F*** mi!

A friend who’s visiting Vietnam has been making commendable efforts to learn enough of the language to get by – and display respect rather than overbearing Western arrogance. But he’s run into some slight problems. For just a flavour…

“Vietnamese personal names are usually three syllables long, but may also be two or four syllables. The first syllable is the family name or surname. Because certain family names, notably Nguyen, are extremely common, they cannot be used to distinguish among individuals in the manner customary in English. Do not shorten two-syllable names, i.e. Lê Duẩn is always Lê Duẩn. For three-syllable names, use the final syllable as a short form to refer to the subject after the first reference. Thus Ngô Bảo Châu is shortened to “Châu”. For four-syllable names, use the last two syllables as the short form. Thus Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai is “Minh Khai”. It should be noted that “Hồ Chí Minh” is exception to these rules since this is a pseudonym with a strongly literal meaning. Chí Minh means “he who enlightens,” so these two syllables are not divided. An explanatory header, {{Vietnamese name}}, may be used if clarification is considered necessary.”

In short, as he grumbles, ‘the only Vietnamese name anyone knows doesn’t follow any of the utterly impenetrable rules’.

I tell him he should have gone to Thailand like everyone else.