Thai Culture: Thai names explained, why are they so long and weird?
This has to be the most frequently asked question from all my foreign friends. What’s with Thai names? Why are they usually so long, complicated, and hard to say? The funny thing about our names is that we find it hard to say it too. Let me start with a general background.
The Structure of Thai Names
Thais have first names, last names, and nicknames. We do not have middle names. Our nicknames have zero relations to our first or last names and they are usually westernized words. Let’s look at my name:
Surassa Fhaumnuaypol (Anna)
First name: Surassa
Last name: Fhaumnuaypol
You might ask, where the f*ck did Anna come from? The funny part about this is Thai nicknames are usually not related to the first or last names, they are just a made-up name given to a person usually by their parents. While first names are sometimes given for religious reasons and usually contain good meaning words. This explains why you’ll be seeing a lot of ‘porn’ in Thai names because ‘porn’ means blessings and well wishes.
It is also very normal to have known someone for a long time but never know their first names. I have a lot of friends that I have no idea what their first names are. You only use it for legal documents and formal stuff. In a daily conversation, it’s always the nickname that is used.
Why are Thai last names so long?
This is very interesting. In Thailand, family names are so long and unique because you are not supposed to have the same last names as someone if you’re not related. I find it so confusing to know that westernized people have the same last names like Smith or Jones all the time. Usually, if you have the same last names, you are somehow in some way related (like distant cousins). It is also so easy for people to create their own last names too. This is because of religious, and sometimes personal superstitious reasons. The process of changing a name is not complicated to do and Thai laws have made it possible and even easy to do it multiple times.
Interestingly, I’ve found out that it’s not common and even weird to change names in westernized countries and this concept of regular name change is confusing elsewhere. This might be the reason why Thais find it harder to get a visa or getting stopped at airport customs because of their name change.
So to answer the question, why are Thai names so long? This would be because people keep making unique names so that it’s not already taken by someone else. Usually, this requires adding more words making it longer. Another reason is again that of religious and personal superstitious reasons. People find putting certain words or even phrases necessary in their names and to make it sound nice it might need a bit of this and that added.
Why are Thai nicknames so random and weird?
This is the most fun part about explaining the weird nature of Thai names. The nicknames. They are so weird. I can list you all the weird names and it’s not even covering half of the crazy names I have encountered. There is a person named Password who has a brother named, guess what, Username.
Common male names are Book, Bank, Boat, Oat, Benz, Win, Golf and the list goes on. While common female names can range from animals like Penguin, Jingjo (meaning kangaroo in Thai), Nok (meaning bird in Thai) to fruits like Apple, Cherry, Som (meaning orange in Thai) and Pear. Oh, Pear. It is so common to be called Pear here. There are even a number names like One, Two, Three (sometimes Third), and Four. Another real-life example is of my friend whose name is Name, yes you read it right. And he has a twin sibling whose name is Nam, which means, guess what, Name in Thai.
But why? I wouldn’t say it’s because we have lower English literacy or the parents just lack the creativity but I think it’s just the meaning of the word. Like I stated earlier, Thai people take so much emphasis on the meaning of a word. Or even what the word symbolizes and represents. So, Book is a common male name because it symbolizes knowledge, intelligence, and academic excellence while Bank symbolizes wealth, money and affluence. Since so many people are named this way, it just becomes normalized and super common to have the other person named this.
Let’s go back to looking at my name:
Surassa Fhaumnuaypol (Anna)
First name: Surassa
My first name is Surassa which means this is a given name by my parents. I don’t even know what Surassa means but it’s just a combination of my mother and father’s name. My mother’s name is Charisa while my father is Surachai. ‘Su’ in front comes from my father and ‘sa’ at the back comes from my mother. The ‘ras’ in between is just a nice touch to connect both syllables. I was really hard to raise as a kid so my mother went to ask a monk about my name, the monk said there are too many ‘s’ sounds in my name. In Thai, that ‘s’ sound represents the sound of the tiger alphabet and it means I’m vicious (lol). So to make me a better kid, she has to change my name to something with less ‘s’.
Last name: Fhaumnuaypol
I always get asked how to say my last name. It is Fa-um-nuay-pon. Fa means sky, um-nuay means provides, and pon means success. My last name literally is the easiest and straightforward to understand. It means sky brings you success. As easy and simple as that. How did you get this last name? My grandparents created it. Yes, it only goes back to two generations. This is beause we are Chinese immigrants who moved before World War II from Mainland China and to assimilate, we create a Thai last name instead of using the Chinese last name like Chen.
Yes, my Chinese last name is Chen. This is very common in Thai-Chinese community. Sometimes they also contain their Chinese family name in their new Thai name. Like a person whose Chinese family name is Tung can create a Thai last name like Tungwatee.
Some people are not even aware of funny Thai nicknames when they know me because I have such a westernized name. But it’s not always that way. Initially, my name is Ant. Yes, like the little ant. Because I’m the youngest so I represent a little animal. But as I grew up, I became fat and my mother also feels like it’s more endearing to put ‘na’ in the back. So my nickname because ‘Antna’ . Of course, when I went to international school, Antna becomes Anna. So there we go, the story of my nickname. I was even told that my mom was going to nickname me America because apparently, that was where I was conceived (TMI, Mom).
My siblings also have very funny nicknames. My father’s nickname is On, my mother’s nickname is Oh, and my sister’s nickname is Oil. Yes, tell me about it. Actually, every family members have the letter O as the first letter for their nicknames. Oct, Oil, Ong, Anna. Yes, where does Anna come from? But I was supposed to be Ant, remember? Oct, Oil, Ong, Ant. It’s supposed to have a /o/ sounding, Ant in Thai has the same alphabet (อ) as the rest of my sibling’s nicknames so I’m not that much of a black sheep.
Thai names, there are difficult to understand and so prone to bullies. But isn’t it fascinating to know about this and learning about the culture of Thai people in the process? They take a great emphasis in superstition showing just how much we are in touch with religion and fate.
I hope this answers a lot of your questions and I had fun explaining this one. Let me know if there’s anything else you want me to explain about Thai culture. I am making a new series and I would love to have it keep coming!