‘Chue Len’ – Just For Fun!

A nickname in Thai is a ‘chue len’.  Chue means name’ and len means ‘play’.  Every Thai person has a first name and a nickname aka chue len. Parents give their children a chue len in addition to a formal given name.  In 80% of cases the chue len is a single syllable (or worn down from two syllables to one). Informal names begin at birth and may continue in use to the extent that one may have to check the legal registration to find the formal given name.

Occasionally, the chue len is a shortened version of the first name, but more often it is completely unrelated. The first name is used only in formal situation, or outside personal life; for example during business transactions. In informal cases, the chue len is commonly used and even used to introduce oneself to a new friend.  Many may never discover the person’s formal name.

Some common nicknames would translate into English as words meaning small, fatty, pig, little one, frog, banana, green, or girl/boy. Though rare, sometimes Thai children are given nicknames after the order in which they were born into the family (i.e. one, two, three, etc.). Nicknames may be bestowed upon a child based on the interests, hobbies, likes or occupations of their parents or a variety of other reasons.

Nicknames are useful because official Thai names are often long, particularly among Thais of Chinese descent, whose lengthy surnames stem from an attempt to translate Chinese names into Thai equivalents, or similarly lengthy Sanskrit-derived names.

Additionally rumor has it that the reason for the nickname is based on the superstition that using the true name of a baby will draw the attention of evil spirits, especially when it is said that the baby is cute or beautiful. This is why Thais may say that babies are ‘ugly’!  Names given after things with low value may convince evil spirits lurking in the vicinity that the child is not worth their attention.

Sometimes these names seem a bit silly, but the person can be known by this name all through adulthood, regardless of how prestigious a level they have reached.  For instance, one long term Prime Minister of Thailand, Plaek Phibunsongkhram, was nicknamed “Strange” because as a baby he looked somewhat odd.  So while the PM met with world leaders on the most important issues of the world, his staff always referred to him by his nickname.  The current Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, is known by friends and associates by her nickname “Crab” (Pu).

Names about Food

Sometimes, a nickname for a Thai is about food.  One of the most popular nicknames for a boy is Wun Sen, or vermicelli.  Maybe this is for an extra skinny kid.  Khanom Jee, or Chinese Noodles, is another popular name.  Pancake is popular for girls and perhaps not always appreciated later in life when they try to emphasise their shapely figure.   However one of Thailand’s most popular and beautiful screen actresses in known as Pancake, so that gives the name a bit of credibility.


Names about Branded Products

Another famous Thai actor named their newborn son Airbus, as in the jumbo jet commercial airplane.  Maybe he planned on having his kid grow up to be a pilot or at least do a lot of traveling.  We know of one set of parents who named their kids with the names of cars; BMW, Mercedes Benz and Jaguar.  It was said that the name came from whatever car the father was driving when they were born.

Other brands used in Thai nicknames include the popular Fiat (the little Italian car), or Cola (as in Coca Cola) for a boy, Pepsi (Cola’s rival), Beam (as in the American whiskey) and Seven (as in 7-11) a common girl’s nickname.

Names about Animals and Plants

Palm (the sturdy tropical plant) and Mint (with the fragrant leaves) are pretty common, but the girl’s name Bird (Nok) must be the most popular Thai nickname of all.   Many Thai girls are named after cute or cuddly little animals or the sweetest fruits; names like Cat (Maew), Mouse (Noo), Deer (Kwang), Rabbit (Taay), Frog (Kop), Orange (Som), Pomelo (Som-O), Rose Apple (Chompoo), Marian Plum (Ma-prang), Watermelon (Taeng-mo), Grape (A-ngun).  Or since seafood is so well regarded in Thailand, many girls are known by the name Fish (Pla) or Crab (Poo).  Sometimes the sound of animals goes into a nickname, like Jip (tweet like a bird’s sound).

For foreigners it’s not wise to think of a Thai person’s nickname in terms of the connotations or attributes of the translated name in a Western culture.  What is a derogatory name for you may not be so in Thailand!  In some cultures in the world, being called a Pig is certainly not complimentary.  But in Thailand, pigs are really cool, and many boys carry the name Pig (Moo).

OK – Here Are Some Outrageous Ones (to a Western Ear)

To contradict this approach, we still sometimes like to have fun, contemplating English translations for Thai words.  For instance, every Expat in Thailand knows a few girls with the popular name of Porn, which in English is about a very naughty form of adult entertainment.  However in Thai this is really about a more wholesome blessing!


Then there are those Thai boys that go through their whole life with the nickname of the Thai green pumpkin, Fuk.  Or the Thai lad known as (a) Prik (chili, pepper).

How about the famous Thai football player by the name of Terdsak?

Our only advice to these people is that in Thailand, ‘mai phen rai’; but consider the likely reaction of others when travelling out of the country!

What is Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander!

We can have a chuckle or roll around on the floor in hysteria over how some Thai nicknames translate into English, but it also works the other way around.

Take the common name Jim.  Englishmen in Thailand by that name may introduce themselves as Mr. Jim. All the Thai people will break up, because ‘Jim’ (or Gym) translates to a slang word for Vagina.

Then there was a person by the name of Mr. Hamilton that cut his name down to simply “Ham”, which in Thai is slang for the male penis.

An English teacher I heard about who wanted to speak very slowly to be understood shouted out “Quiet” whenever the noise level got too much.  But in his slow speaking way, he would shout:

Q U A I- Y E T.                         Unfortunately quai (kwai) translates to buffalo and yet translates to a four letter word for fornication.  His proclamations would almost bring the house down with laughter from the students.

Footnote: You’ll may find that if your usual name ends in an ‘ee’ sound, such as Jimmy or July, it’s the ‘ee’ sound that will be emphasised by Thai speakers.  So you may be called jimEEE or julEEE

That’s your problem not theirs, you’re in Thailand!

SOME EXAMPLES OF POPULAR THAI NICKNAMES – With a ‘Loose’ English translation!

A = First born
Ae = Young
Ami = Daughter
Amm = Sister
Ann = Stout
Ao = Soothe
Aoi or Aoy = Sugar cane
Aom = Sweet Natured
Aree = Kind
B = Second Born
Bia = Seedling
Boo = Grandfather
Bor = DragonFly
Bua = Lotus
Bum = Blossom
Bun = Merit
Chang = Elephant
Da = Eye
Daow = Star
Dee = Good
Deng = Red
Duan = Moon
Dum = Black
Fah or Faa = Sky
Fon = Rain
Gaen = Naughty
Gaew = Glass
Gail = Old
Geng = Clever
Ging = Branch
Gob = Frog
Gung = Prawn
Gwang = Deer
Jai = Heart
Jeab = Chick
Jen = Cool/Cold
Jin(tana) = Imagination
Jit = Heart
Jula = Kite
Kad = Market
Kai = Chicken
Kan = Scratch/Itch
Kek = Cake
Keow = Green
King = Ginger
Kratae = Chipmunk
Kulap = Rose
Kwai = Stupid/Buffalo
Kwan = Beloved
Lamyai = Longan…it’s a small fruit…very tasty
Lek = Small
Leung = Yellow
Ling = Monkey
Maew = Cat
Mai = New
Make = Cloud
Mali = Jasmine
Mam or Mem = Madam
Manee = Diamond
Mod = Ant
Monn = Ball
Moo = Pork
Muang = Mango
Muk = Pearl
Nah = Rice Field
Namfon = Rainwater
Nang = Lady
Nat = Power of Goodness
Nee = RunAway
Neung = Eldest child in family
Nid = Tiny
Nim = Gentle/Soft
Ning = Quiet
Noi = Little
Nok = Bird
Nong = Younger
Nu, Nuu or Noo = Mouse or Rat
Nuan = Face powder
Nut or Noot = Junior
Onn = Polite/Well behaved
Orn = Soft
Oun = Fat
Ot = Tadpole
Pair = Raft
Ped = Duck
Pet = Diamond
PharLap = Lightning
Phueng = Bee
Pie = Bamboo
Pim = Type/print
Pla = Fish
Pom = Chubby
Pong = Powder
Poo = Crab
Poom – Lovable
Porn = Blessing
Pui = Plump or Sleepy
Pun = Apple
Sai = Sand
Sao (Sow) = Young Girl
Som = Orange
Sumali = Flower
Taeng-Mo = Water Melon
Tee (toowee) = Buffalo
Thai = Freedom
Tik = no meaning
Tim = Ruby
Ting = Kitten
Toh = Big
Toy = Tiny
Tui = Push
Tuk (ta) = Doll/Cuddly toy
Tum = Cave
Waan = Sweet
Wat = Temple
Wee = Brush/Comb
Woon = Cloud
Wun = Day
Yai = Big
Ying = Female
Yoo = Whirlwind
Yui = Divine Gift
Yuk = Giant