Before I moved to Vietnam, my good friend Khoa told me that I was pronouncing my last name wrong. Of course, in America, we take out all of the accents and tones of the Vietnamese language. So, growing up in a home where English was the only language spoken fluently (except for the occasional – ăn cốm! And đi tắm! {eat rice and take a shower}), I had no real knowledge of the Vietnamese language. Vo is actually spelled Võ. The ‘o’ is pronounced as an ‘aw’ sound and the tilde above the ‘o’ gives it an up and down tone. Thanks Khoa for preparing me.

After a few months of Vietnamese class, I found out that my last name actually means “Kung Fu!” I think it originates from China – as does a lot of things in Vietnam and the language. However, from a more recent history, Võ was actually previously Vũ. One of my teacher’s assistant’s last name is Vũ and she said that her family comes from the north. When some Vũ families migrated from the north to south, they changed their name to Võ. When I did further research, it looks like they changed it to Vũ because the given name of one of the Nguyễn lords was Vũ. The Nguyễn lords ruled South Vietnam. So in order to show respect to the lord, they changed the pronunciation to Võ.

Now, that I’ve been teaching in Vietnam for more than a year. I’ve learned that Võ really means “martial arts.” They put Võ in front of any type of martial arts, so it’s like a classifier, for example Võ Karate, Võ Judo, Võ Taekwondo.

At any rate, I still like the sound of Kung Fu Shauna.


  1. Hiếu 6 years ago

    You’ve had it right, look through at the picture of the article thought you’ve started learning about karate!!! trololololol
    Also you should know more about “Võ Thị Sáu” Which is very common to a very young lady who used to be a country lover and died in about 16, refer to a song called ” biết ơn chị Võ Thị Sáu ” .
    Talking about myseft, wut ???? no thanks. Ngô Thế Hiếu. “Ngô” is pronounced almost similar to “ngu”, which means – stupid – retarded, kinda difficult with a name like this, worse is that They pronounce ” Ngu Thế Hiếu” – why are you so retarded dumb ??? But i don’t mind of being like that

    • Shauna Vo 6 years ago Author

      Thanks for your comment Hieu! Yes, we actually visited Võ Thị Sáu prison on Con Dao a few weeks ago. She was a very ambitious and strong young woman.

      So, what does your family name (Ngô) actually mean?

      • Hiếu 6 years ago

        Yes, ” Ngô ” is corn, also known as ” Bắp ” for what the south Vietnamese people called, Ngô is by north Vietnamese

  2. Mailena 6 years ago

    Love it! Thanks for the history on our last name! 🙂