Sawasdee Torn Chao (good morning) our dear guests,
travellers, tourists, the curious, the hungry and all the rest.
Although many Thais’ first names (and last names) are known for being unusually long and extravagant in nature. But what seems to be more baffling for foreigners are the Thai people’s nicknames. We completely understand, to many, these nicknames are just outright bizarre and seem to have no correlation with their Thai first names.
We are sure that many of you may have encountered these “non-Thai” nicknames while traveling around the country, conversing, meeting many locals or even working with the likes of “Ann/Anne, Joy, June, Jan, Jay, Joe, May, Mark, Mick, Pete and etc.”
You may think those are Westernised versions of their names but that is not quite the case. Unlike other societies, the reasons behind this phenomenon are not because Thai people want Anglicised names for their nicknames in order to fit in with Westerners. As some nicknames may appear to be quite avant-garde in nature:
A, B/ Bee, C, D/Dee (could also mean “good” in Thai), Bird, Beau/Bow, Ohm, Pop, Atom, Palm, Beam, Balm, Bom/Bomb, Bank, Boy, Ball, Boat, Film, Beer, Mint, Milk, Cherry, Balloon, Benz (from Mercedes-Benz), Porsche, Turbo, Ice, Cream, iTim (ice-cream in Thai), Pear, Peach, Art, Cartoon, Golf, Win, Air, Apple, Athens, Man and etc.
As fun as it would be to play a prank on you all, this is not a “Chao Hostel’s Believe It or Not!” ‘s take on Thai culture, some of these names are what many of us have come across with our friends, family and extended circles.
To understand more of the how, why and what has inspired many Thai parents’s choices of nicknames, we may have to take a more historical and cultural-based route in order to uncover the logic behind it all. Besides the notion of logic itself is subjective to the beholder right?
Historically, long before Theverada Buddhism came to Thailand from sea-faring monks from Sri Lanka. The main belief in these regions (of what is now called Thailand) was more lenient towards Animism. Animism is the belief, attribution of the spirit/soul in plants, water, sky, the earth and other inanimate objects. This includes the belief in the supernatural elements of the universe.
Today, much of animism can still be found in Thai culture. Many travellers with the observant eye will have noticed many tree trunks wrapped with colourful cloths or spirit houses in Thai homes/ properties. Some may even have heard of Thai locals casually mentioning the belief in angels/ ghosts/demons/ spirits, GuuMarn Thong (“Golden Child”, the spirit of baby/child, often neglected by their parents), voodoo/black magic/ouija boards, etc.
Therefore, famous traditions such as the Loy Kratong Festival, where the Thais pay their respects to the goddess of water by floating lanterns in the rivers, canals and ponds, can also be trace back to such origins in belief.
With regards to the concept of one’s nickname, as Thais generally believe in angels/ ghosts/ demons/ spirits, the origins of parents providing their child with a nickname was in fact used as a deterrent against the maleficent spirits knowing the true identity of their children by name. These nicknames were originally based on nouns such as certain specific animals, flowers, plants, natural elements and etc., in order to confuse these ever-so observant evil spirits with the linguistic twist. Sometimes, these nicknames are picked randomly by their parents, some are influenced by pure preference/ personal intentions and some by the characteristic traits or appearance of the baby at the time of the naming.
Here are some examples of more traditional Thai Nicknames (*can also be unisex):
Chao – Morning
*Gai – Chicken
Moo – Pig
Chang – Elephant
Seua – Tiger
*Nuu – Mouse/ Mice
*Maew – Cat
*Ton/ Ton Mai/ Mai – Tree
Auan – Fat
Porm – Skinny
*Lek – Small
*Yhai – Big
Gao – Forward (also sounds like the number 9, usually a positive omen)
Daeng – Red (some times associated with the first name, Chart, meaning red or nation)
Kiew – Green
For Girls/ Women, generally more feminine in sound and meaning in the Thai Language/ Nature:
Naam – Water
Mali – Jasmine
Nok – Bird
Ped* – Duck
Modt* – Ant
Nit – Small
Noi – Little
Goi – Pinky (finger)
Sai – late morning/ stream/ string
Tuptim – Ruby/ Pomegranates
Som – Orange
Fah – Blue/ Sky
To local Thais, these Thai-noun based names are in fact more traditional and are still rather common amidst the rise of the more eccentric or western-influenced nicknames.
Still a little confused? Don’t worry, you are not the only one confused, the evil spirits still haven’t been able to work this out quite just yet. Now that you know more about this quirky little bit of Thai culture, go out with those observant eyes and explore more!
From all of us at Chao Hostel, “Chok Dee Krub” (good luck)!