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Thai nicknames

Up until as recent as 1913 it was not a legal requirement for Thai's to have a surname only using one name for identification. Thai's now have a formal name registered at birth and following western convention a first and family name conforming to proper standards. Amongst the native Thais are Chinese immigrants which make up about 14% of the population. Some wish to change their short surnames such a Tang or Wong to something more Thai sounding, perhaps to feel more part of the Thai culture, the reason for this is unknown.

The procedure is to submit five different surnames to the register of births to a maximum of ten characters. The law in Thailand forbids identical last names to those existing anywhere else in Thailand. The selected names will be checked on a database to see if the surname is duplicated and unique. A family's name cannot be duplicated in Thailand this means that if two people have the same surname they must be related. After one month of searching, if there is no duplication of one of the five names, submitted then the name can be used as a surname.

This has become a serious problem for the authorities due to the high demand for surname changes by immigrant Chinese. Applicants have to try to create a surname with a low chance of duplication. Many Thai names have links to Chinese origins Tee and Mauy show that person to have derived from Chinese decent. Thai's with short surnames are usually of native decent, Thai's with longer surnames are generally of second generation Chinese decent.

All babies born in Thailand and small children are also given a nickname or "Chuu len". by parents, grandparents or other members of the family. These nicknames or Chuu Len translated into English meaning play name, generally have no correlation with the registered formal name. Unlike western society where it is a common practice to shorten a boy's name from Peter to Pete or Susan to Sue for example.

Thais have a very relaxed attitude to names and is a reflection of Thai culture. The nickname is used extensively amongst friends, at home, close relationships, and social gatherings, the formal name not being used. Often a nickname is given to an individual based on looks (for example a very common nickname for a girl is "Noi" meaning little because at birth she may have been small) some Thais believe that using a babies real name might well draw attention by evil spirits. A Thai's nickname can reveal a considerable lot of information about an individual, a number based nickname such as "Nueng" meaning one would imply a first born child or "Aek" meaning first or "Song" meaning two would be a second born child. Normally a nickname will stick with a child into adulthood and for an entire lifetime.

On your visit to Thailand you will often hear the following nicknames for girls, Lek, Noi, Nit all meaning small or To, Yai meaning big. Sometimes animals, birds and fish are used as nicknames, chang-elephant, kai-chicken, kung-shrimp, Meow-cat, Nok-bird, Plaa-fish Poo-crab. Taking someone named "Gop" meaning frog could mean as child they may have had a fear or aversion to frogs, the permutations of nicknames are endless.

Asking a Thai lady her name is a good starting point to an enlightening insight into her background, once you have established the English translation. The nickname is also a good conversation opener. However! everyone will be happy with whatever nickname they have and will have no desire to ever change it.