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Thai Names Explained Why are they long

Thai Names Explained: Why are they long?

Thai names can seem notoriously long and their nicknames appear to have no link to their Thai first names. Foreigners may find this strange but there are logical and religious reasons behind this phenomenon.

Delving deeper into this question of why Thai names are so long will reveal a number of interesting things about the culture and beliefs of Thailand. In this article, let’s look at why Thai names are so long to better understand Thai culture and beliefs!

Why are Thai names so long?

Thai names are so long because they are commonly composed of a combination of words or syllables that are considered lucky or beneficial to the child or person being named. This often resulted in first names that were too long for daily use.

Fortunately, Thais use nicknames that are simpler and much more “westernised’’. These nicknames are the ones frequently used by locals in their daily lives and in their regular interactions with each other.

An Overview of Thai Names

Thai first names were given by parents based on words, phrases, or even letters that are seen as spiritually beneficial or “lucky” for the individual being named.

On the other hand, Thai last names were created by Thais to signify something positive about the family such as “strong” or “golden”. However, last names got longer due to the additional phrases or words added by locals to prevent duplication of their surnames.

Lastly, Thais use a shorter name or nickname for their daily interactions with their families, loved ones, and friends. These different components make up the structure of long Thai names and will be discussed in detail in this article.

History of Long Thai Names

History of Long Thai Names

Since the olden days, the people of Thailand believed that certain words, numbers, and even letters can be good or bad omens. Most Thai Parents asked astrologers and fortune tellers which name they should choose for their child’s birth.

This resulted in complex and long first names that were too lengthy for everyday life but were considered spiritually beneficial for the person. There was also this belief in Thailand that the names of persons can affect which spirits are attracted to them.

As such, Thais believed in the use of children’s names to draw the attention of good spirits and to drive the bad spirits away. They resorted to the use of simpler one or two-syllable nicknames at the time of birth instead of their lengthy first names.

Historically, Thais believed in the dual use of one’s nickname. In terms of practical use, nicknames were easier and simple to use. On the other hand, in terms of spirituality, the use of nicknames is believed to confuse evil spirits and can therefore protect children.

Traditional Thai nicknames usually do not have any phonetic link to the long first names of individuals. Instead, traditional Thai nicknames could just be a made-up syllable, a foreign name, the name of an animal, or the physical traits of the person.

Hence, a woman with the first name “Thanyamas” can have the nickname “Nu” which means mouse. This nickname will be used by the woman her entire life professionally and socially except in legal and very formal documents.

Structure of Thai Names

Structure of Thai Names

Thai names are structured as having a first name, a last name, and a nickname. They don’t use middle names and their modern nicknames usually do not have any connection to their first names and are usually westernised.

For example, a name written as Charunee Chaimongkhon (May) can be broken down as first name Charunee, last name Chaimongkhon, and May as the nickname. 

Based on the example, the nickname “May” doesn’t really have to be related to the person’s first name “Charunee”. In fact, Thai nicknames are usually randomly assigned by parents and can also be just made-up nicknames.

On the other hand, Thai first names are usually intentionally given by parents for religious reasons and will usually contain meaningful and good words. In our example earlier, the name “Charunee ” is a common Thai name that means a refined woman.

Interestingly, people may encounter the syllable “porn” in a lot of Thai names. This syllable is supposed to add some good omens to the names of individuals as it means well wishes and blessings.

Due to Thai names being cumbersome and long, it is also common for locals to be acquainted with someone for quite some time but never really know what their first names are. 

This is because first names are rarely used except for documents and events that are legal and very formal. During daily interactions, Thais always use their nicknames. 

As such, it is common for people in a Thai office to ask “Do we have a Charunee here?” since they will only know her as “Nu” despite working in the same office for a couple of months.

Reasons Behind Long Thai Last Names

Reasons Behind Long Thai Last Names

Compared to nicknames and first names, Thai last names are much more recent. The Thai Nationality Act (the Surname Act) which was enacted in 1913 required Thailand’s permanent residents to have a surname in their full names for the very first time.

Thai surnames use words that signify good fortune.

Since Thais weren’t familiar with surnames before this law was passed, most families simply came up with their own surnames. Naturally, the families used words that would bring them good fortune and blessings.

One such example is the surname of the current king of Thailand himself, king Maha Vajiralongkorn. His surname “Vajiralongkorn” can be translated to “adorned with thunderbolts or jewels”. 

The royal family can also give other Thai families honorary surnames which can simply be added to their existing surnames. 

Thai names shouldn’t have duplicates during registration.

It was also required by the Thai Nationality Act also required Thais to have unique surnames. Families had to register the surname they chose with the government but they had to change it if the said surname was already registered. 

For example, if “Jaturapattara” was already registered, a Thai family can go for a slightly altered version of “Jaturapattara” such as “Jaturapattarapong”.

In the early 20th Century, Thailand also had a large Chinese population who also had to have a Thai surname registered with the government. At first, a lot of these families opted to use their Chinese surname preceded by “Sae”, the Thai word for a surname. 

However, the law and the government’s requirement that surnames should be unique resulted in Chinese families with common surnames just adding other components to their Chinese surnames. This obviously led to increasingly long surnames.

In fact, a lot of the longest surnames in Thailand belong to individuals with Chinese-Thai ancestors.

There are some overlaps in the surnames of Thais simply because during the original registry of surnames, technology was not yet that advanced. Despite these overlaps, the majority of Thai names are considered one of the most unique names in the world.

Hence, if two Thais have the same last name, they are most probably at least distant relatives.

Long Thai names were prevented by the Person Name Act of 1962.

In modern times, Thais still need to have unique surnames registered with the government but they can’t be as long as before. The Person Name Act was passed in 1962 and it limited the length of Thai surnames. 

In order to have a new name registered, the name should not exceed ten letters, excluding diacritics and vowel symbols. However, titles that are royally conferred can still go beyond the set ten-letter limit.

What Do Thai Surnames Mean?

What Do Thai Surnames Mean

As stated earlier, Thai surnames are unique and long because Thais are not supposed to have the same surname as an individual who is not a family or relative. To ensure unique surnames, the law allows Thais to come up with their own last names.

With this, Thai people will often construct surnames based on superstitious reasons, religious beliefs, or even just personal preferences. Thais usually put in phrases and words to achieve the “good” surname they are looking for.

Based on the example provided earlier, the surname “Chaimongkon” means auspicious victory when translated literally. The Thai word for favourable or auspicious is “mongkhon” while “chai” means victory.

Other examples of Thai surnames abound. These include Fhaumnuaypol which means “sky bring you a blessing”, Ratnapon which translates to “crystal blessing”, Ayutthaya which means “invincible or unconquerable” and Soikham which means “gold necklace”.

Why are Thai nicknames so random and weird?

Why are Thai nicknames so random and weird

Thai nicknames are more convenient and practical for daily use.

Typical Thais only use their official first names in very formal or legal situations and documents. At work, Thai employees only ever use their nicknames when interacting with their colleagues. 

As mentioned earlier in this article, it is common for co-workers and acquaintances to only know the nicknames of their peers and not their first name. 

This is because traditionally, Thais only used short names or nicknames. In the olden days, Thais didn’t have any specific naming conventions such as first names and surnames as there were no large families or clans that needed them.

It has evolved to represent physical traits and positive attributes.

One can say then, that nicknames in Thailand are a cultural tradition. The practice of giving nicknames dates back to the Sukhothai period when children are given names based on the order of birth.

The norm back then was that nicknames were equivalent to numbers or the age of the individual such as “young” and “old”. Nicknames then evolved to physical descriptions of the children’s appearance which included the words long, big, fat, small, and thin.

Around the Ayutthaya period, nicknames further evolved and it became common for Thais to give nicknames to children denoting positive characteristics such as brave, gold, and strong.

More recently, Thai babies got two nicknames to mislead bad spirits who may attempt to interfere with the child’s life or take the child away. Thais believed that having multiple names will reduce the possibility of bad spirits meddling in the affairs of the family.

In addition,  it was thought that calling babies “ugly” nicknames such as fat, dog, or pig, will also discourage evil spirits from taking the child away. In fact, it is still common for people to refrain from saying nice things about a baby (pretty, cute) for the said reason.

Thai nicknames are now based on the preference of parents.

At present, Thai babies do not have official names yet until the parents are done consulting with a respected member of society, a fortune teller, or a monk. In Thailand, names are given great importance and are believed to affect one’s destiny.

Nicknames given to babies in Thailand today are mostly based on the parent’s personal preferences. Some of them still adhere to the traditional naming conventions while other parents give their babies nicknames based on what sounds pleasant.

There are also some cultural trends that society follows such as using a foreign nickname (like Anna or Cindy). Families are sometimes not aware of the meanings of such foreign names but choose them still because the names seem interesting.

FAQs on Why Thai last names are so Long?

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