How do Thais name their kids? Here is an explaination

Thailand has some really interesting names. Yes, they may follow the Western European tradition of a given name followed by a family name, unlike the patterns of their East Asian cousins. Yet for most people uncommon with the Thai language, the names of people belonging to the kingdom are generally difficult to pronounce and a muddle of confusion. But look no further, The Thaiger is on hand to give a brief explanation of how Thais get their names.

Thai families don’t randomly name their children, they often ask monks to find suitable names for their kids. Gender, date of birth and time are deciding factors. Every name will have a meaning, for example, Petchploy or Petpailin, which means an expensive, or precious gemstone. Their nicknames will likely be a shortened version of their first names, like Ploy or Petch. And it’s quite common for Thais not to know their friend’s first name months or even years into their friendship since they always call them by their nickname in daily conversations.

Generally speaking, full names are only used in formal scenarios like filling out a form such as a job application, renewing a national ID card or opening a bank account. Surprisingly, surnames were not legally adopted in Thailand until the early 20th century, and because of that most Thai family names are just two or three generations old. Furthermore, it’s rare for people to share the same last names unless they are relatives.

Every Thai will have a nickname that is unrelated to their first or last name, just to make life easier for them and the people in their lives. It’s usually given randomly by their parents. Nicknames are either a shortened version of the first name or something completely different, which is similar in many ways to Western countries with names like Nick, short for Nicolas, or Katherine, which is shortened to Kate, Kathy or Kat. But at the same time some foreigners’ names are questionable too, e.g., Bank, which is a symbol money and wealth, or Fah, as in the sky, symbolising having no limits.

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Sometimes someone will have a nickname given to them by their family or friends to resemble their physical appearance or personality. There are a few people who are called Auen, which means fat or chubby, or Lek, which means small. This might be seen as body shaming to some, but it’s how things work in Thai culture.

It’s also common for Thais to change names during their lives. Changing a name because they don’t like the one handed down to them by their parents is accepted in Thailand, especially if that individual has gone through something traumatising, experienced some bad luck or had poor health.

Some Thais have a long name that is hard to pronounce. One of the reasons for this is because Thais like to be different and unique, and don’t want to have a generic name. By doing so, they will add a few words and combine it together.

To minimise misunderstanding for foreigners unfamiliar with the Thai language, Thais who engage in English-speaking environments will often adopt a Western name or Westernise their nickname.

Thais are superstitious, and there is a belief that if a newborn has a beautiful name, spirits will get jealous. So, a baby will be given a nickname, sometimes an unflattering one to scare away the spirits.

There are many odd nicknames. They can range from animals like kwang (deer), gai (chicken), nok (bird) and maew (cat) to fruit names like cherry, som (orange in Thai) and pear, which is quite popular. Thais like to have a name that means something, so don’t be surprised if you bump into someone called Nueng, which means No.1 or being first.

Hope that makes everything clear.

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Pete is a writer for The Thaiger, and he writes various topics from news, travel and property. His main focus is writing about Thai news, and what is happening in Thailand.

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