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Nguyen: Family Name, Meaning, History, and More

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Nguyen: Family Name, Meaning, History, and More

The family name Nguyen is one of the most common last names in the entire world, as common as the names Jones, Smith, or Patel. Nguyen is the most common surname in Vietnam, with approximately thirty-eight percent of the population having this last name. This number means that out of a population of ninety million, approximately thirty-four million people have the surname Nguyen. The Nguyen family name is common in America, Laos, Thailand, and France. In the 2010 United States census, it ranked as the thirty-eighth most common last name.

If you are curious about the origin and meaning of this last name, we will explore its long history. We will also note famous people with this family name and share some interesting trivia about the Nguyen family name. Finally, we will share some of the best online resources for Nguyen family researchers.

Origin and Meaning of the Nguyen Family Name

The family name Nguyen is believed to have its roots in the Chinese words “Ruan” (Mandarin) or “Yuen” (Cantonese). Furthermore, it is a topographical name meaning “spring fountain.” Since China ruled Vietnam intermittently throughout history, it is thought that the Vietnamese people either adopted this surname or were compelled to use it in some instances.

Later, the Nguyen Dynasty, a Vietnamese dynasty that ruled Vietnam from 1802 until the end of World War II, bequeathed their last name to many people. Historians also believe people frequently adopted this name for political power. Given Vietnam's tumultuous history and many changes in power, Vietnamese people often changed their names to avoid retribution by new rulers.

However, the commonality of this name does not create confusion because Vietnamese people have three names: a family name, a middle name, and a personal name. As a result, many Vietnamese people are addressed by their personal names.

Asian woman wearing Vietnam culture traditional in Rice terrace at Mu cang chai, Vietnam.
The Nguyen family name is the most common last name in Vietnam.

©Guitar photographer/Shutterstock.com

Spelling Variations of the Nguyen Family Name

There are many pronunciations and spelling variations of the Nguyen last name. Here are some of the common variations found around the world.

  • Nguyen
  • Nguyên
  • N'Guyen
  • Ngguyen
  • Nnguyen

Nguyen is pronounced differently depending on the region or community. To say it correctly, consider it as a single syllable with a quick “ng” sound followed by a smooth “win” sound. Avoid emphasizing the “y” or making it two syllables.

Genealogy Resources For the Nguyen Family Name

The popular website Ancestry has approximately 271,000 records of the Nguyen family name. Considering how common this last name is, that is actually not a large number of records. Other common family names will sometimes have millions of online records. Also, Ancestry has much of its best research behind a paywall, but there are plenty of free genealogy websites to explore. Here are some recommended sites for Nguyen family researchers.

  • Family Search – Similar in appearance to Ancestry, this is a Mormon founded website that charges no subscription fees.
  • My Heritage – This website also links to other specific Nguyen family research sites.
  • WorldGenWeb – Vietnamese family name researchers will find useful links and tips for researching Vietnamese surnames.

If you are researching the Nguyen family name and have yet to share your research online, doing so might help other researchers. It also may help you if you hit a wall in your research. Today, online genealogy is very much a collaborative effort.

Interesting Facts About the Nguyen Family Name

Now that we know the origin and meaning of this name, here is some interesting trivia about the Nguyen family.

  • The majority of people with the Nguyen surname follow Buddhism as their religion. Approximately seventy-six percent identify as Buddhist.
  • The Nguyen family frequently migrated to France due to Vietnam's history of French colonization. Numerous Vietnamese families immigrated to the United States during and after the Vietnam War, while Canada also welcomed many people with this last name.
  • The average salary of people named Nguyen in the United States is $46,670, slightly higher than the national average of $43,139.
  • However, the Nguyen's family earnings vary greatly by country. In Italy, they make €16,068 per year (-46.49% vs national average). In Norway, they earn 271,318 kr per year (-21.6% vs the Norwegian national average). In Vietnam, their income is 83,589,900 ₫ per year (+1.39% vs national average). Finally, in Canada, they earn CAD 49,910 per year (+0.46% vs national average).
  • Nguyen is a Vietnamese rendering of the Han character 阮, which represents a musical instrument similar to the lute.

Notable People With the Family Name Nguyen

These are some of the most well-known individuals named Nguyen across the world.

  • Nguyen Phuc Anh: Also known as Emperor Gia Long, he was the founder of the Nguyen dynasty, the last ruling dynasty of Vietnam, which lasted from 1802 to 1945.
  • Johnny Tri Nguyen: A Vietnamese-American actor and stunt choreographer best known for his work in martial arts films. He has appeared in movies such as The Rebel and Clash.
  • Nguyen Thanh Van:  Better known as Veronica Ngo, she is an actress, singer, and model who has appeared in Vietnamese and international films. She played the role of Paige Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen: A Pulitzer Prize-winning author famous for his novels The Sympathizer and The Committed.
Buddha statue  used as amulets of Buddhism religion
Online research reveals that a majority of people named Nguyen practice Buddhism.


In Summary

The Nguyen family is one of the most common last names in the world and has a long history. It is the most common Vietnamese last name, and people with this last name immigrated to America during and after the Vietnam War, which has led to the name being common in the States. In the 2010 United States census, it was in the top fifty last names.

If your last name is Nguyen, it connects you to a rich history. Collaborating with other researchers and comparing notes may reveal even more exciting details about your family name. Happy researching!

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