Thai name

Thai names follow the Western European pattern of a given name followed by a family name. This differs from the family-name-first patterns of Cambodia, Vietnam, and East Asia. Thai names (given and family) are diverse and often long. The diversity of family names is due to the fact that Thai surnames are a recent introduction and are required to be unique to a family. Additionally, while given names are used for official purposes and record-keeping, most Thais are also given a nickname at birth which they use in their daily life, including at school and in the workplace. In many social situations, the nickname takes precedence over the real name.

Thai given names generally convey positive attributes, and a number of Thai people change their given names frequently (and their family names less frequently, as it requires permission from the head of a family or, in the case of children, father and mother). This practice is virtually unknown in most countries outside of marriage. Besides standard reasons of separation and divorce, many name changes are done to get rid of bad luck (which, if caused by a ghost or spirit, would confuse the malignant entity, allowing the victim to get free from them).

For centuries, inhabitants of Thailand, formerly known as Siam, did not have surnames. They identified themselves by referring to their parents given names or the place they resided. The Siamese government started recording data on its citizens during the reign of King Rama V (1868–1910). The data recorded consisted of birth dates, dates of death, and household members. It was difficult to distinguish between citizens as many shared the same name. In 1912, two years after the King Rama VI ascended to the throne, he declared that a birth, death, and marriage registration system would be instituted in Siam. Everyone had to bear a surname to identify themselves properly. In 1913, the first Surname Act was promulgated.[1]


Last names became legally required of Thai citizens in 1913 with the passing of the Surname Act 1913.[2][1] Until then, most Thais used only a first or given name. Thai surnames are often long, particularly among Thais of Chinese descent. For example, the family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is of Chinese descent, adopted the name Shinawatra ('does good routinely') in 1938. According to the current law, Person Name Act, BE 2505 (1962), to create a new Thai surname, it must be no longer than ten Thai letters, excluding vowel symbols and diacritics.[3] The same law also forbids the creation of a surname which is a duplicate of any existing surnames, however there are some duplicates dating to the time before computer databases were available to prevent this.[4] Some creations incorporated the name of their location (muban, tambon, or amphoe) into their surnames, similar to family name suffixes.[5][6][7]

As a measure of the diversity of Thai names, in a sample of 45,665 names, 81% of family names were unique and 35% of given names were unique. The people with shared family names are related, and the diversity of given names is conventional.[8]

Official surnames

Formal surnames were a 20th-century innovation of Sandhurst-educated King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, r. 1910–1925).

The "Surname Act of 1913" decreed that "married woman can bear her husband's surname or keep her maiden name" (Clause 6 of the act). A woman's right to choose her surname ended in 1941 with the passage of the "Personal Name Act 1941". The law forced women to use their husband's surname after marriage (Clause 13). The Personal Name Act of 1941 was revised in 1962. The 1962 law allowed a divorced woman to resume her maiden surname (Clause 13 of the "Personal Name Act 1962"). A widow could keep her husband's surname or could revert to her maiden surname (Clause 14). The Personal Name Act 2002 gave a married woman the right to use her maiden name or assume her spouse's surname. She has to choose one or the other when the marriage is registered. A couple also has the right to use a different surname.[1]


Informal names are awarded at birth and may continue in use to the extent one may have to check the formal registration to find a person's given formal name. Thais typically address one other by nicknames (Thai: ชื่อเล่น; RTGSchue len). Bestowed by relatives or playmates in early childhood, these are commonly one syllable (or worn down from two to one). These may often be nonsense words or humorous and seldom relate to the registered name except in cases where it is a diminutive, such as Nok for Noknoi, or 'bird' from 'little bird'. All Thais have such names; they are freely used in everyday life. Some may have additional nicknames bestowed by friends or colleagues, especially during school or adolescence. Nicknames may link with a notable physical feature or behavior. In everyday life, a Thai is introduced by nickname and others may not know the person's formal name. When so introduced, one usually continues to use the nickname.

The evolution of Thai nicknames dates back to the Sukhothai era, when names were used to mark the order of children. Nicknames such as Ai, Yee, and Sam designated children as 'one', 'two', and 'three'. Later, in the Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods, children began to be named for physical attributes, such as Daeng ('red') or Uan ('fat') or for desirable items such as Thong ('gold'). Conversely, unflattering nicknames such as Mah ('dog'), Moo ('pig'), or Gop ('frog') were employed to keep malign spirits from coveting the child. King Mongkut (Rama IV) (1804–1868) stimulated interest in naming babies in accordance with astrological principles as outlined in the ancient scripture, Namtaksapakorn.[9]

During the time of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (1897–1964), gender-based naming was introduced. Names ending in "-sak", "-chai", and "-yot" were for male babies, "-porn" or "-sri" for females. In the 21st century, assigning nicknames still relies heavily on astrological beliefs, but also in keeping up with current naming fashions. Observers have noted such modern nicknames as "Porsche", "Mercedes", "Benz", "Man U", "Big Mac", "Internet", and "Google", among others.[10]

King Bhumibol Adulyadej's nickname, for example, was Ong Lek (Thai: องค์เล็ก; Ong is a numerative noun for kings, princes, princesses, priests, images of Buddha, gods, angels, palaces, pagodas; lek means 'little (one)', a common name for younger siblings).[11] Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's nickname is (Thai: แม้ว; RTGSmaeo), Thai for the Miao people. By way of example preceding formal naming, Plaek Pibulsongkram's childhood name meant 'strange'. He later adopted as a surname what was originally an award for academic excellence and generally known in public life by the shortened form Pibun. Thailand's first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is nicknamed Pu 'crab' (ปู; Thai pronunciation: [pūː ]).[12]

Forms of address

In the past, different words were used to address men and women. Nai (นาย) or Ay (อ้าย) were used before a man's given name. Am daeng (อําแดง) or Ii (อี) were used before a woman's given name. A man named Somchai was addressed as Nai Somchai or Ay Somchai. A woman whose name was Somsri was addressed as Am daeng Somsri or Ii Somsri. There was no law concerning this matter, it was purely a matter of custom.[1]

In 1917, Rama VI declared a new law, the "Form of Address for Woman Act, 1917". The act mandated a new form of address, Nangsao (นางสาว) ('Miss') for women who were unmarried (the wording used in the act was "woman who has no husband") and Nang (นาง) ('Missus' [Mrs.]) for women who were married ('married woman or woman who has husband'). Once a woman married, she had to use the address Nang before her given name for the rest of her life even if she divorced or widowed. This form of address applied to commoners, not to women in royal or noble families.[1]

In 1921, the king proclaimed the form of address for girls. He specified that that "girl" meant a female under 15 years old; they were addressed as nangsao, as were females older than 15 years of age and unmarried (meaning 'married to a man').[1]

The Form of Address for Women Act 2008 mandates that married or divorced women can choose to use either Nang or Nangsao before their given names. It gives a married woman the right to change all her documents (ID card, driver's license, bank account) to include the title Nangsao before her given name.[1]

Today, in polite speech, Thais address each other by a given name, preceded by the courtesy title khun, particularly with persons of higher status or public distinction.

Royal and noble names

East Asian monarchs often adopted regnal names upon ascending the throne, as was done in Thailand until the present day. In addition, subjects of a monarch may be awarded both a title and a name, such as in the case of Sing (or Singh) Sinhaseni (สิงห์ สิงหเสนี) who was awarded the title of Chao Phraya and the name of Bodindecha (Thai: เจ้าพระยาบดินทรเดชา.)

Kings Rama I and Rama II were awarded noble titles and names before they assumed regnal names, which were then changed by subsequent kings. As neither noble titles nor names are necessarily unique, it is customary to list the highest title and awarded named first, followed by former names and titles (and personal and family names in parentheses) as needed.


According to the Chicago Manual of Style, Thai names may be indexed depending upon the individual practice. Often they may be alphabetized under the given name with no comma or inversion, but they may also be alphabetized under the surname with a comma and with an inversion.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Shigetomi, Supaporn (2014). "Marriage and Marriage Registration in Thailand" (PDF). Kanda Gaigo Group. Kanda University. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  2. ^ Baker, Christopher J.; Phongpaichit, Pasuk (2009). A History of Thailand (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-521-767-682.
  3. ^ รศ. ดร.นิตยา กาญจนะวรรณ. เรื่องของนามสกุล (๑) (in Thai). Royal Institute of Thailand. Archived from the original on 2014-12-28. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
  4. ^ รศ. ดร.นิตยา กาญจนะวรรณ. เรื่องของนามสกุล (๒). Royal Institute of Thailand. Archived from the original on 2014-12-28. Retrieved 2014-12-28.
  5. ^ สุวรรณ ทำเสมอดี (1995). นามสกุลชาวโคราช [Surnames of Korat people] (in Thai). Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2014-12-28. ในจังหวัดนครราชสีมาหรือโคราชนั้น นิยมตั้งนามสกุลตามภูมิลำเนาที่เกิด หรืออยู่อาศัย ใช้ชื่อตำบล อำเภอ และหมู่บ้านเป็นส่วนท้ายของนามสกุล
  6. ^ "อำเภอโนนสูง" [Non Sung District]. Ministry of Culture (Thailand). Archived from the original on 2014-12-28. Retrieved 2014-12-28. ชาวอำเภอโนนสูง ส่วนใหญ่ จะมีนามสกุล ลงท้ายด้วยคำว่า "กลาง" ซึ่งเป็นชื่อเดิมของอำเภอ เป็นส่วนใหญ่ ซึ่งเป็นเอกลักษณ์ของชาวอำเภอโนนสูง เช่นเดียวกับอำเภออื่น ๆ ในจังหวัดนครราชสีมา ที่นิยมลงท้ายนามสกุลด้วยชื่ออำเภอ.docx icon.svgDOC(in Thai)[dead link]
  7. ^ ต้นตระกูลไธสง (in Thai). Archived from the original on 2014-12-01. Retrieved 2014-12-28.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  8. ^ 45,665 Thai names: Examining passlist.96 Archived 2008-02-26 at the Wayback Machine, by Doug Cooper
  9. ^ Wongsantativanich, Mingkwan (2013). "What's in a Name?: An Analysis of English Nicknames of Thai People" (PDF). Humanities Journal. Kasetsart University. 20 (Special Issue): 133–166. ISSN 0859-3485. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  10. ^ Pongpipat, Kaona (2016-11-02). "What's in a Name?". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  11. ^ Crutchley, Roger (2016-10-02). "Introducing Fatty, Piggy and Mrs Frog" (Opinion). Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  12. ^ 'ปู'ปัดบินฮ่องกงพบพี่ชาย ไม่รู้'สมศักดิ์'อยากร่วมรบ. ["'Pu' denied flying to Hong Kong to see her brother, not knowing Somsak's joining coalition"]. Thairath (in Thai). Bangkok. 2011-07-08.
  13. ^ "Indexes: A Chapter from The Chicago Manual of Style" (Archive). Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved on 23 December 2014. p. 28 (PDF).

External links

  • Peansiri Vongvipanond (2009-09-27). "Linguistic perspectives of Thai culture". This paper was presented to a workshop of teachers of social science organized by the University of New Orleans (Summer 1994). Thai Lanuguage Audio Resource Center. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-05.

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