Phil Roeland

What's in a nickname?

Boom, Bomb and Bam Bam don't like Beer and Porn

Contrary to what some of you might think, this article is not about naughty, extracurricular activities, terrorism, the Flintstones or alcoholism. It's just about names.

Another title for this article could be "What's in a (nick)name? It's about Thai culture, especially the use and choice of Thai nicknames.

It's particularly interesting for people who are unfamiliar with the Thai situation. If you are already living in the Kingdom, you will know about it and maybe find it less interesting. I've tried to make it as entertaining as possible though.

Official names

Like most people, Thais have a name and a surname. Nothing special about that, one might think. Indeed, that's not really front-page news. What is unusual is the fact that they never use their official names.

The reason for this is quite simple: all Thai names are very long, complicated, and (certainly for farangs) quite unpronounceable. The different transcription systems to transform the unique Thai script into Roman characters make it extra difficult. The transcription for the /i:/ sound for example (as in sheep) can be 'ee' as well as 'ii', depending on the source.

Try pronouncing Kittisak Kittisopano, Kantathi Suphamongkon or Barnharn Sipa-archa correctly and without stuttering. Quite a task, isn't it? By the way, it's also virtually impossible for farangs (for the uninitiated, this is the Thai word for Westerners) to determine if those names belong to men or women.

Don't think I'm using extremely difficult names because I'm not. I just copied a few names at random from the Bangkok Post. Thank Buddha that they've found a solution to this problem.

Mom and Dad know best

Unlike people from other countries, all Thais have a nickname. Like first names, nicknames are chosen by the parents and the children will probably use them for the rest of their natural lives. Personally, I think a name is quite important. It identifies who you are. It's a part of you. I definitely wouldn't want to be called Basil, Boogaloo, Bespectacle or Gonorrhea (a quick Google search turned up these REAL first names!).

Now how do Thai parents choose these nicknames? Sometimes a nickname is just a short form of an official name. If your name is Jiraporn, you'll probably be called Porn (this is a frequently used Thai nickname and has got nothing to do with being able to perform in X-rated films, on the contrary).

Likewise, Sukanya can become Su or Ya. Or something completely different. More often than not, nicknames are unrelated to the official names. Scores of people go through life using popular nicknames such as Lek (meaning small), Noi (small) or Nok (bird). As these nicknames are chosen when you're just a kid, a girl named Noi isn't necessarily short.

This might seem an uninteresting phenomenon to most of you. I agree. Luckily for me, some people seem to have gone overboard when choosing a nickname, especially when using an English nickname.

Western influence

I don't know exactly why (probably because it's fashionable), but lots of Thais have English nicknames. And not just English names. Most of these nicknames are just English words. Sometimes quite ridiculous words really.

Whereas Belle and Beau are acceptable (especially if they belong to pretty girls), other nicknames are laughable. I wonder what the hell possessed parents choosing nicknames such as Boom, Bomb, Bambam or Beer (as mentioned in the title).

Other strange nicknames include Music, Stamp, Gift, Machine, Bumbim, Ice, New, Arm, Title, Benz (as in Mercedes?), On, Off, Pop, Ay (as in the letter A), Bee (this could be the insect or the letter) and Bird, just to name a few.

There are lots more, even more bizarre. Some of these might make sense in Thai, but others surely don't.


As you can see, some Thais go through life using the name of an animal. Sometimes in English, but often in Thai. I've met people with names like Gai (chicken), Kob (frog), Phueng (bee), Pet (duck), Muu (pig) and Luukmuu (piglet). Although they don't always resemble their nickname, the girl called Muu definitely had the face of a pig and the boy called Luukmuu looked like an overweight piglet (and had the brains of one).

The other kids often made fun of him in the classroom. I wonder why the parents chose that name. They just added insult to injury.

As far as I'm concerned, I haven't got a nickname yet. And if people ask I just tell them to call me Teacher.


Over my years I've heard some strange nicknames - Nokia, Sony, Ouan (Fat). But it does sometimes make it easier to remember names.

PS. I think I'm right in saying Boom means dimples

By John, Bangkok (7th September 2015)

Both my daughter and me, have Thai nicknames. I find it easier for Thais to assimilate you if you have a ชื่อเล่น "Chew-Len" or as the direct translation states "Name-Play"; nickname!

Actually my Thai chew-len is not really a Thai one but a Cambodian/Kamin one....but I really like it; rhymes with my name. My Thai teacher gave it to me when I was first learning Thai. After using it for years (+10) I'm sometimes temped to use in USA when asked what my name is....

Its a process of identification, becoming part of the HIVE, I admire that you also take an interest with Thai names.

By MorPhan, Las Vegas (4th September 2015)

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