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.


The weirdest ones I ever had, and they were consecutive on the name list, were FukFuk, Alan, Keith. Al and Kezza were full Thais too.

Some nicknames are specific to particular sexes. Fruit and flowers are 99% female, though you would have to know the Thai names for fruit and flowers to know that. Some have funny sounding names in English but are understandable in Thai, anything with Poo (Poopah, Poobase) relates to hills (Phu) or crab (Bpoo). A current trend is for football related names, such as Midfield, UEFA, FIFA, and "The Kop". Im not a fan of that.

By Rob, Bkk (18th December 2021)

Hello Philip, you gave me my first real job in Thailand, due to Covid I am now looking for another job. I am still here 14 years later thanks to you and I just saw your writing here by accident while job hunting. I am happy to see you are still around and would like to thank you for all you did for me and all you have done for the teaching community here over the years. Your fridge still works ! My favourite student name is Jedi, guess his parents like Star Wars.

By James M., Bangkok (13th December 2021)

You missed the whole naming kids scary / random / odd things to keep the ghosts out of the crib.

Once taught a very handsome luk kreung boy in a /9 class. The school had a bit of a name but anything about /7 was throwaway and above /9 probably should have just stopped at M3 and got jobs fixing AC.

Anyway...his name was RETURN. Explain that one mom...

Have a few other funny ones but I'm too lazy and on my third bourbon.

Lots of farang teachers cling to nicknames.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (3rd December 2021)

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)

Post your comment

Comments are moderated and will not appear instantly.

Featured Jobs

Pre-school Teacher

฿90,000+ / month


Full-time and Part-time Literacy / EFL Teachers

฿48,000+ / month


English Conversation Teachers

฿35,000+ / month


Economics, Business, GP and Maths Specialist

฿65,000+ / month


PE Teacher for Grades 7-12

฿59,000+ / month


NES English Language Teachers

฿600+ / hour


Featured Teachers

  • Barry

    Australian, 59 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Bugana

    South African, 23 years old. Currently living in South Africa

  • Elisa

    Italian, 40 years old. Currently living in Italy

  • Adryan

    Indonesian, 44 years old. Currently living in Indonesia

  • Simelane

    Swazi, 26 years old. Currently living in Swaziland

  • Mislanao

    Filipino, 36 years old. Currently living in Philippines

The Hot Spot

Will I find work in Thailand?

Will I find work in Thailand?

It's one of the most common questions we get e-mailed to us. So find out exactly where you stand.

Air your views

Air your views

Got something to say on the topic of teaching, working or living in Thailand? The Ajarn Postbox is the place. Send us your letters!

Teacher mistakes

Teacher mistakes

What are the most common mistakes that teachers make when they are about to embark on a teaching career in Thailand? We've got them all covered.

The Region Guides

The Region Guides

Fancy working in Thailand but not in Bangkok? Our region guides are written by teachers who actually live and work in the provinces.

Contributions welcome

Contributions welcome

If you like visiting and reading the content, why not get involved yourself and keep us up to date?

Need Thailand insurance?

Need Thailand insurance?

Have a question about health or travel insurance in Thailand? Ricky Batten from Pacific Prime is Ajarn's resident expert.

The cost of living

The cost of living

How much money does a teacher need to earn in order to survive in Thailand? We analyze the facts.

The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

Many schools ask for demo lessons before they hire. What should you the teacher be aware of?