Alphabetizing and Indexing Vietnamese names

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This entry begins by quoting the paragraph from the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), 16th edition, on indexing Vietnamese names. CMS is the desk reference for academic publishing in the United States.

We then discuss application of the CMS rule first in light of difficulties raised by cross-referencing different names for the same person and, second, with reference to alphabetizing the various forms of name used by persons of Vietnamese origin.

First, David Biggs, president of the Vietnam Studies Group (Association for Asian Studies) comments on the CMS rule. Biggs' original language is reproduced under the "Discussion" tab of this entry.

Second, Vỗ Tây Cương, pen-name for a salaried indexer at a standard-setting United States publisher in the humanities, contributes a memo written for his organization on alphabetizing Vietnamese names. He incorporates suggestions from the listserv of the Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) solicited by Wikivietlit publisher Dan Duffy.

Note that CMS and Biggs address the issue of cross-referencing actors in a work of history helpfully while Vỗ Tây Cương focuses on alphabetizing family names in a clear and respectful manner.

"Indexing Vietnamese names" from Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) 16.86 [identical to 18.84 in 15th ed.]

reproduced verbatim without permission in fair use for review

"Vietnamese names consist of three elements, the family name being the first. Since Vietnamese persons are usually referred to by the last part of their given names (Premier Diem, General Giap), they are best indexed under that form.

  • Diem, Ngo Dinh [cross-reference under Ngo Dinh Diem]
  • Giap, Vo Nguyen [cross-reference under Vo Nguyen Giap]"

David Biggs query to Vietnam Studies Group (Association for Asian Studies) listserv

Edited by Dan Duffy from post by David Biggs reproduced verbatim under "Discussion" tab

I have an insanely nerdy, nitpicky question about Vietnamese names in book indexes.

Has anyone noticed the wholly confusing rule of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) with regard to indexing Vietnamese names? [See the rule, above].

I did a quick survey of some titles on my shelf and I noticed what might be a trend.

1. All of the recent books published by authors in the Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) indexed Vietnamese names last name first (e.g. Ngo Dinh Diem) with no cross-references (a cross-reference in this case would have been: "Diem, Ngo Dinh. See Ngo Dinh Diem").

2. Old classics such as Francis Fitzgerald's Fire in the Lake likewise index Vietnamese names last name first. For popular names like "Diem," they list "Diem, Ngo Dinh" but then cross-reference to "Ngo Dinh Diem" rather than the present CMOS rule which is reverse.

3. Newer books primarily on the war by authors (likely with limited knowledge of Vietnamese language) such as A.J. Langguth's Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975 tend to list both versions of names but generally follow the CMS rule, so cross-referencing "Ngo Dinh Diem" to "See Diem, Ngo Dinh".

4. However, in the same book, less popular names like "Hoang Van Thai" or "Ngo Dinh Thuc" are only listed last name first so it's inconsistent. "Ho Chi Minh," likewise, is not cross-referenced to "Minh, Ho Chi" - because its an alias? "Nguyen Ai Quoc" is not cross-referenced either, nor does it even say "See also Ho Chi Minh."

5. Reading this index closely, I am wondering what was the cutoff? Why did Diem and Nhu get the special treatment, but not brother Thuc? My point is that following the CMOS rule leads to chaos in a book index.

6. Personally, I like opting for the Fitzgerald approach. If one is going to index a commonly used first name like "Giap" or "Diem", it should cross-reference to "Vo Nguyen Giap" or "Ngo Dinh Diem" and not vice-versa.

Indexing Vietnamese and Vietnamese American Names

by Vỗ Tây Cương

The following notes are based on what I’ve learned while copyediting a manuscript that contains numerous references to books written by Vietnamese and Vietnamese American authors. Because the manuscript is nonfiction, the final book will contain a bibliography and an index (consisting of names only). Accordingly, it’s important for me to understand Vietnamese and Vietnamese American names and treat them correctly and also respectfully.

I’ve concluded that there are two main categories: (1) traditional Vietnamese names and (2) Westernized Vietnamese names. Within each of these categories are subdivisions.

Traditional Vietnamese Names

Three-Element Names

Most Vietnamese names consist of three elements: family name–middle name–given name. Examples include:

  • Truong Nhu Tang
  • Nguyen Thi Dinh
  • Le Minh Khue

In running text, it is standard practice to use the entire name:

  • Truong Nhu Tang’s A Vietcong Memoir
  • No Other Road to Take, by Nguyen Thi Dinh
  • Le Minh Khue’s The Stars, the Earth, the River

When the individual is referred to subsequently, only the first name is used. (This is because there are relatively few family names in Vietnamese [e.g., Ly, Le, Nguyen, Huynh, Tran], and thus a reference to “Nguyen,” for example, or “Le” could prove confusing to the reader.) Thus, Huynh Sanh Thong, when referred to later in the same paragraph or in a nearby paragraph, is identified as “Thong.” (But note that certain names “acquire their own rules,” according to Dan Duffy, editor of the Viet Nam Literature Project Web site. For example, the historical figure Ho Chi Minh is never “Minh” but always “Ho,” often with an honorific.)

For the listing of these authors in the bibliography and the index, I have adopted the style recommended by members of the Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) listserv who were consulted by Dan Duffy. This style calls for the author’s full name to be presented as it is traditionally written (i.e., last name–middle name–first name), without a comma following the last name. Here are the bibliographic entries for the books cited above:

  • Le Minh Khue. The Stars, the Earth, the River. Trans. Bac Hoai Tran and Dana Sachs. Willimantic: Curbstone, 1997. Print.
  • Nguyen Thi Dinh. No Other Road to Take. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1976. Print.
  • Truong Nhu Tang. A Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath. New York: Vintage, 1985. Print.

In the index, these names will be listed under “L,” “N,” and “T,” respectively.

  • Le Minh Khue
  • Nugyen Thi Dinh
  • Truong Nhu Tang

Two-Element Names

There are some Vietnamese names that consist of two elements only: family name and given name. Bui Diem, Bui Tin, and Nguyen Du are examples. In the bibliography and in the index, they would appear this way:

  • Bui Diem
  • Bui Tin
  • Nguyen Du

Note: There are a few writers with two-element names whose names are considered to be a single unit, almost like a pen name. Nhat Linh, Bao Ninh, and Xuan Phuong are three examples. The best source for determining whether an author with a two-element name has a traditional name or a pen name is, as far as I can tell, the Library of Congress online catalog. Because the library’s style is to insert a comma after a family name, any two-element name appearing there without a comma is a pen name and should be treated in the text as a single unit.

Westernized Vietnamese Names

There are, I believe, three distinct categories of Westernized Vietnamese names: (1) names consisting of two or more Vietnamese names presented in the Western style of first name first, last name last; (2) “mixed” names consisting of a Vietnamese given name and a Western family name; and (3) “mixed” names consisting of a Western given name and a Vietnamese family name. Here are some examples:

Vietnamese name, Western style (in text)

  • Kien Nguyen
  • Nhung Tuyet Tran
  • Van Huy Nguyen
  • Linh Dinh

Vietnamese given name, Western family name (in text)

  • Le Ly Hayslip
  • Duong Van Mai Elliott

Western given name, Vietnamese family name (in text)

  • Andrew Lam
  • Barbara Tran
  • Monique T. D. Truong
  • Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh

In the bibliography and the index, all three categories of Westernized names should appear with the last name first, followed by a comma, as shown here:

Vietnamese name, Western style (in bibliography and index)

  • Nguyen, Kien
  • Tran, Nhung Tuyet
  • Nguyen, Van Huy
  • Dinh, Linh

Vietnamese given name, Western family name (in bibliography and index)

  • Hayslip, Le Ly
  • Elliott, Duong Van Mai

Western given name, Vietnamese family name (in bibliography and index)

  • Lam, Andrew
  • Tran, Barbara
  • Truong, Monique T. D.
  • Huynh, Jade Ngoc Quang

How to Alphabetize Vietnamese and Vietnamese American Names

Entries in the bibliography and the index should be alphabetized by family name, and the names should be sorted according to the letter-by-letter system, up to the first comma. Because United States readers may be unfamiliar with Vietnamese and Vietnamese American names, there is likely to be confusion over the alphabetization of, for example, the following blocks of index entries. However, it is important to acknowledge and maintain the distinction between traditional Vietnamese names (no comma after family name) and Westernized Vietnamese names (inverted and with comma after family name).

  • Le, Nam
  • Le Minh Khue
  • Le Thi Diem Thuy
  • Nguyen, Kien
  • Nguyen, Nathalie Huynh Chau
  • Nguyen, Thanh T.
  • Nguyen, Van Huy
  • Nguyen Du
  • Nguyen Thi Dinh

In an attempt to acknowledge the inevitable confusion, I am suggesting that the following note appear at the beginning of the bibliography, with a similar explanatory note at the beginning of the index:

"The Vietnamese and Vietnamese American authors whose works are listed here have been alphabetized according to family name. If the author is known by and referred to in the traditional sequence of family name–middle name–given name, then this sequence is followed and no comma is used in the bibliography (e.g., Nguyen Thi Dinh in the text, Nguyen Thi Dinh in the bibliography). If, however, the author is known by and referred to in the Westernized style of given name first, family name last, then the name has been inverted and a comma added (e.g., Kien Nguyen in the text; Nguyen, Kien in the bibliography)."