The Vietnamese language is rich in punchy, percussive sounds. Some sound hilariously similar to English words that aren’t safe to say in polite company.
For example, would you like stay at the Phúc Đạt Hotel? How would you react to a colleague named Mr. Phát or Ms. Bích? And, of course, everyone loves to get their hands on some Vietnamese Đôngs (VND, the local currency).
If you are an expat or traveller in Vietnam and want to learn the Vietnamese language, then these naughty-sounding words are great tools to learn the language and culture. Your brain is much more likely to remember a new word when it is associated with humour and taboo topics.
Learn these common Vietnamese names and words:
- Bích (emerald colour)
- Phúc (happiness),
- Đạt (success),
- Phát (thrive, prosperity, developing),
- Dung (beauty),
- Đông (east, orient),
- Cúc (daisy, chrysanthemums)
- Hồ (small lake)
Bích – A Beautiful Vietnamese Name
The Vietnamese name Bích (pronounced half-way between bitch? and bik? with an up-tone) is a pretty feminine name that has multiple meanings. One meaning is a greenish colour like turquoise or emerald. Another meaning is the wall of a citadel or fort.
As a name for girls, Bích represents both preciousness (as symbolized by the noble colour green) as well as personal strength and fortitude (like the walls of a citadel).
Unfortunately, as young Vietnamese people learn more and more English, the name Bích is becoming very unpopular among new parents, and people with the name have started to feel uneasy about it — some even feel ashamed. Educated Vietnamese are very aware that it sounds similar to an insult in English — a quick listen to any mainstream American hip-hop music will quickly establish how derisive and disgusting the English-sounding word is. Imagine being a Vietnamese foreign exchange student in Canada and having your name announced during roll-call, only to be laughed at by your colleagues?
Phúc – Happiness in Vietnamese
Phúc means “happiness” in Vietnamese. It does not rhyme with duck but instead rhymes with duke? (with an up-tone). It is a popular name for both men and women, and also for businesses. For example, check out the following lovely hotels:
- Phúc Đạt Hotel in Dak Nong (translates to Happiness & Success Hotel)
- Phúc Đạt Apartment in Nha Trang
- Phúc Đức Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I’ve been Phuct!”
I once worked for a cantankerous manager whose last name started with a T, and whose first name was Phúc. On his name tag was written P H U C T — which, in retrospect, may have been a deliberate gag by HR.
On days when he had slighted me, like making me stay late or work weekends, I would cry to the other junior colleague: “Oh no, I’ve been Phooked!”
Phát – What Does Phát Mean in Vietnamese?
The Vietnamese word Phát (pronounced like fat? with an up-tone) means prosperity, thriving, and accruing wealth. It is a common name among males. Many businesses also want to include Phát in their business-name, to give them an air of success.
In fact, even within Vietnamese, the literal words for fat (béo, mập) are considered cute and adorable — people voluntarily adopt them as nicknames. To be called overweight is not offensive in Vietnamese, but a simple statement of fact. Therefore, the name Phát will likely stick around for a long time in Vietnam, even if people are increasingly aware that it sounds funny in English.
Read more about fat-shaming in Vietnam.
Dung – A Vietnamese Word for Beauty
Dung means animal-feces in English, but it means beauty in Vietnamese. However, the two words are pronounced very differently in English vs. Vietnamese.
In Vietnamese, “dung” is pronounced like zung. In order to make a hard d sound (like in Donald Duck), the Vietnamese put a line through to letter: Đ đ. Otherwise a regular letter-d makes a zzz sound in Vietnamese. This is a major source of confusion for travellers in Northern Vietnam.
Hồ – 10th Most Popular Family Name in Vietnam
Hồ sounds just like “hoe” in English, but with a deep down-tone. In Vietnamese, hồ is a small lake or pond. It is also a popular family name, ranking #10 across the country. In other Asian countries, like Taiwan and South Korean, the equivalent names is “Hu”.
In ancient Northern Vietnam, there were many different periods known as the “Hồ Dynasties”, some of which were seminal epochs in Vietnamese history. For example, one Hồ dynastic period resulted in the rise of Confucianism in the North.
Read more about Hồ and other popular Vietnamese family names.
Cúc – A Small Flower in Vietnamese
Cúc is nice name is Vietnamese that means “chrysanthemum”. It is rhymes with spook rather than sock, but kind of sounds like both.
Đồng / Đông – What Does “Dong” Mean in Vietnamese?
There are plenty of words in Vietnamese that are romanized as “dong” and sound just like the English-word. For instance, Đông means “east” or “orient” in Vietnamese, while Đồng refers to the Vietnamese currency (VND). Notice that the latter has a ` on the ồ which signifies the down-tone (like a deep descending pitch).
Look for “dongs” in Vietnamese business names. For example, when travelling to Hanoi, why not stay at A Dong Hotel?