David Lan Pham



            The Vietnamese used to say of ‘the world of one hundred family names' (Bá tính trăm họ).

In the olden times 100 seemed to be the biggest number. The story of Lac Long Quan and Au Co centered on one hundred eggs and one hundred children. The minority peoples living from the Yang Tse-kiang to the Sino-Vietnamese border were called Po Yue (Bách Việt: one hundred Viet). In acupuncture we have the Bach Hoi point (Bách: one hundred; hội: convergence) which is the intersection point of all the nervous system meridians.

The story of One Hundred Eggs and One Hundred Children shows that our country and people had geographic, historic, cultural and ethnic relations with China and the Po Yue.

The ancestors of Ly Bon, founder of the Earlier Ly and the Van Xuan in the 6 th century, were Chinese. So were those of Ho Qui Ly. The Man, Meo, Tho, Lo Lo, Tay, Nung, Thai, Nhan... are living in Southern China and the mountainous areas of Bac Bo. The Nan Chao, who attacked Giao Chau during the harvest to plunder rice under the Tang, were the Thai from Yunnan. Their capital was Tali. In the 13 th century the Mongolians conquered Tali. There was a flux of migration of the Thai from Yunnan to Northwestern Bac Bo, Northern Laos, and the Northern areas of present Thailand. Doan was the most important family name of the Nan Chao. In Bac Bo the Thai settled along the Da River Valley, and on the Western calcareous highlands such as Son La, Lai Chau, Moc Chau, Dien Bien Phu etc. The Deo family was the most important Thai family in Bac Bo under French rule.

Almost all the Vietnamese last names such as Au, Khuc, Phung, Mai, Duong, Cao, Dinh, Doan, Do, Le, Ly, Tran, Thai, Nguyen, Luu, Chu, Ton, Tong, Phan, Pham, Phan. Linh, Be Nong, Ta, Tram, Ngo, Trinh, Co, Dai, Nhan, Lai, Trac, To, Nham, Tich, Tan, Tan, Vuong, Sa, Tieu, Tuc, Lu, Nguy Tao, Han, Hang, Truong, Than, Tu, Hua, Luc, Mach, Phuc, Khang, Hong, Lac, Sam, An... are found in Vietnam, China and in the Muong, Thai, Tho, Tay, Nung communities etc.

Che and Tra are two usual last names of the Cham.

Son and Thach are common in the Khmer community in Nam Bo.

From the 10 th century on, Vietnam became independent. Most last names in Vietnam came from those of the dynasty founders. Following is the list of the dynasty founders in Vietnam:

Last Names




Ngo Quyen

The Ngo


Dinh Bo Linh

The Dinh


Le Hoan

The Earlier Le


Ly Cong Uan

The Ly


Tran Thu Do


The Tran


Le Quy Ly

The Ho


Le Loi

The Later Le


Mac Dang Dung

The Mac


Trinh Kiem

Trinh Shogunate


Nguyen Hoang

Nguyen Shogunate


Nguyen Phuc Anh

The Nguyen


No king in Vietnam bore Huynh (Hoang), Vo (Vu), Dang, Phan, Pham, Bui, Luu, Ton, Tong, Thai, Than, Cao, To, Do, Duong, Vuong... as his last name. In China, Liu (Luu) was the last name of the founder of the Han dynasty. Lee (Ly) was the last name of the founder of the Tang dynasty. Chao was the last name of the founder of the Song dynasty, and Chou (Chu) was the last name of the founder of the Ming dynasty etc.

The Le consisted of the Earlier Le (980 - 1009), Later Le (1428 - 1527), and Restored Le (1592 - 1788). The Le reigned in Vietnam in 324 years.

The Ly reigned from 1010 to 1225 (215 years). We don't count the short-lived reign of the Earlier Ly in the 6 th century.

The Tran reigned from 1225 to 1400 (175 years).

The Trinh ruled Dang Ngoai (North) from 1592 to 1786 (194 years)

The Nguyen ruled Dang Trong (South) from 1600 to 1801. Their rule was interrupted in 30 years due to the revolt of the Tay Son (1771 - 1801). During the civil war between the Nguyen and the Tay Son, Lord Dinh Vuong Nguyen Phuc Thuan, then Lord Nguyen Phuc Anh took refuge in the Dong Nai and Mekong deltas where they recruited militants to restore power they lost to the Tay Son from Phu Xuan (Hue) to Binh Thuan. The Tay Son were strong in the North. Their control was loose in the Dong Nai and Mekong deltas where the Nguyen had many supporters. The Nguyen got financial and economic support from the Minh Huong (Chinese; countrymen of the Ming).

In 1802 Nguyen Phuc Anh came to the throne. It was king Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen dynasty. The Nguyen reigned in unified Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. The last king of the Nguyen was Bao Dai, who was enthroned when he was 12 years of age in 1925. A regent was appointed for he studied in France in 10 years (1922 - 1932). He assumed his royal responsibility in 1932 when he returned to Hue from France. In reality he reigned in Annam and Tonkin only. His power was rigorously limited there.

Only kings Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc had full power in unified Vietnam stretching from the Gate of China to Cape Ca Mau. Tu Duc's kingship lasted 35 years (1848 - 1883). In 1867 the French occupied Cochinchina and turned it into their colony. King Tu Duc's successors were young and powerless. Tonkin and Annam became French protectorates after the signing of the treaties of 1883 and 1884. In 1887 the general government was established in Ha Noi to be in charge of French administration in Tonkin, Annam, Cambodia and Cochinchina. Kings Dong Khanh (1885 - 1889), Thanh Thai (1889 - 1907), Duy Tan (1907 - 1916), Khai Dinh (1916 - 1925) and Bao Dai (1925 - 1945) had their symbolic power in Tonkin and Annam. Cochinchina was a French colony, in other words, a French département prolongé. From 1887 to 1945 the Vietnamese king's power was reduced to that of the Minister of Rites.

The Nguyen reigned in Vietnam in 337 years: 194 years in Nam Ha (South); 60 years in unified Vietnam; 5 years in 3 Western provinces of Cochinchina and 78 years in Tonkin and Annam. It was the longest reign in our history. This famous and powerful family has some 3 million members. Many Vietnamese have Nguyen as their last name. The last name of the Vietnamese leaders after World War II such as Bao Dai, Ho Chi Minh, Nguyen Van Thieu was Nguyen (Bao Dai born Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy; Ho Chi Minh: Nguyen Sinh Cung or Nguyen Tat Thanh). The foreigners have the tendency to call all the Vietnamese Mr. Nguyen every time they do not know their names.

Many Vietnamese bear Le, Ly, Tran, Trinh, Nguyen as their last names because each of those famous and powerful families ruled our country, at least, in 150 years. For one reason or another those last names were not certainly their original ones. People had many reasons to change their last names. The most important reasons were the social and political ones. The Vietnamese used to say:

Turn your umbrella to sunlight. ( Nắng chiều nào nghiêng theo chiều ấy )
Things are round in the gourd and long in the pipe. ( Ở bầu th́ tṛn, ở ống th́ dài )

This simple socio-political philosophy was profound to our forefathers. It secured our people's survival under different political regimes no matter how cruel they were. The people's immense endurance was not only the Vietnamese people's earmark but also the mankind's in the world.

Vietnamese Middle Names

Usually the Vietnamese name is composed of:

1. Last name
2. Middle name
3. First name.

This order is different from that of a Westerner's name. (1. First name 2. Middle name 3. Last name). The Westerners confuse when facing a name which has more than 3 words.

Some people have their last and first names only. The middle names are omitted. It is the case of Ngo Quyen, Le Loi, Phung Hung, Le Lai, Nguyen Kim, Nguyen Hoang, Nguyen Uong, Trinh Kiem, Nguyen Du, Nguyen Nghiem etc. In Trung Bo (Central Viet Nam) the two-word names are usually found. It is not the case of Nguyen Anh whose real name has three words: Nguyen Phuc Anh.

Usually the middle name is the second word after the last nam e. Ex: Nguyen Thi Anh Thu

1. Nguyen: last name
2. Thi: middle name
3. Anh Thu: compound first name.

In some particular cases the middle name is the last name of the mother preceeding the usual middle name THI. Ex: Phan Nguyen Thi Hong Phuc (1. Phan: last name; Nguyen: last name of the mother becoming the middle name; Thi: second middle name; Hong Phuc: compound first name).

Until the early 20 th century the most popular middle names were VAN for males, and THI for females. Our early country's name was VAN LANG.

VAN means knowledge; books; educated man. It was our ancestors' noble hope. THI was used by the ladies as a modest and polite term when they told about themselves. It was the most modest, tender and lovely word from the charming ladies. VAN and THI were two popular middle names in Vietnam especially in Nam Bo. Almost all the VIPs in Nam Bo after World War II such as Nguyen Van Thinh, Le Van Hoach, Nguyen Van Xuan, Tran Van Huu, Nguyen Van Tam have Van as their middle name. From 1945 on, the number of Vietnamese children bearing VAN and THI as their middle names decreased.

Famous families keep their primordial last and middle names as a tradition so that their posterity recognizes their genealogy. Such a specific name is linked to such a specific family.

Last and Middle Names

Linked to

Le Duy

the Restored Le

Nguyen Phuc

the Nguyen

Phan Huy

Phan Huy Chu

Pham Dinh

Pham Dinh Trong

Ngo Thoi

Ngo Thoi Si

Tong Phuoc

Tong Phuoc Hiep

Nguyen Huynh

Nguyen Huynh Duc

Nguyen Huu

Nguyen Huu Tien

Nguyen Huu

Nguyen Huu Hao

Do Huu

Do Huu Phuong

Pham Dang

Pham Dang Hung

Le Phat

Le Phat Dat (Huyen Si)

Truong Tan

Truong Tan Buu

Truong Vinh

Truong Vinh Ky

Truong Minh

Truong Minh Giang

Tran Tu

Tran Tu Ca

Bui Quang

Bui Quang Chieu

Nguyen Ngoc

Nguyen Ngoc Tuong

Ngo Dinh

Ngo Dinh Kha

Than Trong

Than Trong Hue

Nguyen Khoa

Nguyen Khoa Chiem

Cao Xuan

Cao Xuan Duc

Truong Dang

Truong Dang Que

Phan Thanh

Phan Thanh Gian


There was no middle name in Lord Tien's name (Nguyen Hoang). His first son bore PHUC as his middle name. It was Nguyen Phuc Nguyen (Lord Sai). It was said that, during her pregnancy, Nguyen Hoang's wife saw the word PHUC (happiness; blessing) in a dream. Nguyen Phuc Nguyen became Lord Sai in 1613. He died in 1635.

King Gia Long was born Nguyen Phuc Anh. The real name of king Tu Duc was Nguyen Phuc Hong Nham. That of Bao Dai was Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy etc.

King Minh Mang composed a poem of 20 words which became the second middle names of his lineage. Following were these 20 words:

Mien Hong Ung Buu Vinh
Bao Qui Dinh Long Truong
Hien Nang Kham Ke Thuat
The Thoai Quoc Gia Xuong

The middle name of all the members of the royal family born after 1820 was double. The middle name of king Minh Mang's sons was PHUC MIEN. The real name of king Thieu Tri was Nguyen Phuc Mien Tong.

The middle name of king Thieu Tri's sons was PHUC HONG. The real name of king Tu Duc was Nguyen Phuc Hong Nham. King Ham Nghi's real name was Nguyen Phuc Ung Lich, son of Nguyen Phuc Hong Cai, who was king Tu Duc's younger brother. King Khai Dinh was born Nguyen Phuc Buu Dao. His son was Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy (king Bao Dai). Nguyen Phuc Vinh Thuy's son was Nguyen Phuc Bao Long etc.

In imitation of the royal family the Vietnamese in Trung Bo have their 4 or 5 word names.

Prince Nguyen Phuc Canh was Nguyen Phuc Anh's eldest son. He died of chicken-pox in Gia Dinh in 1801 at the age of 21. The middle name of this lineage was based on the following 20-word poem:

My Due Tang Cuong Trang
Lien Huy Phat Boi Huong
Linh Nghi Ham Ton Thuan
Vi Vong Bieu Khon Quang

The middle name of prince Canh's children was PHUC MY (Nguyen Phuc My Duong, Nguyen Phuc My Thuy). That of Cuong De's children was PHUC TRANG (Nguyen Phuc Trang Liet, Nguyen Phuc Trang Cu).

Cuong De's rank in the royal family hierarchy was higher than that of kings Thanh Thai (Buu Lan) and Khai Dinh (Buu Dao). Prince Canh was not only Nguyen Phuc Anh's eldest son but also son of his first wife. Buu Hoi, Buu Loc and Buu Dao (king Khai Dinh) were of the same rank. Princes Buu Hoi and Buu Loc were king Bao Dai's uncles.

The two 20-word poems show that prince Cuong De was of prince Canh's lineage while scientist Buu Hoi was of king Minh Mang's.

Prince Canh's descents were not well treated by king Minh Mang, who prevented them from disputing the throne. Prince Canh'son, Nguyen Phuc My Duong, was no longer a member of the royal family. He became a commoner. Nguyen Phuc My Thuy's death raised a big question mark under the reign of Minh Mang.

The Last Name Change

Most last name changes came from bad causes except for Ly Thuong Kiet, Han Thuyen, Nguyen Huynh Duc, Ly Tu Trong..., who got favor from their superior to change their last names.

Ly Thuong Kiet was born Ngo Tuan. Favored by the king he was allowed to change his last name to Ly.

King Tran Nhan Tong allowed Nguyen Thuyen to change his last name to Han after he wrote a funeral oration to expel a crocodile from the Phu Luong River for, in the past, Han Yu succeeded to expel a crocodile by writing a funeral oration.

Nguyen Huynh Duc was born Huynh Tuong Duc. In compensation for his military exploits and contributions to the restoration of the Nguyen during the civil war, Lord Nguyen Phuc Anh changed his last name Huynh to Nguyen. His name became Nguyen Huynh Duc (Nguyen: new last name; Huynh: old last name becoming the middle name; Duc: first name). Nguyen Huynh Duc was granted the highest nobility title by king Gia Long. He was governor of Bac Thanh (Tonkin) and Gia Dinh Thanh (Cochinchina). Two of his sons were king Gia Long's sons-in-law.

Ly Tu Trong ( born Le Huu Trong) was a Communist youth (Komsomol) trained by Ly Thuy (Ho Chi Minh), who allowed him to adopt Ly (Ly Thuy was the pseudonym of future Ho Chi Minh in the 1925s) as his new last name.

There were many bloody events in our history: anti-Chinese uprisings, seigniorial war, bloody usurpations, jacqueries, revolts of the minority peoples, anti-French resistance etc. Each historic event marked a big change. The winners wiped out all the vestiges of the losers. Our country changed its names many times. The city names changed. The Dai La citadel became Thang Long, Dong Quan (Dong Do, Dong Kinh), Ha Noi. Vijaya, the capital of Champa, became Qui Nhon, then Binh Dinh (Pacified city) after Nguyen Phuc Anh occupied it in 1799. After 1976 Sai Gon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Gia Dinh province was erased on the administrative map. Many cities in Nam Bo changed their names.

After big political changes many people changed their curriculum vitae to adapt to the new circumstance for survival.

Before and after the coup d'état led by general Pham Cu Luong aiming at enthroning Le Hoan to replace Dinh Tue, the 6-year-old king, many courtiers and members of the Dinh family were killed by Le Hoan's partisans. Some members of the royal family left Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh province for the South (1). They must change their last and first names to conceal their identity.

The enthronement of Le Hoan was well prepared.

1. King Dinh Tien Hoang took off the right of succession from Dinh Lien, his eldest son, who was a good military during the seigniorial war. Hang Lang, a young prince, was chosen to be his successor. Dinh Lien killed Hang Lang. The Dinh were divided.
2. Queen Duong (Duong Van Nga) committed adultery with general Le Hoan. It was she who gave the royal robe to Le Hoan during the coup.
3. King Dinh Bo Linh and prince Dinh Lien were assassinated by Do Thich when both of them got very drunk.

Tran Ly was ancestor of the Tran. He was a rich fisherman in Nam Dinh. Tran Ly sheltered prince Sam when the rebels occupied Thang Long. He was father-in-law of prince Sam, who was king Ly Hue Ton. The Tran multiplied their partisans in the capital under the reign of Ly Hue Ton. They commanded the army, held key positions at the court while king Ly Hue Ton had mental problems for drinking a lot of rice wine. He had no son but two daughters. He transferred his throne to his second daughter, princess Chieu Thanh ( Ly Chieu Hoang), who became queen at the age of 7 (1224). Chieu Thanh married Tran Canh, grand son of Tran Ly. In 1225 Ly Chieu Hoang, grand daughter of Tran Ly, conceded the throne to her husband Tran Canh, grand son of Tran Ly! At that time Tran Canh was 8 years old.

This transfer of kingship from the Ly to the Tran was maneuvered by Tran Thu Do, who was considered by the historians imbued with Confucian teachings to be cruel and immoral. Politically speaking, he was a capable politician, organizer, and policy maker. King Ly Hue Ton spent his life in a Buddhist temple in the capital after his abdication. To consolidate the Tran dynasty Tran Thu Do sought to exterminate the Ly.

One day, he came to the Buddhist temple and saw former king Ly Hue Ton pull weeds. He said: "When pulling weeds you must pull their roots." Understanding Tran Thu Do's mean words, Ly Hue Ton hanged himself in the Buddhist temple. Tran Thu Do and Ly Hue Ton's wife lived together. He forced king Tran Thai Ton (Tran Canh) to divorce Chieu Thanh, who was childless to live with his pregnant sister-in-law, who was wife of Tran Lieu (2) and sister of Chieu Thanh. Tran Thu Do married Chieu Thanh (former queen Ly Chieu Hoang) to general Le Phu Tran. Many princesses of the Ly were forced to marry the tribal leaders in the mountainous areas.

In 1232 on the orders of Tran Thu Do many members of the Ly were buried alive in Thai Duong hamlet, Bac Ninh province. The descendants of the Ly changed their backgrounds and had their hidden life throughout the country and in the foreign land.

Ho Qui Ly usurped the throne. He worried about the presence of the descendants of the Tran, who were watched by the Ho, then by the Later Le in the 15 th century.

By the end of the 14 th century many members of the Tran were massacred by Le Quy Ly (future Ho Qui Ly). Only Tran Nguyen Dan and members of his family were not killed because of his alliance by marriage with Le Quy Ly (future Ho Qui Ly). Tran Cao fled to Nghe An and changed his name to Ho Ong. In 1427 Le Loi used Tran Cao as a political chess to ease the withdrawal of the Chinese troops from Dai Viet without hurting their honor because a descendant of the Tran was found! Not long after that Tran Cao was killed. The elderly ‘wrote' a letter to the Emperor of China to ask him to enthrone Le Loi for "there is no descendant of the Tran left." It was rumored that many people changed their last name Tran to Bui.

Dr. Nguyen Trai and general Tran Nguyen Han were cousins. Tran Nguyen Dan was their grand father. Nguyen Trai and Tran Nguyen Han had great contributions to the anti-Ming resistance. They had to resign after Le Loi came to the throne. The King was scared of the existence of the descendants of the Tran. For that reason Tran Nguyen Han and Nguyen Trai found their obscure deaths. Tran Nguyen Han was drowned due to the strong wind according to the official explanation from the Court. Dr. Nguyen Trai was executed because of the ‘revenge of the snake'. Everybody knows it through rumors spread by the court. Nguyen Trai's children, grand children and relatives must face execution. Some of them escaped and changed their full names.

In the 19 th century Cao Ba Quat was sentenced to tru di tam toc (extermination of all the members of three lines of ancestry). His sons Cao Ba Phung, Cao Ba Thong were executed. Cao Ba Dat, his brother, was tri huyen (district chief) of Nong Cong district, Thanh Hoa province when Cao Ba Quat was executed. He was handcuffed and brought to Hue. On the way to the imperial capital he killed himself. Cao Ba Nha, Cao Ba Quat's nephew, changed his curriculum vitae and made his living by teaching in My Duc, Ha Dong province. Identified by the local government he was arrested in 1862 i.e. 8 years after Ca Ba Quat's execution. He was imprisoned in Bac Ninh. He was missing after deportation.

The Later Le were overthrown by Mac Dang Dung, who had been a fisherman in Kien An. Mac Dang Dung founded the Mac dynasty after having killed king Le Chieu Ton, king Le Cung Hoang and his wife. Members of the royal family fled to Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh where they had many supporters.

The Restored Le were eclipsed by Lords Trinh. The Trinh enthroned, dethroned and killed the kings at will. Prince Le Duy Mat led a revolt against the Trinh. Failing to oust the Trinh, he fled to Nghe An and led the anti-Trinh resistance in 30 years.

Both the Mac and Trinh did not dare to exterminate the descendants of the Le. They did know that the people were thankful to kings Le Thai To and Le Thanh Ton. Le Thai To drove the Chinese invaders out. Le Thanh Ton enlarged the country and secured national security and social order. The dwellers of Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Ha Tinh were zealous supporters of the Le. The Trinh were conscious of the Le's popularity. Trinh Kiem was born into a poor family. He was non-schooled. But he was a gifted military and statesman. He was intelligent when listening to Dr. Nguyen Binh Khiem saying to his servant: "The harvest is bad this year. Look for the old seeds and sow them. Keep the pagoda to have bananas" (Năm nay thất mùa. Hăy t́m hột giống cũ mà gieo. Giữ chùa th́ được ăn oản). These words enlightened Trinh Kiem, who gave up his kingly ambition although he commanded the army.

There were 2 governments in Dang Ngoai. In reality the royal government was eclipsed by the shogunal government. This dualistic regime lasted 2 centuries in Dang Ngoai (North). It reminds us of the shogunal regime headed by the Tokugawa in Japan from the 17 th century to the 19 th century.

In 1592 the Mac left Dong Kinh for Cao Bang. Many members of the Mac royal family took refuge in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh and changed their last name not to be massacred by the Trinh. Some of them joined Nguyen Hoang in Dang Trong (South). Mac Canh Huong, younger brother of Mac Kinh Dien, followed Nguyen Hoang. According to Tran Gia Phung in Nhung Cau Chuyen Viet Su (The Vietnamese Historic Stories) p. 130, Mac Canh Vinh, son of Mac Canh Huong, adopted Nguyen as his new last name. It was Nguyen Huu Vinh. It was said that the descendants of the Mac changed their last name to Pham after their last hideout in Cao Bang was completely destroyed by the Trinh in 1677. The Mac existed in Cao Bang from 1592 to 1677 under the protection of the Ming, then of the Ching (Qing). Mac Kinh Vu lost support from the Ching in Cao Bang for siding with Wu San Kuei, who was defeated by the Manchu troops. The Ching abandoned Mac Kinh Vu, who was defeated and captured by the Trinh in 1677.

Nguyen Bac was the first Nguyen in history. He was a courtier under the reign of Dinh Tien Hoang. He was killed by Le Hoan's partisans for protesting the coup overthrowing the Dinh dynasty.

Nguyen Non was the second Nguyen appearing in history. He led the rebellion in Phu Dong village under the reign of Tran Thai Ton (1225 - 1258). Failing to defeat Nguyen Non, Tran Thu Do conceded him lands and recognized autonomy of his fiefdom.

Nguyen Trai was the third Nguyen in history. He had active contributions to the anti-Ming resistance in the 15 th century. In 1442 he was sentenced to tru di tam toc (extermination of all the members of three lines of ancestry).

Nguyen Hoang Du was the fourth Nguyen, who did not succeed in repressing the rebellion led by Tran Cao in the 16 th century.

Nguyen Kim was son of Nguyen Hoang Du. He recruited the militants to fight the Mac to restore the Le dynasty in the 1530s.

Nguyen Hoang (1525 - 1613) was son of Nguyen Kim. He was considered by his posterity the first Lord of the Nguyen (Lord Tien). It was he who exploited and enlarged Dang Trong (South) to turn it into a second center of power opposed to the Le and Trinh governments in Dang Ngoai (North).

In Le Dragon d'Annam, former king Bao Dai mentioned Nguyen Bac without telling about Nguyen Non, Nguyen Trai and Nguyen Hoang Du.

Nguyen Bac lived in Thanh Hoa – Ninh Binh area.

Nguyen Non and Nguyen Trai lived in the Red River delta. Maybe there was no blood relation between the Nguyen in Thanh Hoa and the Nguyen in the Red River delta. Nguyen Hoang Du was general but he could not be compared to Nguyen Bac. Nguyen Hoang Du could not defeat the rebels. He burned down the capital, killed Vu Nhu To, an architect in charge of the construction of the Nine-Storey Tower and the One Hundred-Roof Palace for king Le Tuong Duc, exchanged blows with general Trinh Duy San, and was killed by the rebels in Son Tay.

The Nguyen were from Gia Mieu village, Tong Son district, Thanh Hoa province.

Thanh Hoa was the native province of three great and powerful families: the Le, Trinh and Nguyen. In 1997 Le Kha Phieu became general secretary of the Vietnam Communist Party. He visited the mausoleums of the Later Le in Thanh Hoa. This proved he was proud of his last name Le and his birthplace, Thanh Hoa.

After Nguyen Kim was poisoned by Duong Chap Nhat in 1545, Trinh Kiem commanded the pro-Le army. Duong Chap Nhat and Do Thich were two assassins only.

Do Thich paved the way for Le Hoan to replace king Dinh Tien Hoang.

Duong Chap Nhat gave Trinh Kiem a favorable opportunity to play a key role in the Le restoration movement.

Trinh Kiem did not hesitate to kill Nguyen Uong, Nguyen Kim's son and his wife's brother. Nguyen Hoang, another son of Nguyen Kim, was very scared of this cruel and non-schooled brother-in-law. He asked his sister to tell her husband to let Nguyen Uong go down South to exploit the sandy and rocky strips of land intermittently threatened by floods, typhoons, drought, torrid foehn from Laos and attacks from the Cham in the Southern part of the Hoanh Son Range (4).

From 1558 to 1771 Lords Nguyen were very popular. The people in Dang Trong admired their constructive works. Many dwellers in Dang Trong had Nguyen as their last name. The three brothers of the Tay Son changed their last name from Ho to Nguyen, last name of their mother Nguyen Thi Dong, before the revolt. Nguyen Nhac was smart not to declare war on the Nguyen. He denounced regent Truong Phuc Loan's abuse of power only. After the Tay Son captured prince Nguyen Phuc Duong in 1775 Nguyen Nhac used him as a political facade when spreading the following verses:

Soldiers in Phu Xuan are the regent's. ( Quân triều là quân Quốc phó)

Noisy soldiers * are prince Duong's. ( Quân ó là quân Hoàng tôn )

(*) Hinting at the Tay Son. They were soldiers without any military training.

Nguyen Nhac's true intention was to show that the Tay Son supported prince Duong to overthrow regent Truong Phuc Loan. In reality, prince Duong was a political prisoner in Quang Nam. In 1776 he escaped and joined Lord Dinh Vuong in Cochinchina where he was killed by the Tay Son in 1777.

The Tay Son were in power in 30 years thanks to Nguyen Hue's military genius.

From 1790 the Nguyen from Cochinchina began to launch attacks on the Tay Son military posts in Southern Annam. Most Southerners followed the Nguyen. So did the Minh huong (Chinese in Cochinchina). The people in the Tay Son-controlled areas from Phu Xuan to Binh Thuan did not see any social, economic and political novelty. From 1786 to 1793 the Tay Son were split into two opposed governments. Qui Nhon was Nguyen Nhac's center of power (Nguyen Nhac: emperor Thai Duc). Phu Xuan was that of Quang Trung Nguyen Hue and Canh Thinh. Emperor Quang Trung died in 1792. In 1793 Qui Nhon was occupied by the Nguyen. Nguyen Nhac asked king Canh Thinh to help him to liberate it. Bui Dac Tuyen was regent in Phu Xuan. He sent the troops to Qui Nhon to expel the Nguyen from this citadel. The Nguyen left Qui Nhon for Cochinchina. The Phu Xuan troops stayed in Qui Nhon. Nguyen Nhac lost his treasure to his nephew, king Canh Thinh. He died of hemolysis. From 1793 to 1801 Canh Thinh reigned from the Red River delta to Binh Thuan. Cochinchina was under the control of the Nguyen.

Emperor Thai Duc (Nguyen Nhac), regent Bui Dac Tuyen, King Canh Thinh had no charisma. The people were tired of the Tay Son when spreading the following verses:

May God in Heaven give birth to the monsoon

So that the junks of the Nguyen sail to the North soon.

( Lạy trời cho cả gió nồm

Cho thuyền chúa Nguyễn kéo buồm thẳng ra )

The Nguyen defeated the Tay Son. Nguyen Phuc Anh became king Gia Long, the founder of the Nguyen dynasty.

Lords Nguyen had their popularity while kings Nguyen were unpopular. The domestic and foreign policies of the Nguyen were intolerant, inflexible, ineffective and unpopular. The closed-door policy, religious persecutions, mistreatment to courtiers with good records of service divided the public opinions. They did not help the Hue Court bring security to the nation and happiness to the people.

The Nguyen applied severe punishments to the losers. Quang Trung's grave was dug. His skull was jailed. General Tran Quang Dieu was flayed. His wife Bui Thi xuan and daughter were trodden to death by elephants. If captured, relatives of the Tay Son should not avoid the death penalty. They must change their backgrounds and had hidden life in the remote areas.

King Gia Long mistreated marshal Nguyen Van Thanh and Dang Tran Thuong.

Nguyen Van Thanh was governor of Bac Thanh and author of Hoang Viet Luat Le or Code of Gia Long. He was forced to commit suicide because of an arrogant poem by his son Nguyen Van Thuyen.

Dang Tran Thuong, minister of defense, was hanged for abusing power.

King Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc were harsh with the Vietnamese Catholics and foreign missionaries in Vietnam. The graves of Le Van Duyet, governor of Gia Dinh Thanh, and Le Chat, governor of Bac Thanh, were leveled and chained. King Minh Mang was harsh with prince Canh's children. One of them died. The other was expelled from the royal family to become a commoner. The king prevented them from disputing the throne.

King Tu Duc forced his brother Nguyen Phuc Hong Bao to take poison after the abortive coup in Hue in 1848. Hong Bao's son was not considered a member of the royal family. He bore Dinh as his new last name. It was Dinh Dao, who was hanged after the revolt led by the members of Son Dong Thi Tuu Hoi was fatally repressed by the royal army. The revolt occurred during the construction of king Tu Duc's mausoleum while the king was alive. The workers armed with pestles they used to pound limestone, supported the anti-Tu Duc coup de force of which the purpose was to enthrone Dinh Dao, Hong Bao's son and king Tu Duc's nephew.

In 1867, on the orders of king Tu Duc, Phan Thanh Gian's name on the stele of the doctoral laureates was chiseled after the king learned of Phan Thanh Gian's suicidal death and the fall of Vinh Long.

Under the reign of Bao Dai, a prince, who disputed power with him and opposed him, was deported to Ban Me Thuot and forced to change his last name to Ta.

In 1833 Le Duy Luong, a descent of the Restored Le, led a revolt in Tonkin. In this year Le Van Khoi led a revolt in Cochinchina. Nong Van Van, brother of Khoi's wife, rebelled in Cao Bang.

Le Van Khoi was a Tho in Cao Bang. His real name was Be Van Khoi. He rebelled in Cao Bang. Persecuted he ran to Thanh Hoa. At that time Le Van Duyet was royal commissar in Thanh Hoa - Nghe An. Khoi submitted himself to marshal Le Van Duyet, who adopted him and named him Le Van Khoi, knowing that Khoi was good at martial arts.

King Minh Mang was very cautious with the Restored Le. He hated Le Duy Luong, his rival and enemy, Le Van Duyet and Le Chat, his courtiers.

Le Van Duyet did not support prince Dam's enthronement.

Le Chat was a Tay Son military joining the Nguyen. He was assistant to Le Van Duyet when the latter was royal commissar in Thanh Hoa - Nghe An. Later he was governor of Bac Thanh. Due to his relations with Le Van Duyet he was disliked by king Minh Mang. After their death, their graves were razed and chained. Le Van Khoi, adoptive son of Le Van Duyet, was imprisoned. He led the revolt from the prison. In a month whole Cochinchina was under his control. Le Van Khoi died before his revolt was plunged into blood and fire. The Gia Dinh citadel was demolished (1835). Eighteen hundred and thirty one rebels were killed and buried in a mass grave. A 7-year-old son of Le Van Khoi was executed in Hue. In remembrance of this victory king Minh Mang wrote Ngu Che Tieu Binh Nam Ky Tac Khau Thi Tap.

The descendants of the Restored Le were deported to Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh after the revolt of Le Duy Luong. Many people having Le as their last name changed it to Nguyen after the massive killing of Le Van Khoi's partisans in the Gia Dinh citadel. This change of last name reflected their horror facing king Minh Mang's intolerance.

Under the reign of Tu Duc there were two important revolts led by Le Duy Cu and Ta Van Phung.

Le Duy Cu was a descendant of the Restored Le. Ta Van Phung, a Catholic, claimed to be a descendant of the Le. He was known as Le Duy Minh. In The Last Emperors of Vietnam: From Tu Duc to Bao Dai, Chapuis Oscar mentioned Ta Van Phung under the name Le Bao Phung. All the revolts were repressed by the royal army. The descendants of the Restored Le were deported to Annam and to the Mekong delta.

Under French rule there was no tru di tam toc (extermination of all the members of tree lines of ancestry). The French used the Vietnamese judges and laws to execute the revolutionaries, who were dangerous to their colonial government in Tonkin and Annam. But they did not allow the Hue Court to use the tru di tam toc, which marked absolutism of the monarchic regime. Some anti- French revolutionaries changed their first and middle names while keeping their last names. Phan Phat Sanh's nom de guerre was Phan Xich Long, leader of Thien Dia Hoi (Heaven-Earth Society) in Cochinchina. Phan Sao Nam was pseudonym of Phan Boi Chau. Ho Hinh Sinh's new name was Ho Xuan Lan, Ho Hoc Lam (1882 - 1942), Ho Chi Minh. Le Huy Doan became Le Hong Phong etc.

Many revolutionaries changed their full names to deceive the French secret police. Prince Cuong De bore Chinese names twice when returning to Japan: Ly Canh Thanh and Lam Thuan Duc.

Vu Hai Thu changed his name to Nguyen Cam Giang, then to Nguyen Hai Than. Hoang Trong Mau's new name was Nguyen Duc Cong.

Nguyen Sinh Cung (Nguyen Tat Thanh) signed Nguyen Ai Quoc when he adhered to the French Communist Party and wrote for French newspapers in Paris. He became Ly Thuy, Vuong Son Nhi, Tong Van So, Ho Quang when he was in China in 1925, 1931 and 1938. In 1942 he used Ho Chi Minh, Ho Hoc Lam's pseudonym, when crossing the Sino-Vietnamese border to go to Kwang-si-Guangxi. He was arrested and put in jail in Liao-chow-Liaozhou).

Ly Dong A was Nguyen Huu Thanh's pseudonym.

Dinh Duc Thien, Le Duc Tho, Mai Chi Tho were siblings. Their original last and middle names were Phan Dinh. Three of them gave them up to use their noms de guerre which made them famous and helped them hold important positions in Vietnam. They did not want the people to know they were siblings for all of them were members of the Politburo of the Vietnam Communist Party i. e. they occupied more than 1/5 of seats in the Politburo.

The members of the royal family used the middle names Buu, Vinh, Ung as their last names. We have Buu Loc, former prime minister; Ung Uy, scientist Buu Hoi's father etc. The words Ton That were used as last and middle names. (ton that: members of the royal family). After 1954 many members of the royal family staying in North Vietnam re-used Nguyen Phuc as their last and middle names not to shock the North Vietnamese Communists' eyes. Ton That Tung was an exception because he followed Ho Chi Minh.



Vietnam adopted the patriarchal regime under the Hong Bang dynasty. All the 18 kings of the Hong Bang were men. The children bore the last names of their fathers. Polygamy was not banned. But only the children of the principal wife had right to receiving the legacy left by their father. Their half siblings did not have that right.

Under French rule only the civil servants, Catholics and few urban residents were interested in the marriage certificates when they were married, and in the birth certificates when they had babies. The rest of the grassroots did not pay interest in those things no matter they were rural or urban residents. Many couples did not have their marriage certificates. Many children did not have their birth certificates in the first half of the 20 th century. In the birth certificates of the unwed children there were no fathers' names. Instead of writing the father's name, the officer in charge of the civil status wrote père inconnu (unknown father). Children of the couples having no marriage certificates and recognized by their father had their fathers' names in their birth certificates with these words reconnu par son père (recognized by his father).

In the past polygamy was current in Vietnamese society. The family code was effective in 1959. It prevented children of the couples having no marriage certificates from bearing the last names of their fathers. This code could not put an end to polygamy but it caused some more social troubles. Some anomalies happened to the families without marriage certificates, in which children born before 1959 were recognized by their fathers, and children born from 1959 to 1963 were fatherless. This abnormal state was regularized after the family code was abolished after November 1 st , 1963.


David Lan Pham (Pham Dinh Lan), F.A.B.I.


(1) Champa

(2) Tran Lieu was son of Tran Thua, grand son of Tran Ly, and nephew of king Ly Hue Ton's wife (queen Tran). He was brother of Tran Canh (king Tran Thai Ton) and husband of princess Thuan Thien, daughter of king Ly Hue Ton and queen Tran. Tran Lieu and Tran Canh married two daughters of their aunt (queen Tran). This was a political maneuver set up by Tran Thu Do to usurp the throne smoothly for Ly Hue Ton had no son. It was a good opportunity for Tran Thu Do to arrange a transfer of kingship from the Ly to the Tran. Hung Dao Vuong Tran Quoc Tuan was son of Tran Lieu.

(3) Beginning in the 17 th century Dang Trong stretched from the 18 th parallel to Qui Nhon. Dang Ngoai was bordered by the 18 th parallel and the Sino-Vietnamese border. After 1672 Dang Ngoai stretched from North of the Gianh River (Linh Giang) to the Sino-Vietnamese border. It was called Bac Ha (North of the River)Dang Trong stretched from South of the Gianh River to Nha Trang (Kauthara). It was called Nam Ha (South of the River)

(4) Border line of Ha Tinh (North) and Quang Binh (South).

(5) In 1908 Phan Chu Trinh and Tran Qui Cap were sentenced to death by the Vietnamese judges based on the Vietnamese laws. Cochinchina was a French colony. Laws were more democratic than the Vietnamese laws applied in Tonkin and Annam.


Source: Cái Đ́nh - 2007



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