I’m sure many others have written about this. The topic is just so hard to resist. I have wanted to write about Thai nicknames for a long time but never got around to… until now. I kept hearing weirder and weirder nicknames bestowed on the poor Thai kids—well, perhaps not all ‘poor’ in the sense they will hate their nicknames five years from now but I bet many will wish their parents were less into fads and had a little more foresight.
Start with a couple of names flashing under my radar lately:
วุ้นเส้น Wun Sen /wún-sên/ = vermicelli
แพนเค้ก Pancake = pancake (surprise!)
ขนมจีน Khanom Jeen /khà-nǒm jiin/ = lit. “Chinese snack” but actually refers to Thai noodles (don’t ask my why but that’s just how Thai noodles are called)
How on earth can anyone, even Thais, think nicknames like Vermicelli, Pancake and Thai Noodles are cute? (Erm, maybe I haven’t chosen the right picture of Pancake the Person to make my point. But… uh… yummy, I concede. B-but normal? Be honest and imagine people as noodles.) My English-speaking friends, imagine naming your kid Spaghetti and you should see my point.
The three names listed above (all nicknames of pretty young Thai celebs) are among recent additions to a galore of Thai nicknames that make you hungry. But they can’t compare with this one which is in a class of its own in astounding nicknames department. It made a screeching landing in my ear a few months back and crushed more than a few of my senses:
Yes, you got it! Airbus. This is a name of an actor’s baby boy (daddy’s nickname is nothing so exotic). Perhaps daddy has a dream for his boy—to be a high-flyer. And a really big one too. Airbus it is! (380 is the model I guess daddy had in mind.)
If you think naming a baby Airbus is absurd, I agree. But obviously at least one person thinks differently (that he is an actor is duly noted).
There’s a tradition—albeit a relatively recent one, a few decades old—of Thai kids being named after brand names or even generic (English) names of inanimate or previously animate objects. Here are some common girl and boy nicknames you might have heard of:
เบนซ์ Benz (girl, as in Mercedes Benz)
โคล่า Cola (boy, as in Coca Cola)
เป๊บซี่ Pepsi (you know, Coke’s rival, boy)
เซเว่น Seven (as in 7-Eleven, girl)
บอล Ball (boy, as in round object you kick or throw or hit in a game)
กอล์ฟ Golf (boy or girl, not exactly an object but I can imagine him/her as Ball’s sibling)
แบ๊งค์ Bank (modern masculine, boy, as in a place that keeps a lot of money)
โบ๊ต Boat (boy, water vehicle)
ปาล์ม Palm (boy I guess, as in the sturdy plant found in the tropics)
มิ้งค์ Mink (modern feminine?, girl, as in semiaquatic weasellike animal, or politically incorrect fur of this poor creature)
มิ้นท์ Mint (girl, a plant or extracted flavor thereof that’s considered refreshing)
If you have heard them often enough you might think they are normal nicknames like Thais do, I guess. But just imagine people calling you by some of these names and seeing the following images.
Gone are the days when Thai girls are nicknamed after cute, small animals and Thai fruits like แมว Maew (cat), นก Nok (bird), หนู Noo (mouse), ปู Poo (crab), ปลา Pla (fish), กวาง Kwang (deer), ต่าย Taay (rabbit), or ส้ม Som (orange), ส้มโอ Som-O (pomelo), ชมพู่ Chompoo (rose apple), มะปราง Ma-prang (Marian plum), แตงโม Taeng-mo (watermelon), องุ่น A-ngun (grape), etc. Okay, maybe you can’t really see nicknames like Orange and Grape adorable, or Crab and Fish cute and cuddly, but they seem to be all those in unique Thai sensibility.
The Thai concept of “cute animal nicknames” includes not only animals you can eat but extends further to amphibians, insects and other creatures that you may not want to see on your dinner table (but sometimes do appear on some dinner tables), like เต่า Tao (turtle), กบ Kob (frog), ลูกอ๊อด Luk-od (tadpole), มด Mod (ant), จิ้งจก Jingjok (house lizard), จิ้งหรีด Jingreed (cricket), etc.
This small sample should give you some idea about the Thai taste in cuteness. Non-Thais may think this set of nicknames pretty strange, but I can assure you, they are so “normal”. Even “passé normal.” So 1970s passé normal.
Long, long gone are the days when Thai kids were named after—gulp—basic colors. Towards the end of the 20th century sophisticated Thai parents snickered at the old way of naming kids ดำ Dam (black), แดง Daeng (red), or เขียว Khiew (green). In their way of thinking anyone who would inflict such old-fashioned and unimaginative nicknames on their children likely have not been exposed to the Thai modern way of life. But for modern parents still fond of colors, they have found a way to update the old tradition. Dump Dam, Daeng and Khiew. Enter พิ้งค์ Pink and บลู Blue—“cute” English colors, not the uncool Thai colors, mind you.
Similarly you won’t see many Nok’s among Thai girls under 20, but you’ll see many a boy or man named Bird. Not quite sure how or why, but the Thai nickname “bird” has evidently gone through a sex change. (My first suspect would be “P’ Bird” Thongchai McIntire, the pop singer superstar.) Fruit nicknames, on the other hands, stay pretty much on the feminine side but the Thai fruits have also predictably given way to farang fruits, like แอปเปิ้ล Apple, เชอรี่ Cherry. I saw บลูเบอรี่ Blueberry on the list at thainickname.com but I’m not able to confirm that the trend has gone that far—yet.
Readers feeling semantically abused by this paragraph might wonder: haven’t Thai parents thought of more normal Western names, if they were going to adopt them anyway? Indeed, there are some normal Western names Thais have adopted that might soothe your senses—a little. You might find many Thai women and girls named Anne (แอนน์) and May (เมย์), and many Thai men named Joe (โจ) and Jay (เจ). And there are Tom (ทอม), Ken (เคน), Joy (จอย), and, ahem, Mark (มาร์ค). But you’ll also meet Bam (แบม), Bee (บี), Beam (บีม), Boy (บอย), Bom (บอม)—or is it Bomb (บอมบ์)? (WomenLearnThai also had a Thai nickname post by Rikker in 2009. Worth checking out.)
So you see, before you can take a long breath the Thai nicknames drag you back to the realm of weirdness and attack your sensibilities with unlikely English words “trendy” Thai parents have chosen to bestow on their children. Many more of them like these:
เบียร์ Beer (perhaps daddy, or less likely mommy, couldn’t decide on the most favorite brand of beer to name the baby boy so went with the generic name instead to cover all possibilities)
ออยล์ Oil (never occurred to me to ask a girl by this name I once knew if it was the cooking oil or petro her parents had in mind)
ฟลุ๊ค Fluke (this should qualify as child abuse – really an unkind joke on the poor boy or girl branded as a living evidence that mommy and daddy failed at planning)
เวฟ Wave (I guess this is a boy’s name, though not quite sure if it’s the popular Honda motorbike model, shortened from microwave, or water or radio wave)
โน้ต Note (this I can understand somewhat, mommy and daddy have musical aspirations for their boy – though why not for a girl I’ll never know)
กีตาร์ Guitar (this I can not understand – why not wait until the boy or girl grows up and get him or her the real instrument)
เปียโน Piano (ditto – I can imagine the parents’ desire to see a kid as a future world-famous concert pianist, but I’d hate to break it to them that naming a baby after a grand musical instrument isn’t going to make the child a musical prodigy)
อาร์ม Arm (I suppose it refers to the upper arm, as it’s a boy’s name – upper arm is manlier than the lower arm, no?)
น๊อต Knot (perhaps some kind of reverse voodoo psychology to make the child an expert at solving knotty problems, or maybe it’s “not” without the “K” which will be even higher concept than I can take)
However weird these may seem, it could certainly be worse. Think of the possibilities! Thai boys and girls named Leg, Elbow, Armpit, Head, Ear … in families with a human anatomy fetish; or Flute, Drum, Clarinet, Whistle, Jingle, etc. in musically inclined families. (I have a nagging suspicion there is a Flute or two in Thailand. I would bet my lunch on it.) And for adventuresome families into vehicles or moving objects, hard as it may be for anyone to imagine, there can be worse nicknames than Airbus. Think just plain Bus (I really did see this on a nickname list!), Bike, Taxi, or Tuk-tuk (come to think of it, all these may already exist). If there are Thai kids called Boat, Helicopter and Porsche out there, the day you run into Bungee, Formula One, F18, or Airship may be nearer than you previously thought.
Really, I can kind of appreciate Thai parents giving their children sweet-sixties names like Sky (in Thai [Fah: ฟ้า] or English) and Water (น้ำ), or scientifically clever ones like Atom (อะตอม) and Ohm (you know, that electrical resistance unit with this symbol Ω). These at least have something special about them.
But naming one’s offspring after some brand names (exclusive or ubiquitous), mundane inanimate objects, public and private vehicles, food, drinks, and confectionery, I just can’t see how that’s pleasing… I mean, aren’t parents supposed to make their kids feel uniquely human? What purpose does naming a kid “Boat” serve? Surely not to make him float on water? What if he cant’ swim? That’s just one problem with one Thai nickname. If you have nothing better to do you can pick any of the nicknames above and list how each can make a kid’s life miserable. But then you’d be thinking too logically. I must say I don’t see many Thai people, kids or adults, making much of these nicknames I think are weird. Maybe I’m the weird one in Thai society. (That thought has crossed my mind quite a lot lately.)
I tweeted about Airbus when I first heard of that nickname. Many Twitter friends joined in and shared the funny Thai nicknames they had heard of. We joked that there might be a kid named Facebook somewhere. Guess what, Facebook was being suggested as a name for some baby on a web board. Somebody knew a young man named Google (whose parents must have been very early adopters of the Internet). I bet my money that there are a couple of Thai babies called iPhone or Blackberry already in existence or being made right now!
But I have not lost hope (that I’m not the only weird one). I believe there are some Thai youth out there who think like me. For all we know there could be some ill-adjusted Thai teenagers called Xerox or Fax, Modem or Netscape, brooding in their rooms right now, wishing their parents had been less techno-savvy and more sensible about nicknames.
Please have mercy on your beloved children before you give them a “trendy” nickname, Thai parents! Please, if not for your kids’ sake, do it for Nickname Gods’ sake!
There are still more exotic Thai nicknames on my list so I guess I’ll have to write Part 2.
Share exotic Thai nicknames you have heard and I’ll include them in Part 2. Thanks.