Ugly Names to Avoid Ancestors

GD is from Orange County. She is a first generation Vietnamese American. Her parents are Vietnamese refugees. GD is a student as USC majoring in global health on the pre-medicine track. She wishes to return to Vietnam to serve the rural populations through maternal and child health care.

“My aunt told me that people don’t like to name their kids beautiful names –like things in nature like flowers – because they’re afraid the ancestors will think they are beautiful and take them away so they name their kids after pots and pans and “ugly” things so the ancestors would leave their kids alone.”

Haha. So does your name mean pot or pan in Vietnamese or something?”

“Yo my parents aren’t afraid of the ancestors! But my mom does know a family of pot, pan, and lid.”

From an outsider’s perspective, this tradition of naming children “ugly” names seems rather strange. In Chinese culture we see the opposite, where parents name their children according to what they hope their children will become. A few examples of names such as this would be translated to “wise and prosperous,” or “brave and successful.” This Vietnamese belief also shows the cultural fear (and maybe respect) of the ancestors, and acknowledges that dead spirits can cross over to the living realm and steal living children.