Have you ever wondered what Thai names stand for? Why are they so long, hard to pronounce and sometimes a bit complicated?
Formal situations are typically the only moments in the life of a Thai persons where their official Thai names are used. Most people use their nicknames even while at work. It’s very normal for friends to never exactly know the full name of a person, but to know them only by their nicknames.
Thai Names – A brief history
Historically Thais used only short names, names which would be called nicknames today. During ancient times in Thailand there were no clans, and so no naming conventions were required to classify people. Only the Royal Family, had their names taken from the ancient Sanskrit language.
Let’s however give some background information on Thai names. As per western names the surname (e.g., Amorn THONGKHAM) follows the first name. Thai surnames (e.g. SONJOHNKOKSOONG) are often very long. For this reason, it is popular to refer to people with their first names, preceded by the title “Khun” which is the equivalent of ‘Mister’ or ‘Miss’ as a non-gender title. Similarly, to many countries women after getting married usually take the family name of her husband. However, what is more striking and maybe a bit unusual for foreigners is that almost all Thai citizens have a nickname besides a formally assigned name.
How Thai nicknames are given
Children are given such nicknames since a very young age. Many babies today are not given their official name practically until their parents have consulted with a monk, fortune teller or other respected person in society, therefore in order to be able to call their new born while waiting for the most auspicious official name a nickname becomes fundamental. Names in Thailand are of great significance, and are said to have an effect on the entire future of an individual. Parents require a nickname for their baby until the official name is decided. Sometimes these nicknames are based on the baby’s appearance which often contributes to unflattering nicknames. For example, one long-term Thai prime minister, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, was nicknamed Plaek which translates “Strange,” because he looked very peculiar as an infant. When the PM was addressing world leaders on the world’s most important issues, his staff often called him by his nickname. Former Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is known by her nickname “Crab” (Pu) to friends and family.
Thai names examples
In Thailand developing a nickname is personal and nicknames should be used when referring to someone only if invited to do so by the person or if you are very familiar with them. Some Thais may prefer to use a Western nickname instead of their Thai first name for convenience and to deal with the fact that those who are not familiar with Thai language may find it difficult to pronounce their names. Today nicknames’ choice is mainly down to the parents’ personal preference. Some may use traditional naming conventions, while others prefer nicknames that are based on what they consider pleasing. There are patterns that some people adopt, as in other cultures, such as the usage of foreign terms for nicknames. Sometimes, families do not know the meanings of such words, choosing them simply because they like how they sound. The nickname may also be a short form of the official name on occasion. Popular male nicknames include Book, Bank, Boat, Oat, Benz, Win, Golf and many others. Although common female names range from animals such as Penguin, Jingjo (meaning kangaroo in Thai), Nok (meaning bird in Thai), to fruits such as Apple, Cherry, Som (meaning orange in Thai), and Pear. There are also names such as One, Two, Three (sometimes Third), and Four.