Welcome to the quintessential vocabulary lesson of the year: Family!
The above is a Family Tree chart that you’ll be able to read and understand afterward. I have it for download here.
In Vietnam, family members and relatives are divided by 3 factors: paternal or maternal (dad’s side or mom’s side), gender, and age. It is more confusing than English, but I’ll try to make it as easy as possible.
Here we go:
Family: Gia đình
Dad: bố (Northern), cha, ba (Southern)
Mom: mẹ (Northern), má (Southern)
Parents: bố mẹ or ba má
|Dad’s side||Mom’s side|
|Great grandparents||Cụ nội||Cụ ngoại|
|Grandfather||Ông nội||Ông ngoại|
|Grandmother||Bà nội||Bà ngoại|
|Uncle (older brother of your parents)||Bác (trai)||Bác (trai)|
|Aunt (older sister of your parents)||Bác (gái)||Bác (gái)|
|Your parents||Bố, ba, cha||Mẹ, má|
|Uncle (younger brother of your parents)||Chú||Cậu|
|Aunt (younger sister of your parents)||Cô||Dì|
Note: the wife of chú (your dad’s younger brother) is thím; the wife of cậu (your mom’s younger brother) is mợ
Note about Abbreviation:
in colloquial Vietnamese, very often, you will hear the shortened form of the word
Cụ nội, cụ ngoại are shortened to cụ
Ông nội, ông ngoại: shortened to ông
Bà nội, bà ngoại: bà
In the South, sometimes it is shortened to nội and ngoại
Everyone knows how each person is related in the family, so there is no need to call out the relationship.
Vietnamese family in the South
If your family live in the South (of Vietnam) or descend from there, chances are, you have heard heard about “anh Hai” or “chị Hai” (or that’s what your siblings call you :). They’re the oldest child in the family. Hai is the number 2. After anh Hai & chị Hai, you may have anh Ba (3), anh Tư (4), or dì Sáu (aunt 6), chú Bảy (uncle 7).
The origin of this is that Vietnamese family back then often had many children. 6-7 was the norm. Some had 10-11 kids. The most I know of is 14. Imagine keeping up with 14 kids’ names, so they simplified by calling the kids by the order the kids were born, starting with hai (number 2).
Why hai and not một (1)? Well, the eldest child is called con cả (or con trưởng) in Vietnamese, but one year, there was a Viet lord in the South who went by the name of Cả. The peasants were not allowed to do what the royals did (for example, not allowed to wear the royal color – yellow). Similarly, they were not allowed to call anyone Cả anymore, so they used the next number: hai.
In the North, because of weak communication with the South, and since the North was somewhat far from the rule of the Southern lord, the practice never took root. To this day, the eldest child is con cả / con trưởng, the youngest is con út, and the ones in between are con thứ.