Why are Thai names the way they are? Part 1

Thai Airways Boeing 777-200ER (HS-TJF) Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Being a person from Thailand with my Thai name and nickname, from my personal experiences, it’s never been easy. Throughout my time in foreign countries, I’ve been asked about my name and nickname a thousand times. Especially when it comes to introducing myself to others, after a few seconds, these questions always pop up: “Why?”, “Sorry, what’s that again?”, or even “Is that a name?!”. So today, I got a voice to share and as I think this topic is quite interesting and super unique, it deserves a shout-out – so here we go with everything you need to know about Thai names!

Just like the Western pattern, the Thai pattern of names begins with a first or a given name and then it’s the family name at the end. In fact, there’s a little difference in Thai as they differ from the family-name-first pattern according to the general East Asian tradition. Apart from the first or formal given name and family name, every Thai person has a nickname.

When I say nickname, many foreign people would think we can choose the one we like the most freely, but NO, it’s not that easy and it’s neither just a superficial thing nor only for fun as it requires deliberation and often deep consideration from the parents to name their children. The nicknames will be awarded to each child by the parents at birth, even if the facts reveal that there are some people who later changed their nicknames to something else. Still, this doesn’t happen a lot in Thailand. The Thais will address each other by nicknames whereas the first name will only be used in some official or formal situations such as with government offices, in academic terms, when doing business transactions or whenever the politeness is needed. So that’s why it could also happen that you’ve been calling someone by their nickname for a year without even knowing his/her first name!

Names

In general, the Thai first names and family names are relatively long, particularly those who are of Chinese descent. By contrast, 80% of Thai nicknames consist of a single syllable. Sometimes, the nickname is a shortened version of the first name, but more often the two names are completely different. Your nickname could be almost anything that you can think of in this world, which makes it a bit difficult for foreign people because it sometimes it sounds weird, nonsensical and humorous to them. Thai nicknames can be in Thai, English or in any language that the parents come up with. Having said “it can be in English”, this doesn’t mean that the name will be like those common Western names; it merely means that it exists in the ENGLISH language. So with that said, here are some common Thai nicknames in English:

  • For girls: Beauty, Beau, Bonus, Poppy, May, Gift, Air, Eye, etc.
  • For guys: Folk, Big, Beam, Boy, Toy, Sand, Man, Van, etc.
  • For both: Bee, Nut, Paint, Palm, Earth, Ice, Best, etc.

Those are just some quirky examples, there are still so many types and varieties of Thai names and nicknames which are all true and cool as well! So stay tuned for the next part, there you’ll be more informed with so many more examples!

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