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There are seventy-two different languages spoken in Thailand. However, Thai surnames stem primarily from the Thai and Chinese. However, names from Arab languages and other Asian influences are also found. The Thai language was initially known s Siamese, and the country was called Siam. If you’ve ever seen the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, which is set in Siam, they are referring to what is modern-day Thailand.
Siam is believed to stem from the Sanskrit word "syama" and might mean dark skin or brown skin. Other theories state it comes from an Indian dialect meaning land of gold. Or possibly from a langue native to Thailand and means land of strangers. Whatever the case, it wasn’t a name used by the people living there, and in 1939 the country adopted the name Thailand which means free land or land of the free.
Thai last names are unique and weren’t used until the 20th century. In 1913 King Rama VI decreed that all people must adopt a surname. The law states that no families could have the same last name.
Thai culture does not use middle names, and while a person’s given name may be assigned at birth by their parents, they may also use nicknames until a name is decided upon. It is common for Thai people to change their name if it has brought bad luck or to signify a meaningful life change or event.
Because Thai people in the early 20th century were allowed to choose their surname, they often chose names with significance and meaning to them as a person or family. Family names are typically passed down in a patrilineal fashion from father to child, and women often take their husband’s last name when they marry.
Shorter family names are likely to belong to people native to Thailand, while longer last names are probably from immigrants who arrived after the start of the 20th century. Because of Thailand's unique surname laws, there are not many popular Thai last names.
If you become a permanent resident of Thailand or a Thai citizen, you must select a unique last name, or if you marry, you can adopt your spouse’s surname. Because of Thailand's naming laws, new last names pop up occasionally.
Since a surname can only be used by one family, you are less likely to find many common surnames that are widespread. However, over the last one hundred years, families have branched out; some could be considered more common last names than others. For example, there are approximately 90,000 people each with the last names Saetang, Chen, and Saelim. However, the average surname is only shared by 28 people.
Thai Origin Surnames and Meanings
- Adulyadej - Incomparable power.
- Ayutthaya - Unconquerable or invincible.
- A-wut - Weapon.
- Boonmee - Capable, reliable, generous, loyal.
- Bun Ma - One with luck.
- Chaidee - Kind. The word Chai stems from Chinese and Hebrew and means life or tea. Many variations of Thai last and first names use Chai as a prefix.
- Chaichana - This name likely means winner or victorious.
- Chaiya - Victory.
- Chakrii - King.
- Charoen - To flourish or advance.
- Charoensuk - To prosper or increase with delight.
- Krungthep - A regional name. Krungthep is an area of Bangkok.
- Makok - A place name in Thailand.
- Ngam - Beautiful.
- Noi - Bird.
- Ratanaporn - Crystal blessing
- Rattanakosin - Derived from the Chakri Dynasty.
- Saengkaew - Crystal light.
- Shinawatra - Routinely does good.
- Soikham - Necklace of gold.
- Somsri - Honor, sacred, or glory.
- Srisuwan - Splendor or golden.
- Suwannarat - Gem, jewel, or gold.
- Tham-boon - Gloriously blessed person.
- Thong Di - Two possible meanings for this name. First, it could mean one with white teeth. Or, it could mean good gold.
Common Thai Last Names of Chinese Origin
- Chen - Break of day, morning.
- Huang - Yellow. Huang Di is considered the father of the Chinese people. He lived from roughly 2717 BCE to 2599 BCE and was known as the Yellow Emperor.
- Li - Minister.
- Liu - Willow Tree.
- Saelee - Thee Thai version of Li, which means pretty or powerful. Another spelling is Saeli.
- Saetang - The Thai form of the Chinese name Tang. It means gift of God.
- Wang - Hope or wish.
- Wong - A common Chinese surname also found in Thailand. It has many meanings, including jade, yellow, vast, and king.
- Wu - Martial arts, military, business.
- Zhang - Archer.
Popular Thai Names Inspired by Other Cultures
- Bhongam - Sanskrit. Beautiful tree of enlightenment.
- Boonya - Sanskrit. Virtue.
- Bunmi - My gift.
- Chakri - Telugu. Lord Vishnu.
- Diep - Vietnamese. Leaves or flowers.
- Du - Vietnamese. Play.
- Lee - Tagalog/Malay/Indonesian. A variation of the Chinese Li. In Old English, it means pasture or meadow.
- Pasu - Sanskrit. Beast.
- Kasem - Arabic. Wellbeing or happiness.
- Rattana - Khmer. Jem or jewel.
- Saelim - Arabic. Safe or undamaged.
- Suwan - Arabic. Consolation or solace. Suwan is used in Arabic-speaking countries as a first name for boys and girls.
- Sethi - Urdu/Punjabi. The head of a guild.
- Thakur - Sanskrit. Master of the estate.
- Tan - New.