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Steamed Rice » Blog Archive » What’s in a (Thai) Name?

What’s in a (Thai) Name?

This morning I went to court in the capacity of administrator for my deceased cousin’s estate. Yes, it�s not a pleasant task. Some of the long-time readers know that she died tragically at 21. I had planned to post about it, but decided that it was better to forgo the whole endeavor. Anyway, I went to court accompanied by the attorney representing the estate. There I met our judge and also opposing counsel. The point of this story is that both opposing attorneys and the judge had one heck of a time pronouncing my surname and my cousin�s.

It was like a tragic comedy of sorts. I had to repeat the names several times and had to explain creative ways of saying them. I even had to write my name down for the court reporter. Actually, I think my name is pretty short for a Thai name. As those who know me realize, the last syllable of my name is not pronounced in Thai and is a reflection of its Pali-Sanskrit origins. However, the Romanization has every syllable there to be pronounced. I don�t blame anyone for mispronouncing my name, I just wish they�d take a few seconds to look at it and break it down by syllable; that would make it much easier, I think.

Despite this, I like my Thai name. Yeah, it�s kind of cool to be Asian in the US and not be a Nguyen, Lee, Kim, Park, Wong, Wang or a Suzuki, but the coolness factor drops off when you need two Scantron sheets to bubble in your last name on a standardized test. A reflection of our �Land of the Free� origins, some Thai people just take liberties to spell the English versions of their names the way they wish. Here�s something that some of you don�t know: My name is not spelled in English the way it was given. The name came down by some royal �decree,� for lack of a better word, (as did many other common surnames) and had a prescribed English spelling. For instance, the second �u� in my name is really supposed to be an �a�. Hmmm, looks a bit more Indian when you do that, doesn�t it?

So, after this little experience with the names, I decided to go around and copy some Thai surnames found on the websites of various Thai student organizations around the country. Some of these names because of their length are more like curses on this side of the Pacific, I think. For those who are not familiar with Thai surnames, take a look and see if you can pronounce these names. Make sure to wipe the spittle from the corners of your mouths when you�re done trying. K? (I think some of these people might get a kick out of doing Google searches on their own names only to end up here.) What do you think these names mean? [And, no, my real name's not in this list.]

Rattanapaibooncharoen
Kovithvathanaphong
Sirikantraporn
Pipoblabanan
Laotaveerungrueng
Kitwiwattanachai
Leekanchanakoth
Manowaluilou
Apisarnthanarax
Tithiphontumrong
Vithayachockitikhun
Rudjanakanoknad
Pattanaporkratana
Seemamahannop
Poonyagariyakorn
Jaru-Ampornpan
Siriratsivawong
Tinnakornsrisuphap
Sakulyanontvittaya
Ngamsuriyaroj
Suksawat-Na-Ayudhya
Jearanaisilawong

22 Responses to “What’s in a (Thai) Name?”

  1. Commander Plaza Says:

    (iadmit) your name is much easier to say than the ones listed.

  2. Guinness Says:

    YOu forgot the famous name, Boom-boom-yum-yum.

  3. Victor Says:

    I think Boomboomyumyum is of Cambodian origin.

  4. S.Chang Says:

    I remember how some of my teachers and various other school administrator would have a hard time pronouncing these last names.

  5. S.Chang Says:

    And no, Boom Boom Yum Yum isn’t of Cambodian origin, but thanks a lot for the ignorant mumbo jumbo.

  6. Victor Says:

    Boom boom yum yum is a joke that references one of my past entries about child prostitution in Cambodia. For pedophiles touring the country, boom-boom meant intercourse while yum-yum referred to oral sex. Just so you know the context.

  7. Fatima Says:

    I was so excited to graduate college. I couldn’t wait to walk up to the podium to recieve my diploma and hear my name across campus but of course my last name Rangsiyawong was mumbled out in disaster, I felt horrible. By the way I need info. on the meanings of Thai surnames.

  8. Victor Says:

    I had to say my name three times to the announcer before he got it right. I think the key is in splitting up the name into two, and telling the speaker to do it syllable by syllable.

    As for the meaning of Thai surnames, you’d probably need to look into figuring out the Pali-Sanskrit meanings. Many are derived from those languages, although there are a few straight up Thai surnames like “Maiklad” or “Lumyai.” However, those aren’t as “cool” as the Pali-based ones. Some Chinese-Thais have long surnames that have very overt meanings in their names as they were chosen when patriarchs arrived from China. For your name, I’d take it that the -wong suffix means family, but you probably already know the meaning. My best advice is to find someone who knows the etymology of Thai words. They’ll surely be a big help with deciphering surnames.

  9. Udre Says:

    What surname is Mahoutas ?

  10. Udre Says:

    What I mean is what ethnicity uses the surname Mahoutas ?

  11. Victor Says:

    I don’t know. Indian maybe?

  12. k Says:

    is there a website to find out what ure first mane means in thai? i didn’t even know this surnames had a meanning.

  13. Victor Says:

    I don’t know of any in particular. You might want to take a look at sources that can tell you about the Pali language from which many Thai surnames are derived.

  14. Kane Says:

    Day for day I surf around in net to meet interesting people and international places.
    It’s great to see that it really works.

  15. suztang Says:

    i googled “thai names” at 3 in the morning and found someone else who knows what it’s like to carry one a thai name. mine BARELY fits fully on my credit card. it really is a curse of wretched inconvenience. in college, the mailclerk in my dorm rejected ALL my mail because no one writing to me couls spell it correctly. as if fuzzy logic could not have enabled mail delivery to my room. Speaking of college, as it was explained to me by one of my professors (one whom I affectionately referred to as “Ajarn”), Thai last names were assigned to ethnic Chinese in the 1930s during a wave of Thai nationalism, anti-Chinese backlash. Racism was the motivation for mass assimilation. Oh boy, I felt so jolly when I learned this ball and chain of a name (that’s only been in my family for 3 generations — we used to be Chan) had its sordid origin in hate and oppression. Greeeeeeeeeeeeat. So screw it, I’m marrying a Wu.

  16. Victor Says:

    What’s worse is that I was also awake and at the computer when you did your Google search.

    If your name was given in a wave of Thai nationalism, then you’re not really beholden to keep it, are you? You should just change it to something shorter, more overtly Indian and that’s mellifluous in its anglicized pronunciation. Just a suggestion.

    I’m not partial to Wongs, Wus and what not. Too many people with those names. But of course, I’m not Chinese. I really like “Ramananda” as a hypothetical last name. I have a thing for Pali-Sanskrit-derived names. For a long time, I’ve also liked the name “Kenny Rogers,” but that’s another story.

  17. Chris Says:

    I understand. I’m half Thai, half irish. Becuse of the Pali-Sanskrit origins, my name sounds Polish, russin or some kind of middle europe. Not many people have goten my name right.

  18. Elizabeth Says:

    I used to know someone names Bhanita Sittebol (but I’m sure I’ve got the spelling wrong) who was from Thailand - is that a common surname?

  19. Victor Says:

    I think that back in the day when Thais were just beginning to have surnames, there was a strong preference against having the same surnames for unrelated individuals. Therefore, today if someone has the same surname as someone else, they’re likely to be related. That also means that it’s difficult to identify a “common” surname for Thai people in general.

  20. Andy Says:

    Hey don’t feel bad I have a simple English surname and not one person has pronounced correctly they have been close but not one person in an English speaking county has pronounced it correctly. So when you think about all the people that can’t take the time or put in the effort to learn to pronounce your surname just remember that people can’t even pronounce a simple English name.

  21. wannee Says:

    what does kaengsian mean?

  22. Jeraporn Åkerlund-Wheble Says:

    Hello,

    I was adopted by Swedish parents but my Thai-name is Jeraporn (first name).

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