Bình Trị Thiên (include: Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị, Thừa Thiên - before 1976) -> Binh Tri Thien.
4) Lý Minh Nhật -> Ly Minh Nhat
5) Hồ Chí Minh -> Ho Chi Minh (but we always speak/write President Ho Chi Minh or Bác Hồ - Bac Ho - like a member in our families)
6) Nguyễn Tấn Dũng - Nguyen Tan Dung.

My English is very bad. I hope that you can understand things I write!

  • Your English is quite good, I can completely understand your words. The "bác" in "bác Hồ" is not a part of his name, so we should not keep that word when writing in English. It should be "uncle Ho" as usual.
    – Ooker
    Oct 27, 2014 at 15:23
  • Also, I am looking for a perspective of a native speaker or a linguist who has a good knowledge on this question.
    – Ooker
    Oct 27, 2014 at 18:45

I'm a native speaker. There's no universal application for the writing rules in Vietnamese, as the written way has changed time to time. To answer your questions, at least based on my and many others' perspectives:

  1. As without diacritics, Vietnam, Hanoi, Danang, Nhatrang, Buonmethuot, Dalat, Daklak, etc. are totally fine, even preferred. The places' names have no issue, but the basic confusion lies on the variants of transliteration of spoken sounds to written texts due to diverse ethnic and political reasons.

  2. It's up to one's convenience to write in either ways, which are publicly understood anyway, though as a seemingly general rule, a person's name like Ho Chi Minh, is better to be retained as such.

  3. Either way is fine. I prefer Binhtrithien.

  4. You write in the ways people find most convenient with. Not everyone is the same. Nowadays in Vietnam, people accept both ways, comparable with or without diacritics, though of course more commonly Chinese/Vietnamese way (last - mid - first). The first - last order is not an English order (for sure not originated in England), but globally except Chinese and its sphere of influence, including Vietnam. In fact, the tones and diacritics are critical parts of the Vietnamese names, as without them there would be some frustration. Think about e.g. Scandinavian or Balkan names, without diacritics they wouldn't be pronounced correctly. But as I said, each individual is different, so you may need to ask him/her what the most convenient ways are.

  • By saying native speaker, do you mean you are a native Vietnamese or a native English speaker? Based on your username, I guess that you are the former, but I would like to be sure :)
    – Ooker
    Feb 6, 2015 at 2:29
  • 1
    It is not true that only languages in the Chinese sphere put last names before first names. Hungarian does it too, for instance. Feb 6, 2015 at 12:38
  • yes, I'm a native Vietnamese speaker :)
    – Leminh
    Feb 7, 2015 at 15:59
  • Also, minor niggle: the Scandinavian languages do not use diacritics—they just have extra letters. (I believe the same is true of most of the Balkan languages, but I'm not entirely sure.) Jul 23, 2015 at 20:12

With regard to your question number 4, here (for what it's worth) is the style advice of The Oxford Guide to Style (2003):


Vietnamese names should not be transposed: although the family name is first, the correct reference is to a person's second given name: Nguyen Vo Giap becomes General Giap. (This does not apply to Ho Chi Minh, which was a Chinese cover name rendered into Vietnamese pronunciation and spelling.)

As Erik Kowal notes in his answer, the vast majority of English treatments of Vietnamese words do not attempt to reproduce the diacritical marks from the original spellings.

  • I'm not able to reach the guide. The name of the general in the Vietnamese order is Võ Nguyên Giáp (Vo Nguyen Giap), not Nguyen Vo Giap. In this question, I want to know which order makes the native speakers feel comfortable most.
    – Ooker
    Oct 28, 2014 at 18:29
  • 1
    By "native speakers" you mean native English speakers, I assume. I ran a quick Google Books search for Nguyen Vo Giap vs. Vo Nguyen Giap vs. Giap Vo Nguyen vs. Giap Nguyen Vo, and found that the vast majority of English texts prefer Vo Nguyen Giap; so my conclusion is that Oxford accidentally transposed Vo and Nguyen in its example. Oopsy. In another search, General Giap is somewhat more common than General Vo, even though almost all of the instances of General Vo appear as part of the fuller identification General Vo Nguyen Giap. So Oxford appears to be right about "General Giap."
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 28, 2014 at 18:41
  • Wow, I don't know about this technique. I try to search on Google Books and they only give me books. I try further, using Ngram to search and surprisingly, no result for "general Giap"
    – Ooker
    Oct 28, 2014 at 18:58
  • Try this URL: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 28, 2014 at 19:01

Nguyễn Ngọc Hà and others have stated the case for omitting all diacritics when spelling Vietnamese names in a non-linguistic English context. I do not see any justification for rearranging the order of name components. It is absurd to write "Chi Minh Ho" in the same way that it is absurd to write "Zedong Mao". Even monolingual English speakers should be expected to know that in some languages the family name comes first.

  • As Erik Kowal stated, Ho Chi Minh or Mao Zedong are well-known person so once people is familiar with the names printed in newspaper, it's hard to change. However, if one is a normal person, some will prefer to change to Western order, some won't. My question is from a point of view of a native speaker, which one is preferred, to change or not to change?
    – Ooker
    Oct 27, 2014 at 18:57
  • I agree with you that if one is a normal person, some will prefer to change to Western order, some won't. In my opinion, I am preferred not to change but I will change if it is compelled (procedures abroad,..) I read some international articles for scientific research of Vietnamese, they never change rearranging the order of name. Ex: "Ngo Diem Ngoc, Bui Duc Hau, Nguyen Thanh Liem et al. Screening of the RET gene of Vietnamese Hirschsprung patients identifies 2 novel missense mutations. J Pediatr Surg 2012; 47: 1859-64"
    – user95870
    Oct 28, 2014 at 15:14
  • It is also absurd to speak of Jet Li, Haruki Murakami, or Ayumi Hamasaki—and yet no one in the Anglophone would ever speak of Li Jet, Murakami Haruki, or Hamasaki Ayumi… Oct 29, 2014 at 2:23
  • Many east Asian people when they're working or living in western countries or performing/being published there will use western name order. There is a greater tendency to use eastern name order in English writing in academic writing on history, literature, etc: in areas such as cinema studies, you'll see both, with newer writing more likely to use eastern order. But it's generally better not to make assumptions about name order and indicate which is the family name if it's important.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 28, 2021 at 9:59

Thank you for reminding. I have been thinking this problem and your question made ​​me feel a little confused. I tried looking for information and found an article on this topic . It has changed my thinking. Part of the article translated into English or you can use the google translation tool. You can find it in this link: http://dotchuoinon.com/2010/10/20/m%E1%BB%99t-d%E1%BB%81-xu%E1%BA%A5t-nh%E1%BB%8F-vi%E1%BA%BFt-ti%E1%BA%BFng-anh-chinh-xac-cac-ten-vi%E1%BB%87t-nam/

Habits can be changed. No one specific regulations in order to change the name. I think it's like regular verbs and irregular verbs. If you change the order of my name, I will think that it is not me.

  • Yeah. Everyone has a choice.
    – Ooker
    Oct 28, 2014 at 18:31
  • It looks like this is not an answer to the original question (which is what the Your Answer box is for) but a comment on Sven Yargs' answer. Please do take the site tour -- available from the Help menu -- to learn more and get another badge.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 29, 2014 at 6:46

About people names, if you notate the Vietnamese order as (last - mid - first), the Western order shall be (mid - first - last) instead of (first - mid - last).

Better understand this with simply family name and given names: just swap the family name and given names, without changing the order inside the given names. So Vietnamese (F G1 G2) becomes (G1 G2 F) in the Western order. The call sign is usually G2. General Vo Nguyen Giap (Vietnamese order) is then General Giap for short, and General Nguyen Giap Vo in Western order (although not common because he is a famouse historical figure with his name fixed in its orginal order in Western publications).

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