Facts about Thai nicknames
Have you ever asked your Thai friends for their names, and the answer you got was some names that sound strange and also are not their real first names? It could even be an English word. For example, in my case, I like to introduce myself as “New” and tell people that it’s my nickname. And here are some possibilities that I imagine going on in the heads of the people I talk to.
- “That is probably his English name that he made up when he came to the US.” I understand that many international students do that. But you’re wrong here.
- “That is probably the name that his friends named him due to some reasons.” I know that it’s a nickname. But you’re still wrong.
So, what is it?
The truth is every Thai person has a nickname! And it’s given by parents at birth! (Though, it could be changed later.) And we can be named literally anything, such as colors, English adjective words, animals, fruits, and etc. And 90% of the times, we use our nicknames. One occasion that we’re called by real names is when teachers teach many students and don’t have time (or don’t want to spend time) to ask students their nicknames. Obviously, using the names that are already printed on the paper is easier. Some other occasions that we use real names are when we have to do paperworks because, apparently, real names are official names. Besides those scenarios, when we’re asked for our names, the answer will usually be the nickname.
Why do you need a nickname then?
I’ve read an article that explains the reason behind Thai nicknames. It states that people in the past believed there are evil spirits looking for newborn children to take them away. And giving a nickname to a child somehow could baffle the spirits. The belief may no longer have an effect, but the culture is still perpetuated.
It’s one of the commonest Thai culture. And I’m somewhat surprised that it’s barely known by people in other countries. These don’t count the part that I feel slightly disappointed when people mishear my name, and it becomes “Neo.” Or if I don’t spell it out, many people would think that it’s “Nu.” I mean the latter one seems more reasonable. At least, they got the right pronunciation phonetically. Still, I don’t want to have a new name just because I came to the US. Otherwise, does it mean that I need a new name every time I go to a foreign country? I think name is an important part of a person. It could induce the cocktail party effect. It’s something that’s integrated into our personhood in a very profound way. So, next time you see Thai people, try asking their nicknames. They will be more than happy to tell you :)