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Someone Named 'Rain'



SOMEHOW, MOST THAI people gain a nickname. Most of them, however, are given by a child's parents or close relatives soon after a baby is born. Children, of course, also have their 'given' names, but these are often used only on formal occasions since most of them are rather long. Nicknames, on the other hand, usually contain only one syllable, or sometimes two, Thais have learned that foreigners more readily remember their short nicknames and so they most often introduce themselves by these.

One thing you may notice about Thai nicknames is that most of them may belong to either a boy or a girl. This is also true of many more given names than in the West.

But how have the Thai obtained these names? Well, there is no systematic way of assigning nicknames, and the only people who will know the real truth behind a particular name may be the person himself and his or her mother, but usually, it has something to do with some characteristic the person has displayed as a child. Although some nicknames are more common than others, each child has somehow earned its own nickname by his or her special or peculiar qualities. One of a child's 'adorable' characteristics will be specially noted by a parent or relative who will spontaneously assign a name.

This nickname may have something to do with sound --- perhaps a particular sound the child makes repeatedly, a sound the child seems to like, or maybe simply a nonsensical sound that pleases the ear. Examples of such names include Ju, Jook, Da and O, none of which can be translated.

A nickname may reflect some physical characteristic of the child. If the infant is fat, for instance, it may lovingly be called Oun ('Fat'); if its skin is unusually dark or reddish, it may be called Dumm ('Black') or Daeng ('Red'); or if the skin is unusually light-colored, it may be called Khao ('White').

Many nicknames refer to the small size of a child: Noy (pronounced with a rising tone) and Legk both mean 'Small'. A nickname referring to smallness may, however, have nothing to do with the particular size of a child; it could simply be an endearment. An English equivalent might be "My sweet little angel", as used by a father for his favorite daughter; and never mind that she might be fifty pounds overweight.

Other nicknames refer to unusual characteristics of a child, such as its being particularly lovely (e.g. Su-ay, 'Beautiful'), smart (e.g. Geng, 'Clever') or mischievious (e.g. Gaen, 'Naughty').

Nicknames may also be borrowed from the names of things in the natural world. Small children have been called Ohng (a large water storage jar), Fohn ('Rain'), or Khai ('Egg').

Other children earn the names of animals that are considered cute or adorable by the Thai, or even various types of fruit its parents or relatives may associate with the new addition to their family. Thus some Thai children spend their youth being affectionately called Sharng ('Elephant'). Goong ('Shrimp'), Noo ('Mouse'), Gluay ('Banana'), or Ngaw ('Rambutan'). These animal and fruit names, especially, reflect the cultural differences between Thailand and the West. Who in the West would fondly call their child 'Pig' or 'Ass', 'Squash' or 'Jackfruit'?!

Other nicknames are the names of flowers or plants; and some, rather comically, refer to age, rank or a family relationship. A little boy might be called 'Grandfather' and a girl, 'Grandmother' : Taa and Yai, respectively.

Besides all the above considerations, there are some nicknames which are appropriate or not appropriate for a child depending on which day of the week he or she was born. But the explanations for these are too complicated to explain here. Instead, we offer some more examples of common nicknames in Thailand.

Age or Rank Levels
  • Mohm = Lady or Sir (as Titles)
  • Nong = Younger (Brother/Sister)
  • Puen = Friend
Physical or Unusual Characteristic,
or Endearments
  • Tia = Shorty
  • Bpom = Chubby
  • Yohng = Tall
  • Goi = Tiny
  • Gay = Handsome
  • Joi = Small
  • Pui = Sleepy
  • Joog = Top Knot
  • Orn = Soft
'Sound' Names (no meaning)
  • Tui
  • Taew
  • Gong
  • Jaew
  • Oyy
Objects or Things
  • Arng = Basin
  • Waen = Ring
  • Gaew = Glass
  • Marn = Curtain;
  • Sumlee = Cotton Fiber
  • Thong = Gold
Animals and Fruits
  • Nogk = Bird
  • Maew = Cat
  • Bped = Duck
  • Pla = Fish
  • Som = Orange
  • Oy = Sugar Cane
  • Som-oh = Pomelo
Flowers and Fruits
  • Turian = Durian
  • Bua = Lotus
  • Gu-larb = Rose
  • Fai = Cotton
  • Ging = Branch

**In pronouncing Thai, the tone of the word is often important. Three tones that are important enough that the word would take on an altogether different meaning if they were not used correctly are indicated beside the English transliteration of the nicknames shown. They are represented either with a line that curves upward, for 'rising tone'; a straight line, for 'high even tone'; or a line with downward curve, for 'falling tone'.

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