There is a clear difference between Lao names and nicknames. Lao people have both a serious and playful side, and it comes out in the naming practice. Your first name and surname, the one that appears on your birth certificate, is often evocative of some great person of the past (Sengphet), an adjective the culture holds in high esteem (Deesabun- Lucky), or a beautiful scene from nature (Mali- Blossom).
Note: Lao names are often made up of 2+ adjectives, so one complete first name might have multiple meanings.
A Lao Nickname (sue lin) is something Lao parents find funny or cute when you're a child.
As mentioned in the intro, a Lao name is often evocative of some element of natural beauty, as you can see in the list.
First, let's start with male names
A list of Female names
Note: There are also a list of unisex names
Laos was once a part of Thailand, and many of its conventions are the same. Historically, only the royal family had names, and regular people would have short names that stood in for proper names. It was only when the French colonized Laos that the use of surnames became standardized.
To ward off evil spirits, people used nicknames, much the same way a spirit house does. If a wandering ghost comes along and sees a lovely house with some lovely children, it might be inclined to hang about. If you leave an offering outside your spirit house and give your child the nickname 'pig,' then maybes that ghost will keep going.
In the Lao culture, nicknames are often playful.
Nicknames and royal titles aside, the naming culture in Laos is the same as in The West. The order is first name- surname. When a woman is married, she takes her husband's surname, and when a child is born, it also takes the father's surname. The exception would be if the woman comes from a particularly high-status family or one of the hill tribes who still retain only one name.
Lao people use the title Mr and Mrs, but somewhat confusingly with the first name instead of the surname. So, in Laos, I was Mr. Michael as opposed to Mr. Thompson.
Laos is one of those countries where nobody quite knows what to call it. Is it Lao? Is it Laos? Is it the PDR? Technically speaking, in English, Lao is the name of the people and Laos is the name of the country. The Lao people themselves call the country either Muang Lao (ເມືອງລາວ) or Pathet Lao (ປະເທດລາວ).
The Lao people first migrated from China somewhere around the year 900, but there were already people living there who became absorbed into the populace. People who classify themselves as Lao ethnicity make up only 52% of the population, and for some, the idea of Lao nationhood is still contentious, particularly among isolated ethnic groups.
Lao shares an impossible to disentangle relationship with the Thai people because Thailand, or Siam as it was known, controlled the major Lao cities for many centuries. Ironically it was the French colonizers who encouraged Lao citizens to distinguish their culture from that of Siam. You can look at this as an act of benevolence--they wanted the Lao to have their own political state, or you can look at it cynically and say that the country would be easier to control if there were a functioning bureaucracy and an enemy to fight in the guise of Siam.
In 1975 Lao changed its name to what it's currently known as by the United Nations: The Lao People's Democratic Republic. Or Lao PDR. For more information check out this History of Lao timeline from The BBC
Unfortunately, Lao is one of those languages that is difficult to learn as it uses its own script know as Akson Lao (Lao: ອັກສອນລາວ) Although beautiful to look at; it is impossible to discern for a westerner without specialist training, which is where Ling comes in.
The Ling App has writing practice on the app. Touch the screen and follow the directions, and slowly but surely, you will begin learning the Lao alphabet. Once you have the alphabet, you can start reading texts in that language, whether newspaper articles or official documents.
Ling understands that just because a country doesn't have as many native speakers, we shouldn't forget its language. So we focus on many lesser-known languages such as Lao, Khmer, and Thai (which share many similarities). We craft specialized lessons from our contacts within the Lao teaching world, just over the border from the head office of the Ling app. Check out this blog on the differences between Thai and Lao to learn more.
If you want to learn another sister language of Lao, have a look at 20 words and phrases in Khmer, also from the Ling blog.
The ling app is not a magic bullet, it will not make you fluent in a month, but it is the most potent technological intervention you can make on your language learning journey.
Until the next time!