I am a ‘confused’ child in Thailand.
Language confusion. Culture confusion. Confusion of
smile the 13 smiles. Not only that, I am also confused with Thai names!
“Someday, everything will make perfect sense. So for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, be strong and keep reminding your self that everything happens for a reason.” John Mayer
Back home, I was told that I am good at remembering names. I remember the names of people I met many moons ago. But it’s a struggle here, with good reason.
#1. Unlike Western, Chinese, Malay, or even Vietnamese, surnames are unique here. Thai law does not allow two unrelated families to have the same surname. Not only that, the surnames are generally long and difficult-to-pronounce tongue twister. There are 67 million population. I wonder how many Thai surnames are out there given that there is supposed to be one and only per family.
These are some of the surnames – a mix of Thai politician and celebrity:
Amarttayakul| Chakrabongse | Charoenpura | Hiranyawongkul | Lerwisetpibol | Panjayawat | Pibulsongkram | Phichitamphon | Reungkitthiya | Tienphosuwan | Sakuljaroensuk | Shinawatra | Suriyawong | Watcharatrakul | Yodkamol
#2. Given name comes in two: real name and nickname. Good things (names) come in two? Parents give (real) name, and also nickname to their newborn child. The nickname stays with the child until adult. Narak jang ley (soooo cute), you’ll be called Boy, Nu (means mouse), etc till adulthood. During the school years or even in office, some of them are given new nickname by their friends.
In Thailand, nicknames are used more than given name (first names). You even address your clients by their nicknames! “Dear Khun Nu (Mouse) …”
Most Thai people use nicknames that have got nothing to do with their real names. So even if I can remember their nicknames, I have difficulty remembering their real given names.
Took me a while to match someone’s nickname to their given name, especially for business purpose. Business email address for example, are created with given/family name. So remembering the nickname doesn’t help at all.
I remember clearly a regional client asking about the name of a local client. I can only remember the nickname, and these nicknames are not recognized / registered under organization structure (especially the international version)! Plain weird. Like as though I don’t know the name of a person that I liaise with regularly.
See examples below of given name and (nick name), and again these are examples of Thai politician and celebrity:
Araya (Chompoo) | Kasideech (Beem) | Kwankhinee (Meiji) | Patchrapa (Aum) | Pansak (Ong) | Savika (Pinky) | Thanida (Da) | Taankai (Bua) | Taksaorn (Aff) | Thongchai (Bird) | Woranut (Noon) | Yingluck (Pu)
One syllable or two is easy right, but remember that Thai is a tonal language? So if you pronounce it off, you might still get the name wrong.
In most countries, a Michelle is a Michelle, or Mich in short. Chinese names for example, more often than not ‘what you see is what you get’, unless if they add Christian name. Tan Yee Ling, let’s say is the name. And she goes with Michelle as her Christian / ‘English’ name .. so you either call her Michelle or Yee Ling.
For Thai, D being my first ‘real’ Thai friend … his real name is Pravich Vutthisombut, and he goes with Vich. Easy peasy. His family calls him Pong (means protection), a childhood nickname that stays until now. So he can be Pravich (or Vich in short) or Pong (for mainly family and relatives). Bless him for keeping things simple.
Thai people face the same problem as foreigners. They might not even know someone’s real name until many years later. So, at least it’s same-same problem for both local people and foreigners.