Thai Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

  • Thai naming conventions arrange names as follows: [given name] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, Somchai THEERAVIT (male) and Parfun VAIYASINGHA (female).
  • The given name (or ‘personal name’) is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It is generally considered the most important aspect of a person’s name.
  • The ‘family name’ (or ‘surname’) is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s immediate family.
  • Thai names are traditionally patrilineal, whereby children inherit their father’s family name at birth.
  • Most women will take their husband’s surname upon marriage. For example, if Parfun VAIYASINGHA married Somchai THEERAVIT, she may be known as Parfun THEERAVIT.
  • The concept of a ‘middle name’ is not followed in Thailand.
  • It is common for Thai people to change their given name at any point in their life. One may do so if burdened by bad luck/ill health or to reflect a significant life change. 
  • People may also change and create a new family name, usually for religious or personal superstitious reasons. However, this is less common.1 


Names

  • Children are not always named immediately after birth in Thai culture. It is common for children to be given a nickname (see below) before their official name is decided. 
  • It is common for parents to consult with a monk, fortune teller, or other respected person in society in order to choose the most appropriate or auspicious name for their child.
  • Thai given names generally have a positive connotation in their meaning and may signify an aspiration for the child.
  • Common male names include Somchai (real man/man of worth), Somsak (worthy of honour), Arthit (sun). Common Thai female names include Malee (flower/jasmine), Anong (beautiful woman) Pornthip (divine blessing).2
  • Most Thai given names and nicknames are derived from one or multiple of the following languages: Thai, Chinese, Malay, Sanskrit, Pali, English and Japanese.
  • Surnames only became officially introduced to Thailand in the early 20th century. Therefore, many Thai family names are newly created and only two or three generations old. 
  • Thai law prevents people from creating a surname that duplicates that of another family. Therefore, Thai citizens have been made to adopt surnames that are longer and more complex in order to keep them unique (e.g. SONJOHNKOKSOONG). 
  • It is very uncommon for non-related people to have the same family name. If two individuals share a family name, it generally means they are related.
  • Examples of Thai surnames include SAENGSAWANG, CHAIMONGKHON, SUKPRASERIT, WONGSUWAN, NAMUANG.3


Nicknames

  • Most Thai people have a nickname (chue len), usually one or two syllables long, that is given to them at birth or in early childhood. 
  • These may be an abbreviation of a person’s real full name; however, they often hold no resemblance to their real name. 
  • Instead, they commonly relate to a person’s physical appearance or behaviour, their place of birth, or be based on an animal, fruit or flower, e.g. Nok (bird), Som (orange). For example, Parfun VAIYASINGHA may be known as ‘Nu’ (mouse).
  • Many Thai nicknames are derived from English words. They may be English sounding names (such as ‘Anna’) or more obscure words that are chosen for their meaning, e.g. Book (symbolising intelligence), Bank (symbolising wealth).
  • There is a traditional belief that nicknames protect children against jealous spirits. In some cases, a child may be given a particularly unflattering name to ward off spirits who might get jealous of a beautiful name.
  • Some Thai people may have additional nicknames given to them by friends or colleagues as adults or teenagers. 
  • Those people who interact in English-speaking contexts may adopt a Western name or Westernise their nickname to avoid confusion for those unfamiliar with the Thai language. For example, someone with the nickname ‘Jei’ may change it to ‘Joe’. 


Addressing Others

  • For many Thai people, their nickname is used more often than their real official name – to the point that friends or co-workers may not know their real full name.4
  • If a person introduces themselves by their nickname, it is expected that you address them that way.
  • However, it is expected that people use their official name in formal and legal settings.
  • Thai people generally address others using the title ‘Khun’ followed by their personal name, e.g. ‘Khun Somchai’. This is a non-gender specific honorific (equivalent to Mr/Mrs/Miss) used in most formal or professional settings or when addressing strangers. 
  • It is common to use titles based on a person’s occupation, e.g. ‘Kruu’ (teacher) or ‘Moh’ (doctor).
  • People may also address close friends and relatives using honorifics based on their gender, status and relationship to one another. For example, someone may refer to a younger male friend as ‘noong chaai’ (younger brother) and an older female friend as ‘pii saao’ (older sister). Such terms often indicate closeness and endearment.5 
  • Thai people always refer to and identify others by their personal name. It is incorrect to address someone by their title and surname (as is Western practice).


1 Fhaumnuaypol, 2018

2 LingApp, 2020

3 Forebears, 2021

4 Fhaumnuaypol, 2018

5 LingApp, 2019

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