“The naming of Thais is a serious matter
It isn’t just one of your holiday games
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you a Thai must have three different names”
First of all there is the family or surname. These are usually two syllables for traditional Thai families but for Chinese-Thai families these can be much longer even up to seven syllables and are largely unpronounceable by the average ex-pat! For example Lertkornkitja or Kanthamala, Chakrabongse or Chamnansatol. Interestingly Surnames only became a legal requirement in Thailand in 1913.
Secondly the formal name of the person. Again these can be extremely long and complicated to our western ears and when combined with the long family name – we basically haven’t got a hope! Apparently when a Thai child is born there are particular letters of the alphabet for each day of the week which can be used. These names are usually auspicious and can be a combination of multiple syllables. Many formal names are selected by the monks and largely they are only used in formal situations or for documents.
Finally there is the name that is used daily – the nick name. These are cute, easy and often random words that the parents just like the sound of. Fortunately for us these are the names used at school.
“What’s your name?” asked a new Bangkok English teacher
“Yes,” the Thai student replies.
“No, I mean, what are you called?”
“Yes. My names is Yes.”
The nicknames are brilliant but have taken some getting used to. Ones I have come across include
We have a family at school with the siblings Porsche, Mercedes and Benz. Another family with Pizza, Pasta and Kebab.
One of my library assistants is called Tub. His brother is called Toob because when said together: Toob, Tub it sounds like a heartbeat. Toob, Tub. Toob, Tub. Isn’t that lovely.
Many names are androgonous such as Mint. This is a particularly popular name at the moment and there are several male and female Mints which is quite refreshing in a gender neutral way although does make it difficult when needing to refer to the child with a pronoun. I recently sent an email about Garfield to her teacher calling her ‘him’ all the way through! I have also just recruited a female Tom.
Some names are easier than others. I like the single letter ones: M or Q or A
Thais seem to like duplication so there is also
to name but a few
Some nicknames are colours e.g. Daeng means red, Chompu is pink and Som is orange.
Some nicknames are wicked though and make me laugh. Porn is one which springs to mind. Porn is very popular here and actually means ‘blessings’ in Thai. It is difficult for us to keep a straight face; though Camp and Guff were also advised to change their nicknames before taking up a place in a western university!
Poo is also a popular name here as you can see.
The growth in western influence has spawned a generation with names such as
We do have a young Pearly Peace but my favourite has to be a little girl in the junior school called Smile.