Thai people objectively have the best names in the world. Thais get an official name, which is usually ponderous and old-fashioned, from the monks at the temple when they are born. This name is used on government documents and very formal situations. However, almost everyone in Thailand goes by their nickname. Thai nicknames, which range from comical to profound, are truly amazing.
A common trend among young parents today is to give their kids an English name, not like John or Sarah, but instead, an English word not commonly associated with people names.
For example, there are real Thai people named Cookie, Donut, Chocolate, Strawberry, Cream, Creamy, and Milk. There is a popular actress named Pancake and a famous singer named Nescafe whose music, at least to my ears, is the Nescafe of pop. However, one of her videos has 50 million views (and counting!) so what do I know?
Beer and Pizza are very common food-related nicknames too. Somewhere at this moment Beer and Pizza could be sitting down to enjoy a pizza and beer. This is a great country.
In researching this post, I talked to friends, asked for unusual names on Reddit, and took a deep dive into the comment sections on posts related to Thai nicknames. I learned that there are triplets named Newton, Nuclear, and Neutron, twins named Atom and Molecule, Nikon and Canon, iPhone and Nokia, Copy and Paste, Play and Pause, and the refreshingly minty, Tic and Tac.
The teachers know the best names because they work with a lot of young kids. There are students out there named Soccer, Penguin, Bubble, Pink, Game, Idea, Ball, Gift, Giftshop, Bouquet, and Cartoon, while others have names with more gravitas like World-Cup, Bible, Proud, Grand, Focus, Fame, Davidbeckham, and Obama. I am sure there are kids all over the world named after the 44th president. Thanks, Obama!
One teacher reported having not one, but four Ozones at her school. My wife’s school has three Jedis, a Dragon, and a Mafia. I think we can all agree that Jedi, Dragon, and Mafia are badass names.
Traditionally, Thai people are often named after beautiful Thai words. Fah, Ploy, and Nahm (Sky, Gem, and Water) are common girl names, and so is Porn, but not for reasons you might think. Porn, in Thai, means blessing. Imagine the awkwardness of being a teacher and shouting out Porn, Bubble, Pink, Creamy, Gun, and Davidbeckham during roll call.
Thai people are often nicknamed after animals. Kwaang and Nok, Thai for deer and bird, are two common names. Maeow, Thai for cat that sounds gloriously similar to meow, is a name for girls. I study Thai by watching youtube videos by Mod, or ant, and a man named Moo, or pig, adopted two of my kittens.
Although in the West we wouldn’t name our kids after a crustacean or rodent, Bpoo, Nuu, and Ling – crab, mouse, and monkey – are inoffensive nicknames for people. Just never, ever, call someone a hia (monitor lizard) unless you are ready to brawl. It is by far the most offensive word in the Thai language.
Meeting people named after English words or common Thai words is great for me since I’m not always the best at remembering names. The bartender at our local pub is named Thank You, and not only is his name memorable but saying it as we stumble out the door after a night of drinking is delightfully satisfying. “Thank you, Thank You!”
I met a man once who said, in the rhythmical doon doon doon doon-na doon noot of the 80’s song, “My name is Ice, like Ice Ice Baby,” I will never forget his name, which is good, but that song was in my head for a few days, which was not good.
Some names seem nonsensical, but there may be a story behind them. One woman said she was named Apollo because she was born when the Apollo 11 was launched, one man was named Stamp because he was born on World Stamp Day, and a boy in my neighborhood is named Fourth, because he is the fourth child. One woman named her daughter Ya, or pill, because she forgot to take her oral contraceptive and a mistake was made.
I met a man named Ford and read about a family who named their kids after the cars they drove at the time – BMW, Benz, Mercedes, and Jaguar. Mr. Ford, it seems, came from a slightly different tax bracket than the others.
My wife and I have picked up nicknames, at least amongst a small subset of Thai people. We once spent Thai New Year in rural Isaan with a family that spoke no English. They had great difficulty saying my wife’s name, so Kristi became Cee-Cee. No one could say Jeff, which was alternately butchered as Chepf or Jefbpf, so they just ended up calling me You, as in the second person English pronoun.
My Thai name, like nicknames in most cultures, came about organically. In Thailand, the nickname is who you are, and events that happen before you are born like your mother forgetting to take her pill or a good deal on a Benz, can alter your life forever.
I know you are dying to hear a song by Nescafe!
I watch Thai with Mod because she is a really good teacher and for no other reasons.
Do you know anyone with a great name or nickname? I’d like to hear your comments below.
Follow me on Facebook and Instagram.
I have photo prints available on my portfolio site.
Oh wow “You!”- you sure write well- this flowed and I enjoyed every paragraph – and cool that you harvested from reddit – I have done that before –
Who new porn meant blessing (and I think the reason Nescafé’s video has so many views might have to do with a bit of eye candy – but who knows)
Lastly – only story I have with names is I know someone with no middle
Name – and he is bummed out – it was – he got a first and last name – has nicknames – but I guess his parents were too Busy at the time??!!
I couldn’t complain that they called me You because I couldn’t remember anyone’s name either! Yeah, I think eye candy is part of the video. That song actually grew on me a little. Thanks for commenting!
Well, different cultures and words have different meanings….
And some Thai words have double meaning as I found out when I told my friend the menu had lots of prostitutes on it!
Haha, great post! I new someone called Latte and thought that was unusual but some of the ones on your post are amazing! Damn I love this place 🙂
Latte is kind of a pretty name, and I’m not at all surprised that there are Lattes in Thailand. Yes, this is a great country! Thanks for commenting.
Nicknames are a funny thing and the stories behind them can be even more humorous. I have known Socks, Hair Bear and my nickname used to be Lil Bit. (Most people think the ‘ch’ fell off). I’ve heard of Native Americans naming children after events which occurred during conception, like Running Deer or Moon Rising, but luckily, never heard of Broken Condom. Great post.
Lil Bit is a great name, especially with the ch deleted 🙂 Thai names I guess are like those Native American names in a way, but for the modern world.
Hahaha this post took me right back to Bangkok from my living room in Sri Lanka. Especially the video of Pancake singing. Those are pretty creative names I have to say…. and I do love how comprehensive your post is!
When we were in Laos, I befriended a handsome young monk who lived across the road from our guesthouse at the temple, his name was Elephant. And in Bali, almost everyone has the same name depending on their birth order… so there are hundreds of Wayans (first born) and so on.
And in Nicaragua nicknames are VERY common. But usually they have a humorous edge and are used in a very descriptive way. Like Fat Belly, or Long Nose, or Funny Man. To some I was known as Dog Lady, because I fed all the street dogs.
Dog Lady is a great nickname, and well earned! Thai people are much more likely to tell their friends they look fat, old, or darker, than we are in western cultures. Elephant is a majestic nickname. Since people have trouble with my name I sometimes say my name is Jet, which means 7 and is my lucky number.
Jeff what I most enjoyed was imagining all of your research! What a project and I have to say likely in the running for world records for lists of unusual names. When we were in Turkey each time I was introduced people would either try to stifle a giggle or just burst out laughing. Apparently Sue in Turkish means water. Unlike the Thai people the Turkish thought this to be the funniest thing they had ever heard.
No one would think twice if you said your name is water. And yes, quizzing my friends on funny names was good fun. I think Mafia might be my favorite, especially because his teacher says he is a very sweet boy and doesn’t live up to his name.
I wonder if his parents thought the name would protect him?
Maybe so. I wouldn’t mess with anyone named Mafia, or Dragon, or Jedi, or…
Enjoyed the Name Stories! I had no idea, and now know, why the Thailand kids that come for seasonal jobs never use their real names. Know I know the rest of the story!! Thanks for sharing! I hope you and Kristi are still enjoying Thailand, traveling, and doing well.
If they didn’t go by the nickname it would take all season to learn their names! Thanks for commenting and I’m glad I was able to enlighten someone 🙂
I’ve been teaching in Thailand for years now and I found myself nodding throughout the post. The best nickname (gosh, there are so many to chose from) for me came from a 14 year boy in Chiang Mai. He’s name is God. YUP. As it THE ONE. Who knew, right?
I do need to stress that Porn is a common name (or part of their longer name), but it isn’t pronounced as we would say it. Transliteration really is a bitch. Porn is really more like PON. So while we might get a giggle out of those signs or names, it’s not said PoRn. *cue Beavis and Butthead laugh*
God. What a great name. Hello, I am God. Our housekeeper is named พร but writes is as Porn in English when she leaves notes. It always makes me chuckle. As you say, transliteration is a bitch.
Thanks for the smile you gave me from this post. This was like a flashback to my past. I grew up with an older brother and it seemed that all his friends had nicknames – Mouse, Moose, Beaker, Nose, Coon, Bébite (I think this might be uniquely French-Canadian for an annoying biting insect like a mosquito). In fact, some of his friends I never knew their real names.
However, the Thai have taken nicknames to a whole different level. Personally, I’d be happy with a name like Cookie 🙂
Your brother’s friends had some great nicknames. I imagine there were guys whose real names you didn’t even know. Cookie would be a solid names, especially if your boyfriend was named Milk.
This is so true. One of the directors in my previous company was a Thai woman who, like other Thais, has a long and convoluted name. But everyone calls her Yelly, which is a lot easier to pronounce, although probably some people have their own perception about this nickname.
Yelly is a new one. I wonder if it has a deeper meaning? I know sometimes the names are just a sound they like.
I should’ve asked her while I was still working for her.
Yelly is a common Thai pronunciation of the word “jelly” (referring to the sweet colored gelatine dessert, not the bread spread, where we just group it up with jam). I think we pronounce it that way because during the age of imperialism we got a lot of influences from European countries that pronounces Js like Ys. (like in the words Jotunheim, Bjergsen, and Reykjavik)
Thank you for your insight.
Tickled Pink by this! 🙂
Pingback: Thai New Year in Isaan Year Two: The Triumphant Return | Planet Bell
Did you read my mind? God, I just googled “Why Thai people have silly English names?” 2 hours ago and here I am. You know I was even thinking about those hilarious names I have seen in Thai Dramas – Pup, Kite, Smile, Badz, Kyro, Mint, Apple and the most special on “Firstclass” I mean did they name their other two sons as “Businessclass” and “Economyclass?”. Hilarious. 😂😭😂
Firstclass is a great name. I’ll need to update this periodically as I get more names. I recently met a premier, but I am not sure that is as good as Badz or Kyro. Thanks for commenting and sharing those great names.