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.
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