Cambodian Culture

Naming

Most people's names generally follow Cambodian naming conventions. However, some Cambodians may change the arrangement of their names to suit English-Western practices (see below). Chinese and Vietnamese Cambodians may also follow different naming customs respectively (see the Chinese and Vietnamese cultural profiles for more information).

 

Naming Conventions

  • Cambodian names are generally arranged as follows: [SURNAME] [given name]. For example, SOTH Sopheap (male) or THAN Thravy (female).
  • The given name (or ‘personal name’) is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It always comes after the surname.
  • The surname is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s
  • It has become most common for Cambodians to give their children the same surname as the father – similar to English-Western naming practices.1 For example, CHEA Soth and THAN Thravy may name their children CHEA Sopheap and CHEA Polin instead.
  • Chinese and Vietnamese Cambodians also tend to share a family name that is passed through all generations.
  • However, some Cambodians may have a traditional ‘patronymic’ as their surname, whereby children inherit their father’s given name at birth. For example, in the name SOTH Sopheap, ‘Soth’ is their father’s personal name.
  • A patronymic surname is different to the western notion of a ‘family name’, which is shared by all generations within a family. For example, while SOTH Sopheap may share the same surname as his brother (SOTH Polin), his father (CHEA Soth) and a mother (THAN Thravy) have different surnames relating to their own parents. 
  • The concept of a ‘middle name’ is not followed in Cambodia.
  • Cambodian women generally do not change their name at marriage. 

 

Westernising Cambodian Names

  • Cambodians living in international or English-speaking contexts may reverse the arrangement of their given name and family name to suit English-Western naming conventions: [personal name] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, SOTH Sopheap may be known as Sopheap SOTH
  • Married Cambodian women may adapt to English-Western naming practices by using their husband’s family names. For example, if THAN Thravy married SOTH Sopheap, she may be known as SOTH Thravy.

 

Names

  • Cambodian names are often derived from one or multiple of the following languages: Khmer, Chinese, Sanskrit and Pali.
  • Given names often have a poetic meaning or symbolise a positive virtue, e.g. Virak (brave).
  • Many Cambodian given names are non-gender specific. However, females tend to be given names with more feminine or gentle connotations, e.g. Bopha (flower), Chantrea (moon).2
  • Examples of common Cambodian surnames include SOK (សុខ), CHAN (ចាន់), CHEA (ជា), SEANG (សៀង), KIM (គឹម).3
  • Many Cambodian surnames are derived from Chinese words, such as LIM (Lin 林), SENG (Chang 常).4

 

Addressing Others

  • Cambodians generally address people using the titles “Lok” (Mr.) or “Lok Srey” (Mrs.) in most formal/professional settings or when addressing strangers.
  • One uses a title followed by the person’s full name (e.g. Lok SOTH Sopheap), or by the given name alone if wishing to be more casual (e.g. Lok Sopheap).
  • It is rare to refer to someone by their surname alone, as this is their father, grandfather or ancestor’s given name and may be considered impolite.5
  • Cambodians generally address friends and family according to relationship or age, followed by their given name. For example, someone may address SOTH Sopheap as ‘Ta Sopheap’ (grandfather Sopheap), ‘Pu Sopheap’ (uncle Sopheap) or ‘Bong Sopheap’ (brother Sopheap) depending on their age relative to the person. Women are referred to as ‘Yeay’ (grandmother), ‘Ming’ (aunt) or ‘Bong Srey’ (sister) respectively.
  • People may address one another using their given name alone (without a title) when addressing those of similar age and social status.

 

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1 Queensland Health, 2011
2 Pang & Cheng, 1998
3 Forebears, 2021
4 Fong & Chuang, 2004
5 Mony, 2008

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