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Thailand | Thai Names And Nicknames

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Dr Tittyporn works at one of our local hospitals

Dr Tittyporn works at one of our local hospitals

 

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Thai Names And Nicknames

 

Introduction

In Western countries people have a first/Christian name and a last name/family name/surname. Some people have one or more middle names as well. Informally, we call people by the first name and when we want to be formal we use some form of address and their surname. It's quite easy.

In Thailand everything is different, including the way that names are used. Having lived in Thailand since 2003, I am now fairly familiar with naming conventions. This page is an attempt to explain it to those who may not be so familiar.

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Given Nicknames

Nickname in Thai is 'cheu len'. The literal translation is 'name play', but Thai uses the word order 'noun adjective' instead of 'adjective noun', therefore the actual translation is 'play name'.

ชื่อเล่น (cheu len) - nickname

With most people you meet informally you will only ever know their nickname. There is no need to know their real name and surname, and they won't necessarily offer this information. I am sure that lots of farang men who get involved with Thai girls only know the girl's nickname and nothing else.

Generally, parents choose nicknames for their children that they think are cute. I read somewhere, many years ago, that Thais are afraid spirits will steal new babies. To protect against this, ugly nicknames were given to children. If a baby was named 'Gop' (Frog) malevolent spirits might be deterred from stealing it because who wants to steal a frog? I'm not sure how relevant this is today.

A few years ago, animal nicknames were very popular. My wife has elder siblings Bpoo (crab), Gai (chicken) and Bplaa (fish). Animal nicknames have now gone out of fashion and when I was teaching there were very few students named after animals. One exception was a girl called Dtuk-a-dtairn, which means 'grasshopper'.

Nicknames now tend to reflect Thai obsessions with money and technology. Before smartphones the leading mobile phone brand was Nokia and quite a few kids were called Nokia. Now that Nokia has gone out of fashion they have probably changed their names.

Some kids now are called iPhone or Facebook (I'm not joking). Luxury European automobile brands are also popular for nicknames. I know of twin boys called Bee-Em and Benz. There are also twin girls at my children's school called Jackpot and Bonus. The name Bonus is quite popular and my daughter has several friends called Bonus at her school.

Siblings often have matching names. I knew sisters called Em and Om, and a brother and sister called DiDi and DoDo. Sometimes nicknames are just one syllable from the person's formal first name. Nit for Oranit, Dee for Natadee, Ju for Jutharat, etc.

Westerners will think that some Thai nicknames are very strange, but to Thais they are perfectly normal.

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Acquired Nicknames

Children are given real names and nicknames by their parents, but some people acquire additional nicknames later in life.

There is one teacher at my children's school (a really nice lady) who everyone calls 'Oo-un'. This means 'fat' in English, so her nickname translates as 'Fatty'. She's not particular fat and doesn't seem to mind at all.

I had a good friend called Aor. 'Aor' is her official nickname and Pritsapa (the Thai word for the month of May) is her real name. However, her friends call her Ban because she has a round face and 'ban' is a classifier for round things.

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Anglicized Nicknames

When some Thais tell you their Thai name they will tell you the translated version. For example, if their name is 'Gai' they will tell you that their name is Chicken.

When this happens now I know immediately what is going on, but when I first arrived in Thailand I called a girl Bird for several days before realising that her name was Nok. I felt such an idiot.

A foreigner I knew who got involved with a Thai girl told me her name was 'Rainy'. Her name was actually 'Fon', which is quite a common name in Thailand and means 'rain'.

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English Nicknames

When some Thais go to live or study in a Western country they adopt a Western name. Possibly this is because they want to integrate better into Western society, or maybe their Thai name is too difficult for foreigners to pronounce. Thais sometimes refer to these names as their 'farang' names.

ชื่อฝรั่ง (cheu farang) - foreign name

Therefore, they have a Thai real name, a Thai nickname and also an English nickname. A woman's real name might be 'Oraporn', her Thai nickname 'Windows 10', but when she went to live in the United States everyone called her 'Sally'. Confusing, eh?

Some foreigners living in Thailand do the same thing and elect to have a Thai name. Sometimes I get asked what my Thai name is. I don't have one. I could opt to be called Somchai, but on the other hand I'll probably stick to my own name.

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Real Names

For our kids nicknames, my wife and I chose names that we both liked. This was difficult because most of the names she chose I didn't like, and vice-versa. However, it was our choice.

For their real names we had no say in the matter. Once again, this was because of Thai superstitious practices.

ชื่อจริง (cheu jing) - real name

My wife consulted a friend who owns a large book on the subject of choosing names and her friend went about gathering lots of information about me, my wife, which day the child was born, etc etc etc.

This information gets fed in and out comes names that are supposedly auspicious for the child. I don't particularly like my kids' real names, but I was powerless because of my wife's belief system.

It doesn't matter too much because we only use their nicknames and their real names are only used for official purpose.

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Surnames

Surnames are quite a recent invention in Thailand and have only been legally required since 1913. King Rama VI (King Jajiravudha) introduced a law in 1913 that made it mandatory for all Thais to have family names and he himself granted surnames to many people. Surnames are only used for official purposes. When Thais refer to other people they simply used a salutation and the person's real name or nickname.

นามสกุล (naam sa-guun) - surname/family name

Surnames tend to be very long (my wife's surname has six syllables) and they are unique to families. Generally, when two people have the same surname they are related.

I don't know exactly why surnames were introduced, but during the colonial era Thais were terrified that Thailand would be colonised. Fortunately, the country provided a convenient buffer state between the French in Indochina and the British in Burma and Malaya, therefore this was unlikely to happen. However, Thailand took certain precautions.

A lot of land was ceded to the French and British, and Thai habits changed. One fear was that European colonists would justify colonising Thailand on the basis that Thailand was 'uncivilised'.

To counter this threat, Thais started emulating Europeans to show that they weren't uncivilised. They started wearing Western-style clothing, eating at tables using cutlery (instead of eating on the floor using their hands) and in the early part of the 20th century they adopted surnames.

Thais are extremely status conscious and Thai society follows a strict social hierarchy. Certain surnames are noble and other names are well known locally in Thailand as belonging to wealthy families.

Thais have many ways of determining another person's social status, and the person's surname can give some clues.

Surnames are very rarely used. Even when seeing a doctor, which is quite a formal process, the doctor will be referred to as 'Mor' followed by his real name without mentioning his surname.

Thailand has many influences from China, but surnames are not stated first, as they are in China. The English convention is followed with the real name stated first followed by the surname.

As for examples, an article I read about the band Endorphine was written by one Nuttaporn Srisirirungsimakul - a seven syllable surname. From a newspaper that was lying around, I saw that it employed journalists called Kwanchai Rungfapaisarn, Achara Pongvuthitam and Somchainuek Engtrakul.

When transliterating into English, Thais will often use a 'v' for the Thai 'wor wairn' consonant. I don't know why they do this because the 'v' sound doesn't exist in Thai. If you see a 'v' just pronounce it as 'w'.

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Changing Names

Thais are probably the most superstitious people on Earth and when something happens to Thais - good or bad - there is always a reason.

If a Thai is having a spell of bad luck and wants to find out why the first stop will normally be to a fortune teller, or to a monk with special powers. The bad luck could be for a variety of reasons, such as driving a car that is the wrong colour.

If this is the case it is inconvenient and expensive to respray your car a different colour, but the clever Thais have come up with an ingenious solution. They put a sticker on the vehicle telling people the car is a different colour to what they see.

In the following photo the silver pickup truck has a sticker that says, "This vehicle is red."

 

This silver truck is red

This silver truck is red

 

Alternatively, having the wrong name might be the cause of your bad luck. My previous girlfriend changed her name, and her daughter's name, to cure bad luck.

Changing your name in Thailand in order to change your luck doesn't seem to be too uncommon and Thais think nothing of it.

There is another reason why Thais might change their name.

The word 'Porn' appears in may Thai names. Many girls have the nickname 'Porn' and it appears in real names such as 'Suraporn' and 'Jiraporn', etc. The meaning in Thai is 'gift' or 'blessing', which is a good meaning. Children are a blessing and parents wish to reflect this in their names.

However, the word 'porn' has a different (not so good) meaning English and some Thais have become very conscious of this. When I asked her, a small coffee shop owner told me that her name was Paula. That's not a very common Thai name, so I quizzed her some more.

Her name is actually Porn, but she was a teacher and some foreign teachers she worked with convinced her that Porn was a bad name. Therefore, she now tells foreigners that her name is Paula.

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Form Of Address

Apart from young children, whenever a Thai refers to another person they always use some form of address followed by the person's real name or nickname.

With neighbours who are slightly older than my wife she uses 'Pee', which is used for older people. With old men she will use 'Luung' (uncle) and with old ladies, 'Bpaa' (aunt) or 'Yaay' (grandmother). These terms are all quite informal and 'Khun' is used to be more formal.

At my children's school the children are call 'Nong' (for younger people) followed by their nickname for informal purposes. Formally, this becomes 'Dek Chaay' (boy child) or 'Dek Ying' (girl child) followed by their real name and surname.

Thais are extremely sensitive about this kind of stuff and the form of address should reflect their social status, otherwise they can get quite upset.

Half of Thais seems to have a PhD these days and expect to be called Doctor. Real doctors who teach and university lecturers should be referred to as Ajarn. Young Western kids who turn up in Thailand to fund their partying by teaching some English call themselves Ajarn, but are not worthy of the title.

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Visit Thailand

Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.

Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.

If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand