Need quick help pronouncing an Asian name (Vietnamese I think)

My neighbor, Mrs. Ngon, is coming over this evening. I had the pronounciation down when we introduced ourselves, but it is gone now.

How do I pronounce Ngon?


Either “Nyon” (with the “Ny” part less vocalized – think the middle sound in “-ing”) or “Nn-gahn” (many Vietnamese have given up on people pronouncing their names correctly and just adapted).

But personally, I’d just ask her, “You know, I’m gonna have to admit idiocy here and ask how to pronounce your name one more time.”

If I recall my liguistics class (and don’t get your hopes up I only got a B-) the Vietnamese ‘Ng’ combination is pronounced as if in the English word ‘flung’.

But I’d second going ahead and asking, you probably won’t be the first to do so.

I know a Ngyuen pronounced similar to “When”.

Sorry, it is spelled “Nguyen”.

I know some Nguyens…we say “Noo-yen”.

Some Chinese people I know named Ng pronounce it “Ing”.

However, I have never saw “Ngon”.
My guess would be “Nah-hn”

But…I would just ask, too. No shame in that.

Ngôn is pronounced with more of a long “o” rather than a soft one. But I’d ask her to make sure you get the tone just right. If you mess it up, you might end up saying something akin to “vomit”.

Nguyên sounds a lot like “when” but put a “swallowed” ng on the front: ng-when. There is also a tonal requirement for Nguyên that I can’t reproduce here for lack of needed diacritical marks.

LolaBaby, do the people named Nguyen that you know actually pronounce it that way themselves? I’ve known dozens of Nguyens, and without exception, they all pronounce it as “[n]win,” where the initial “n” is fleeting. Most non-Vietnamese folks I know just say “win.”

I’m not sure, CurtC, it could just be a Hawaiian thing, as opposed to the mainland thing, if that makes sense. I’ve never heard them say their own name, but have heard people say it to them, and there were no corrections.

I think maybe they pronounce it differently due to regional differences, perhaps?

Yes, “nwin”, with only a very light “n”.
In Cantonese it’s more like “yewn”, but with a nasal “ng” sound at the start. They often romanize it as “Yuen”. And in Mandarin, I think it’s “Ruan”.

I just wanted to second Attrayant. I bugged some Vietnamese friends about pronunciation and they consistently said the “ng” in the front of the names was pronounced like the “ng” in “-ing.” It’s more the arrangement of your tongue, etc. as you begin speaking the rest of the name. (I still have to append some word that ends in “ing” in my head to the name to get the transition close to right.) And Nguyen, as was said, is pronounced “wen,” but with the “ng” in front: “ng-wen.” Hope things went smoothly socially. :slight_smile:


Well, I have the last name “Ng,” and it’s pronounced “Ing.” (just as LolaBaby said)

I know one person with the last name Nguyen, and she pronounces it just as CurtC and Hemlock have said.

Hope the visit went smoothly, carlotta.


Att: The current system of writing Vietnamese on the web for those without the appropriate fonts is to put the diacritical & tone marks after the letters involved.


*Originally posted by Monty *
**Att: The current system of writing Vietnamese on the web for those without the appropriate fonts is to put the diacritical & tone marks after the letters involved.

[ul][li]Ddo^ng[*]Nguye^~n[/ul] **[/li][/QUOTE]

Which is nice, except that 99.9% of us do not know what those mean anyways. . . .


Back in my teaching days I had a student whose last name was Nguyen…she pronounced it “Winn”.


Here’s the rundown:

[ul][li]Ddo^ng = Unit of Vietnamese Currency[/li][li]Nguye^~n = A Vietnamese surname[/ul][/li]
& here’s the rundown of the diacriticals:
[ul][li]Dd = for the “crossed d” used in Vietnamese for the “d” sound. (The “regular” d is used for the “z” sound if you’re speaking Northern Vietnamese or the “y” sound if you’re speaking Southern Vietnamese.)[/li][li]^ = diacritical used over the vowel to indicate you pronounce the vowel with a frown.[/li][li]( = diacritical used over the vowel to indicate you pronounce the vowel with a smile. (When written, this is on its side and looks like a smile.)[/li][li]+ = diacritical used to indicate you pronounce the vowel with the sides of your mouth pulled back. (Sometimes referred to as “the vowel’s whisker” because when written it looks like a little whisker to the right side of the vowel. Additional note: some people use * instead of + for this one.)[/li][li]’ = rising tone marker.[/li][li]` = falling tone marker.[/li][li]? = falling then rising tone marker. (An aside: I always thought that when written, this one should be a mirror image of the question mark because, to me, this way indicates a rising then falling tone. Additional note: when written, the tone mark looks like the question mark but without the period beneath it.)[/li][li]~ = lilting/tripping tone marker.[/li][li]. = low short tone. (This is the only tone indicator written beneath the vowel.)[/ul][/li]
If you’d like to see what the stuff looks like when typed correctly, check out and type in a single English word. To see the words typed the way I’ve described for fonts without the diacriticals, select the VIQR format. CP1258, VISCII, VPS, and VNI formats all require additional software.

This information brought to you by your friendly graduate of the Defense Language Institute-Foreign Language Center’s Vietnamese (Hanoi) course, Monty.

The Asian “ng” sound frightens a lot of English speakers coz “we just don’t have that weird-assed stuff in our language”. Well, actually it’s no big deal. We do have it in English - just not at the beginning of a word. So, say “hang”, then don’t vocalise the “ha…” part of it, and you’ll get it after a couple of tries. It’s true that most Vietnamese are used to their names being butchered by Westerners, so as long as you make a decent attempt, they won’t be offended.

Flam, my ex-g/f had your surname. I was dead proud of myself for getting “Ng” correct, but when I tried to say her given name of “Ka Pik” (which I thought would be easier), I couldn’t do it. Oh well.

As for “Nguyen”, CurtC is correct. “[n]Win” (with the ‘n’ just hinted) is a safe bet for an English speaker. If that’s too hard just say “Win”. Most of the Vietnamese here in Australia have had years of putting up with “Nyoo-en” (as in "Nyoo-en Used Cars), that “Win” will be appreciated as at least a genuine attempt.

Another trick when pronouncing Chinese or Vietnamese names is to make sure you close your mouth at the end of the word. This is to avoid the English-speaking habit of breathiness, which affects pronunciation. An English speaker will say “hang” or “rung”, and finish with their mouth open. Asian people will tend to finish with their mouth closed, resulting in a very slight (but noticeable) ‘m’ sound at the end of the word - ‘hangm’, ‘rungm’.

Dog: That method would work for unaspirated words; however, for words which begin with an aspirated sound, you might want to keep the mouth open. An example would by the Vietnamese name Thuy which begins with an aspirated T (the “h” after the “t” doesn’t mean make the English “th” sound but to aspirate the preceding letter). Unaspirated it would be Tuy.

Numerous people have already given you the rules for “correct” pronunciation of Vietnamese names, but bear in mind, like many ethnic groups that have come to America, the Vietnamese have tried to fit in by altering their names and/or the pronunciation of their names. Back in Germany, Bruce Bernstein’s ancestors may have pronounced thire name “ro-zen-STINE,” but he may now say “ro-zen-STEEN.” What’s the “correct” pronounciation of his name? Well, to me, that’s a matter of etiquette, not of linguistics. The proper way to pronounce his name is… whatever way he chooses.

Most of the time, people named “Nguyen” will answer happily to “winn” or “wenn.” But then you’ve got folks like the actor Dustin Nguyen who pronounces it like “Gwenn.” Other Vietnamese Americans with that name have learned to answer to anything close.

What’s the “correct” way to pronouince your friend’s name? Whatever way your friend prefers. ASK, and then try to pronounce the name according to your friend’s wishes.

You’re right of course, Monty. I should have specified that. I was actually thinking specifically of names with the ng ending such as Nhung.

Actually, a Thuy I know has resigned herself to putting up with a long, slow, flat, Australian nasal drawl Tweeeeeee. Poor woman. At least they’re not calling her thigh.

Another friend with the surname Cao was subjected to “Kay-oh”, after which of course, I broke into Harry Belafonte impersonations every time she walked past. :slight_smile:

Generally, there has been a middle ground reached between the Vietnamese and the Aussies where I work, regarding pronunciation. So people called Nguyen and Huynh will both get win which isn’t ideal, but it’s better than no attempt at all. The Aussies tend to steer clear of the Vietnamese tonal system though.