Cultural difference / Language / Thailand

Say my name, say my name

Bangkok’s official name is the longest place name in the world. English pronunciation: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

If you happen to know me in person and if you are not Thai, chances are at one point you probably think of me as the girl with a long, crazy last name. Let’s be honest – how many times do you get to meet someone with a last name longer than ‘Charassuvichakanich’? Exactly.

For many years, I used to be very self-conscious about my cryptic name. While some girls may want to get married so that they could put on a perfect wedding dress, I, on the other hand, wanted to get married so that I could kiss my lengthy 19-letter Charassuvichakanich goodbye and be known as Mrs. Smith or something equally short and sweet.

As cumbersome as it is, I developed an organic appreciation for my last name as I grew older. Being the last Charassuvichakanich in Thailand (tentatively) makes me feel pretty unique. People might not be able to remember my name, but they sure can recognize who I am. Potential employers remember me because my last name certainly sticks out from the resume pile. What more can I ask for when jobs nowadays are scarcer than oil?

Before I sound anymore self-absorbed, I figure I should share with you some interesting tidbits about Thai names. Unlike most parts of the world, people who share the same last name in Thailand are somehow related (and therefore we don’t have a middle name because we don’t need one). As Thailand’s current population size is around 63 millions (2009 estimate), Thai people were forced to unleash our creativity and crank out original last names. By the time my grandparents emigrated from China to Thailand in the early 20th century, a lot of shorter last names were already taken by mainstream Thai people. My grannies had to be really creative and ended up getting slightly carried away crafting our legendary last name. This appears to be the case with most Chinese people who emigrated from the southern China to Thailand around that period. Chinese-descendant Thai last names are almost always longer than mainstream Thai last names.

Because a lot of Thai last names are extremely long, we don’t refer to people by their last names in a daily setting. They are there for record keeping and to help people figure out whether they are related. The latter turns out to be a very convenient and effective way to help people judge whether someone is a somebody or a nobody according to how high-profile his/her last name is. This is an extremely annoying, backward concept deeply rooted in Thai society that is not going to go away anytime soon.

Since Thai last names aren’t very functional and our first names are mainly for business purposes, we often go by our nickname among family and friends. Thai nicknames are anything but boring since a lot of them are straight up weird by western standards. Some of popular Thai nicknames have meanings equivalent to: Cloud, Star, Fish, Blue, Cat, Bus, Crab, and Frog. (“Hi, my name is Frog.”) We also borrow English words and convert them into Thai nicknames. Examples: One, Two, Bank, Jackpot, Bomb, Joy (my nickname, actually), Ball (I’m not kidding.), Joke, Coke, Benz, and Porsche (“Porsche’s not home. Where did he go?“).

Last but not least, if you see the word ‘porn’ in a foreign-looking name, like SompornPornpan, or the best yet – Kittyporn – these are certainly Thai names. It’s not that these people are unloved children or anything; no matter how kinky it sounds in English, it is nothing but auspicious in Thai as พร or ‘Porn’ means blessing.

So since 2009 is winding down, I would like to use this opportunity to wish you a Thai-style, porny new year. Yes, I did write this out loud. Now take it or leave it.

P.S. The content of this blog entry was inspired by Miss Falconer Robbins who spent a good hour listening to me babbling away about Thai names and expressed a particular interest in the ‘porn’ part.

9 thoughts on “Say my name, say my name

  1. i used to hate my name so much when i was a kid. but i guess you know by now that hatred didn’t last too long. i end up loving it too much nowadays. it’s pretty funny for most people asking me if i am a half farang (western) or anything farang-related prototype, in which pretty much people can see i am clearly a chink. and i am yet proud. yes i agree, name is the brand. it is important. this should be one of my most favorite posts from you napat. keep it up.

    ANDWHATELSEISTHERE

    SHOP

  2. Nice post. And glad to discover your interesting blog.

    I also have a strange name by American standards, so growing up there I can relate to the name loathing that comes with the awkward younger years. But I came around to my name, too, in late high school. Now I consider it a critical part of me.

    Living in Thailand, white people ask me about it all the time. Thais never do, of course. :)

    Rikker Dockum
    ริกเกอร์ ดอกคำ
    Weird Name Club Honorary Treasurer

    • Thanks for visiting, Rikker. I am impressed at how you translate your Western last name into a Thai one. Have you considered lengthening it for the full effect?

  3. Never considered lengthening it, but it took me a while to settle on that spelling (now it’s official — it’s on my daughter’s Thai passport and birth certificate).

    For a while I used ดอกกะหล่ำ, though. That always got a laugh. Now I have to take myself more seriously. :)

  4. You rock that name Napatra! I too learned to love the fact that I am required to spell my name for people roughly 2035435 times a day. I’ll never take another name! :)

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