From Sewage Mouse to God Goose: Vietnamese Animal Names

Wildlife

Vietnamese is a tricky language to learn. It features one tone more than Mandarin (six tones rather than five) and most words have both a tone and an accent. Unfortunately for those of us trying to learn, the sound of each tone also varies from region to region.

Originally, written Vietnamese took the form of what’s called Chữ Nôm — Chinese characters adapted for spoken Vietnamese. However sometime in the 17th century, written Vietnamese was slowly Latinized, becoming what’s known as Chữ Quốc ngữ. This new writing system was created by Portuguese missionaries and then enforced by French colonialists.

All this to say, Vietnamese is a particularly unique language. This uniqueness extends to the names they have conjured for wildlife. Over the last couple of years, I have been making a list of my favorites.

Kangaroo – Chuột túi – Bag Mouse

Photo: Shutterstock

Penguin – Chim Cánh Cụt – Amputated wing bird

Photo: Shutterstock

Dolphin – Cá heo – Pig fish

Photo: Shutterstock

Rat – Chuột Cống – Sewage Mouse

Photo: Shutterstock

Swan – Thiên nga – God goose

Photo: Shutterstock

Whale – Cá voi – Elephant fish

Photo: Shutterstock

Giraffe – Hươu cao cổ – High neck deer

Photo: Shutterstock

Lemur – Vượn cáo – Fox monkey

Photo: Shutterstock

Orca – Cá voi sát thủ – Assassin elephant fish

Photo: Shutterstock

Crocodile – Cá sấu – Ugly fish

Photo: Shutterstock

Zebra fish – Cá sọc ngựa cánh tiên vây dài – Striped horse fish with long fairy wings

Photo: Shutterstock

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About the Author

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh is a freelance writer and wildlife photographer based in Da Lat, Vietnam.

A history graduate from the University of Nottingham, Martin's career arc is something of a smörgåsbord. A largely unsuccessful basketball coach in Zimbabwe and the Indian Himalaya, a reluctant business lobbyist in London, and an interior design project manager in Saigon.

He has been fortunate enough to see some of the world. Highlights include tracking tigers on foot in Nepal, white-water rafting the Nile, bumbling his way from London to Istanbul on a bicycle, feeding wild hyenas with his face in Ethiopia, and accidentally interviewing Hezbollah in Lebanon.

His areas of expertise include adventure travel, hiking, wildlife, and half-forgotten early 2000s indie-rock bands.

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Trish
Trish
2 months ago

I like the Amputated Wing bird. LOL.
Funny article. Great to see some fun light hearted reads after this K2 winter season.

+1
Last edited 2 months ago by Trish
San Do
2 months ago

Vietnamese language sound contains the Human Universal Alphabet Laws, or the Circle Of Human Vowels. It is heavily inflicted by China over the thousands of years.

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