Here is a bit of an interesting topic: how do names work in Thai? As odd as this may seem, Thai naming conventions actually have quite a unique and interesting history. Beyond that, the idea of nicknames also offers a different perspective on Thai culture. For the purposes of learning Thai, having some idea of how names in Thai work can be helpful in understanding how communication works and how to address people correctly. We have talked previously about how to be polite in Thai, and this topic can play a part in that. So, for today, let’s have a glimpse at names in Thai.
As you would expect, people have been given names pretty much since we have been able to talk. The same is true in Thailand, as people have had names for most if not all of its history. However, the idea of surnames or family names in Thai is relatively new in the kingdom. Only since the 20th century has Thai people used surnames for themselves.
Previously, Thai people were referred to by their first name or given name, or possibly some information such as where they are from. Middle names were not and are still not used. It wasn’t until around 1913 that the King declared that surnames be given and recorded across the kingdom, for the purposes of a new registration system. Interestingly, this followed the Western name convention where the first name is written before the surname. This differs from some neighboring countries like China where the surname comes first.
The introduction of these naming conventions led to some interesting situations. As people were not supposed to share a surname if they are not related, people had to go to great lengths (literally) to make sure their surname was unique. This meant that surnames were made to be longer and more complex, closer to phrases than words. Ultimately, this ensured that no two names were the same. This is how nicknames became common for referring to people, as it is much easier.
Due to the nature and length of Thai names, it is not uncommon for people to have their own nicknames. Thai nicknames are shorter names for people used more often than their real names. You may even find that people don’t know their friends’ or coworkers’ ‘real’ names.
Nicknames are given at birth by the parents and may not necessarily relate to their real name in any way, instead of relating to their physical features, behavior, or desirable things. Sometimes, they can be completely random choices but have a particular symbolism like wealth or knowledge. You may find people with interesting nicknames that are not traditionally used as names for this reason.
Also, when speaking with foreigners, Thai people may choose an alternative, English name to save the difficulty of pronunciation with their Thai name. However, Thai nicknames are often English words or are Thai words that are short enough and easy to pronounce.
Honorifics refer to the titles placed before the name of a person and generally denote the relationship with the person. In English, we use mister (Mr) and miss (Ms), for example. These also exist in Thai, though they behave slightly differently. An equivalent for mister or miss would be ‘khun’ (คุณ). This is often used for official purposes and for politeness.
Thai honorifics can be quite complex, especially when it comes to pronouns. These are affected by things such as age, gender, relationship, politeness, and more. This of course makes choosing the right word difficult. However, kinship terms are slightly easier to understand.
Kinship terms are words used to show your relationship with another person. They go before the person's name. These include words like older brother/sister, known as ‘pii’ (พี่) in Thai. It doesn’t necessarily have to be used in a literal sense, as people also use these words for people they are close with.
There are also some other titles that are placed before the first name/nickname of a person when you talk to them. These include things like a teacher, known as ‘kruu’ (ครู), or doctor, known as ‘mor’ (หมอ).
Starting with male names in Thai, there are a few that are quite popular.
If you look up any list of common Thai names for males, you will come across this one. That is because this is by far one of the most popular names for males in Thailand. You can see the prefix ‘som’ (สม) that we mentioned earlier here - in this case together with the word ‘chai’ (ชาย) meaning male.
The name Somsak is another of the more popular Thai names for males. As you can probably see, it is very similar to the name above. It once again reflects that the bearer of the name if worthy of something - honor or prestige in this case.
Those of you who are familiar with the names of the planets in Thai will know that Arthit means Sun (yes, I realize that the Sun is not a planet). While that would be a deep enough meaning alone, the name for the Sun in Thai is itself derived from the name of a Hindu god (and the word for Sunday).
As with most Thai names, this one shows that you have high hopes for your child. The two parts of the name together mean something like renowned power, which would mean they are particularly strong. I would imagine a lot of guys would like this to be their name.
Just as there are many common Thai names for males, there are many common names specifically for females too.
Flowers and beauty are concepts often associated with femininity, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the word for flower is a common Thai name for girls. Specifically, it refers to Jasmine, grown throughout Thailand for tea and rice.
This is a nice name as it means beautiful. They say that children grow into their names to reflect its meaning and the supposed traits it conveys, so choosing a name with this meaning should be easy to understand. It is used as a female name due to some connotations for the meaning.
If it wasn’t obvious yet, the meaning of this common Thai name should make it so. Thai names often have really intense meanings. This one is even a bit religious. But yes, this is where the porn prefix comes into play. Together with the word ‘thip’ (ทิพย์), which means divine or divinity, you get a really beautiful name.
The name Praew is another that is meant to convey beauty. It can be understood as shining or gleaming, which I believe to be signs of beauty. The pronunciation is a bit unique in that English speakers may not be able to say it correctly right away, but you will get used to it over time.
|กมลา||Kamala||of the heart|
|นงค์เยาว์||Nong Yao||a young lady|
|อรอินท์||On-in||beautiful like the moon|
|เพ็ญศรี||Pensri||the beauty of the moon|
|ส้ม||Som||orange (the fruit)|
|สุดา||Suda||daughter or girl|
|ตวงรัตน์||Tuangrat||full of gem|
|อธิชาติ||A-thichart||The greatest one|
|ไอศูรย์||Aisoon||The greatest one|
|ไชยเชษฐ์||Chaiyachet||the great and prosperous one|
|ไพทูล / ไพทูรย์||Paitoon||moonstone|
|รพีพงศ์||Rapeepong||clan of the sun|
So, while this seems like a pretty boring topic, it does end up being quite useful and ultimately important for learning Thai. There are several things to be mindful of when speaking and addressing other people, such as the honorifics. All together, it makes for an interesting glimpse into the culture of Thailand, its history, and how people communicate. It is better to start learning Thai naming conventions now so you are ready when it comes to talking with others.
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