The crazy world of Thai nicknames

Just about every Thai person has a nickname by which they are known informally, given to them by their parents at birth. The pervasive use of nicknames in this way apparently comes from the old belief that evil spirits ( ปีศาจ, bpee-sàat ) are constantly on the lookout for newborn children to snatch away and control. The spirits are apparently easily fooled though, as just the use of a nickname instead of a normal Thai name confuses them and helps to keep the child safe.

This is not a widespread belief nowadays of course, but nonetheless the use of nicknames remains widespread in Thailand. So much so that it’s not uncommon to know someone for years and still not be entirely sure of their real name and surname (unless it’s on their Facebook page!)

The nicknames given may be a contraction of their real name, but most often Thai parents take inspiration from a wide variety of other sources instead.

One common source of names is from your how you are at birth, including your appearance, size or whether you’re the first child.

  • Bum
  • บุ๋ม bŭm Dimpled
  • Daeng
  • แดง daeng Red
  • Lek
  • เล็ก lék Small
  • Dam
  • ดำ damBlack
  • Nit
  • นิด nít Small
  • Muay
  • หมวย mŭay (A light-skinned female of Chinese descent)
  • Noi
  • น้อย nói Small
  • Som
  • ส้ม sôm Orange
  • Pui
  • ปุ้ย bpûi Plump
  • Tee
  • ตี๋ dtĕe(A light-skinned male of Chinese descent)
  • Toi
  • ต้อย dtôiTiny
  • Uan
  • อ้วน ûanFat
  • Neung
  • หนึ่ง nèungOne
  • Yai
  • ใหญ่ yàiBig
  • Song
  • สอง sŏngTwo

Of course, how you look as a new-born baby and as a grown adult are completely different. The nickname often sticks though, even if it no longer has any meaning.

Animals

Another common source is names of animals, or even from the sounds animals make. This tradition is also related to protecting the newborn child from the spirits, as calling the baby as if it were an animal was thought to be an effective way of tricking the spirits into leaving it alone.

  • Aod
  • อ๊อด ótTadpole
  • Mot
  • มดmótAnt
  • Aud
  • อู๊ด óot(From the sound of a pig)
  • Nok
  • นกnók Bird
  • Hong
  • หงส์ hŏngSwan
  • Non
  • หนอนnŏn Worm
  • Jeab
  • เจี๊ยบ jíapBaby chicken
  • Nu
  • หนู nŏo Mouse
  • Kai
  • ไก่ gàiChicken
  • Pet
  • เป็ด bpètDuck
  • Kob
  • กบ gòpFrog
  • Pla
  • ปลา bplaaFish
  • Kung
  • กุ้ง gûngShrimp
  • Poo
  • ปูbpooCrab
  • Maew
  • แมว maewCat
  • Seua
  • เสือ sĕuaTiger
  • Mee
  • หมี mĕeBear
  • Tai
  • ต่ายdtàai (A shortened form of “Rabbit”
    กระต่าย gra-dtàai
  • Meow
  • เหมียว mĭeow (From the sound of a cat)
  • Takkataen
  • ตั๊กแตนdták-gà-dtaenGrasshopper
  • Moo
  • หมูmŏoPig
  • Tao
  • เต่าdtàoTurtle

Foreign Words

English words also provide a fertile source for Thai nicknames. While some are taken straight from English names, like Jack ( jàek ), others take inspiration from more unconventional sources. Say, food or technology…

  • Apple
  • แอปเปิ้ล àep-bpêrn
  • Bank
  • แบงค์ báeng
  • Beer
  • เบียร์ bia
  • Beam
  • บีม beem
  • Cake
  • เค้ก káyk
  • Benz
  • เบนซ์ bayn
  • Cream
  • ครีมkreem
  • Bomb
  • บอมบ์ bom</span<
  • Ice
  • ไอซ์ai
  • Bonus
  • โบนัสboh-nát
  • Itim (from “ice cream”)
  • ไอติมai-dtim
  • Fiat
  • เฟียตfîat
  • Jam
  • แยมyaem
  • Ford
  • ฟอร์ดfôt
  • Mint
  • มิ้นท์mín
  • Gear
  • เกียร์gia
  • Milk
  • มิลค์min
  • Gift
  • กิฟท์gìf

 …or leisure activities, or letters of the alphabet.

  • Art
  • อาร์ต áat
  • A / Ay
  • เอ ay
  • Ball
  • บอล bon
  • B / Bee
  • บี bee
  • Cartoon
  • การ์ตูน gaa-dtoon
  • J / Jay
  • เจjay
  • Film
  • ฟิล์ม fim
  • M / Em
  • เอ็ม em
  • Game
  • เกม gaym
  • O / Oh
  • โอ oh
  • Golf
  • กอล์ฟ góf
  • Q / Kiw
  • คิวkiw
  • Guitar
  • กีตาร์ gee-dtâa
  • R / Ah
  • อาร์ aa
  • Joke
  • โจ๊ก jóhk
  • X / Ek
  • เอ็กส์ èk
  • Ping Pong
  • ปิงปอง bping-bpong
  • Y / Wai
  • วาย waai

If some of the above seem unlikely choices for a name, others can be even more eccentric. It seems like any impressive-sounding foreign word is suitable for using as a nickname, so there are Thais out there with nicknames of “King Kong” คิงคอง king-kong , “Laser” เลเซอร์ lay-sêr , “Vegas” เวกัส way-gàt , “Chocolate” ช็อคโกแลต chók-goh-láet , “Nasa” นาซ่า naa-sâa and the like.

Most of the above names can be used for either gender, but most are more common for one gender than the other. The names of small animals and of food and drink are mostly female names, whereas names of leisure activities and technology are mainly male names.

Some people are actually named after their gender – Chai (ชาย chaai ) “male”, Ying
(หญิง yĭng ) “female” and Num (หนุ่ม nùm ) “young man” are all also common Thai nicknames.

Below are further examples of names that are either gender specific, or much more commonly used for that gender compared to the other.

Female Nicknames

  • Chompoo
  • ชมพู่ chom-pôo Rose Apple
  • Nam
  • น้ำ náamWater
  • Dear
  • เดียร์
    dia (From English)
  • Noy Na
  • น้อยหน่า nói-nàaSugar Apple
  • Dao
  • ดาว
    daaoStar
  • Ploy
  • พลอยploiGem
  • Fah
  • ฟ้าfáa Sky
  • Praew
  • แพรวpraew Sparkling
  • Fai
  • ฝ้าย
    fâai Cotton
  • Sai
  • ทรายsaai Sand
  • Fon
  • ฝนfŏn Rain
  • Tan
  • ตาลdtaanSugar palm
  • Kay
  • เก๋
    găy Stylish
  • Tip
  • ทิพย์típ Divine
  • Maem
  • แหม่มmàem From English “Ma’am”
  • Tukta
  • ตุ๊กตาdtúk-(gà)-dtaa Doll

Male Nicknames

  • Big
  • บิ๊ก bík (From English)
  • Pon
  • พล ponArmed forces
  • Boy
  • บอย boi(From English)
  • Pop
  • ป๊อป bpóp(From English)
  • Chai
  • ชัย chai Victory
  • Ton
  • ต้นdtôn Leader
  • Ek
  • เอก àyk Main / most important
  • Tong
  • โต้งdtôhng Big
  • Jom
  • จอม jom Peak
  • Top
  • ท็อปtóp(From English)
  • Kla
  • กล้าglâa Brave
  • Wat
  • วัตwát Religious duty
  • Pat
  • พัด pát Blowing wind
  • Yut
  • ยุทธ yút Strategy
  • Pete
  • พีท pêet (From English)