And You Thought You Had Problems Researching the Ancestry of Your Last Name?

In the United States, the most popular family surname is Smith. As per the 2010 census, about 0.8 percent of Americans have it. In Vietnam, the most popular surname name is Nguyen. The estimate for how many people answer to it? Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the country’s population.

You think tracing the Smith family is difficult? Try tracing the Nguyen family!

An article by Dan Nosowitz in the Atlas Obscura web site states:

“Nguyen doesn’t indicate much more than that you are Vietnamese. Someone with the [surname of] Nguyen is going to have basically no luck tracing their heritage back beyond a generation or two, will not be able to use search engines to find out much of anything about themselves.”

Nosowitz also points out that the existence of family names in Vietnam dates to 111 BC, the beginning of a lengthy thousand-year occupation of the country by the Han Dynasty in China. That’s about a thousand years or so before European people started adopting last names. Before this time, nobody really knows how the Vietnamese handled names, due to lack of written records. However, the Chinese have had family names for thousands of years, sometimes indicating occupation, social status, or membership of a minority group.

You can read Dan Nosowitz’s interesting article at:


Almost as bad – my husband is trying to find a John Brown who disappeared in MO in 1850. Any time I feel frustrated in my search I remind myself, “At least it’s not John Brown!”


I think being stuck with an uncommon name is just as frustrating!! My grandmother’s maiden name is Yousling. You’d think that would be easy, but every male is George, they all married Mary, and her father was illegitimate, and named…you guessed it…George, by his mother named…you guessed it…Mary!! I just keep going round in circles!!


I had several students in my classes in California named Nguyen and still don’t understand why they insisted on pronouncing their name as “win.”


I have two of the most common names. Smith-mothers maiden name, and Miller- father’s name. Also, I was adopted which makes it even tougher, and on top of that, I found one of my birth family. But she does not know any family history, and all others on both sides are deceased. Jeez!


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