Thai personal names

There's an election coming up in Thailand on December 23rd and the streets are lined with election posters.  As a bit of an i18n geek, I find it interesting that the posters almost all make the candidates' first names at least twice as big as their last names.  If you're also an i18n geek, your reaction might well be: "it must be because Thais write their family name first, followed by their given name". But you would be wrong.  Thais have a given name and a family name; the given name is written first, and the family name last.

The correct explanation that given names play a role in Thai culture that is similar to the role that family names play in many Western cultures. The polite way to address somebody is with an honorific followed by their given name. The Thai telephone book is sorted with given names as the primary key and family names as the secondary key.

(I have to say that this has led me to question what I perceive to be the i18n orthodoxy that it's more i18n-ly correct to talk of given name/family name than first name/last name. Why does it matter whether a name is a family name or a given name? Surely what matters is the cultural role that the name plays.)

I guess that historically the main reason for the dominance of given names in Thai culture is because family names are a relatively recent innovation: they were introduced by King Rama VI towards the beginning of the 20th century. Family names were allocated to families systematically and the use of family names is still controlled by the government. Any two people in Thailand with the same family name are related. This leads to Thai family names being quite a mouthful.  Here's a sample from people in the news over the past couple of days: Leophairatana, Tantiwittayapitak, Boonyaratkalin. Even Thais have difficulty remembering each others family names.

If you become a Thai citizen, you have to choose a new, unused family name.  Just as with domain names, all the good, short names have gone. So the more recently your family has become Thai, the longer and more unwieldy your family name is likely to be.

Thai given names usually have at least two or three syllables. There aren't any given names that are as commonly used in Thai culture as the most popular given names in Western cultures.  I've never come across a situation where two living Thais share the same given name and family name. You would certainly never get the situation of hundreds of people having the same given name and family name (like "James Clark").

Thais rarely use the First.Last@domain convention for email.  It would be too unwieldy. The conventions I've seen most often are First.La@domain and First.L@domain (i.e. use only the first one or two characters of the last name).

Another I18N wrinkle is that Thais' official first and given names are in Thai script not in Roman script. But in many situations Thais use romanized versions of their names.  And while there is a standard way (actually several standard ways) of romanizing Thai, the convention is that the correct romanization of any personal name is what the holder of the name wishes it to be. (Thus, your application may need to store two versions of names: the Thai script version and the romanized version.)

With honorifics, I think the nastiest gotcha from an i18n perspective is that, while the given and family name are conventionally written separated by a space, there is no separator between the honorific and the given name. (Words in Thai are normally not separated by spaces.) This applies only in Thai script.  When romanized, you would need a space between the honorific and the given name.

Since given names are used in Thai culture somewhat like family names are used in some Western cultures, you might be wondering what serves the role that given names serve in Western cultures.  All Thais have a name referred to as a "chue len". This is typically translated as "nickname", but it has a more important role in Thai culture than a nickname does in Western culture.  I think it would be more accurate to describe it as an "informal given name". Parents give each of their children a chue len, in addition to a formal given name.  You would typically use a chue len to address somebody in contexts where in England you might use their first name.

Whereas formal given names are restricted to names that the bureaucrats of the interior ministry deem appropriate, parents can and do follow their personal whims when it come the chue len. For example, a former employee of mine was called "Mote", which was abbreviated from "remote", as in TV remote control. (This illustrates another interesting aspect of Thai culture: words are commonly shortened by omitting all except the last syllable. For example, a kilo is often referred to as a  "lo".)

In perhaps 80% of cases the chue len is a single syllable. It's often very difficult to romanize these.  Thai has tones as well as one of the richest collection of vowels of any language. Most romanization schemes don't preserve subtle differences in tones and vowels.  Whereas this is workable with formal given names and family names, which usually have many syllables and some redundancy, if you don't get the vowel or tone of a chue len exactly right, it becomes another name. For example, another of my employees has a name that sound like the second syllable of the word "apple", but with the "l" changed to a "n", and pronounced in an emphatic (falling) tone. I can write that sound unambiguously in Thai, but I've no idea how to write it in English.

Occasionally the chue len is a shortened version of the given name, but more often it is completely unrelated.  If you know somebody only in a relatively informal social context, it is quite likely that you will know only their chue len and not their formal given name or family name.

I think it would be quite challenging to design an address book application that deals with all this naturally.  No application I've used does a good job and indeed it's not immediately obvious to me what the right approach to handling this is.  (However, I suspect an approach based on adding markup to the display name will work better than trying to figure out a set of database fields.)

Of course, it becomes even more difficult if you want to deal with complexities that arise in other cultures. I'm sure that just as personal names in Thai culture have some features that are surprising from a Western perspective, there must be many other cultures where personal names have equally surprising features.  I would love to learn more about these. If anybody can blog or comment with additional information, that would be great.

(Any Thais reading this, please feel free to add comments correcting anything I've got wrong or adding any important points I've missed.)


Lars Marius Garshol said...

I was told by an Ethiopian colleague (of what ethnicity I forget, but it might be Oromo) that he had three names, say Bar Baz Quux. Quux would be his grandfather's given name, Baz his father's, and Bar his own. If he had a son and named Foo, that son's name would follow the same pattern, and be Foo Bar Baz, thus shoving great-grandpa Quux's name out of the buffer.

The Roman system is also worth looking at. It often caused the same name to be used for the same man in different generations of the same family, and for women it was even worse.

Then we have the Icelandic system, which is basically the old Norse system. Our Ethiopian friend above would be named Foo Barsson in Iceland, and if he were a woman he'd be Foo Barsdottir. (I assume you can guess the meaning of the suffixes.) As a result Icelandic phone directories are sorted by given name.

The Norwegian/Swedish/Danish system is very similar to the English, but when it was adopted, many chose their patronymic as their family name. Thus we get Johansson, Johansen, etc. (Johan being a common given name.)

The difference with the English system is that English people generally have First Middle Last, whereas Scandinavians tend to have First1 First2 Last. I'm Lars Marius Garshol, but I don't have a middle name; I just have a double first name. English-speaking people tend not to get this, and just call me Lars. Facebook doesn't get it, either, and keeps confusing me with messages from people whose names I don't recognize at first. (Hans? I don't know any Hans... Oh, hang on. It must be Hans Christian!)

The Russian system is also interesting: Given Patronymic Family, as in Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev, where this tells us that his father was Sergey. However, intimates would call him Misha, not Mikhail, and most (maybe all) Russian given names have a conventional "nickname" version. People are referred to using one of nickname, given name, given + patronymic, given + family, or all three. I haven't really figured out what is used when, though.

Anonymous said...

The Swedish system is slightly more varied than the image given by Lars Marius. I would describe it like this:

We have one to several (I think I know people with four, but no more) given / first names ("förnamn"), and one (or sometimes more) family / last names ("efternamn"). What is used in day-to-day situations is a subset of the first names (the first, the oter, all, etc). This is called the "tilltalsnamn" (spoken-to name).

As an example, my first names are "Erik Rasmus", and my last name is "Kaj". In varying situations, I might be address as "Rasmus", "Kaj", "Rasmus Kaj", "Mr Kaj" (internationally, the navive version "Herr Kaj" is not really used), or "Erik Rasmus Kaj" (formal, like when dealing with the tax authorities or on a driving license).

Historically, we have used what is described as the Icelandic system and (more recently, or in "noble" families) the Russian system.

asmodai said...

With regard to the Norwegian/Swedish/Danish system, in the Netherlands we used to use a system like that as well:

A guy called Pieter might have a son with the last name Pieterszoon (son of Pieter).

Nowadays people have taken the last name and kept it.

We have a hodgepodge of names, if you're catholic you generally have three first names, e.g. my dad is called Wilhelmus Andreas Jacobus (shortened as W.A.J.), but everybody calls him Wim. Some people have a double first name, e.g. one of my cousins is called Jan Pieter and like Lars says, it is his full name, not just Jan or Pieter.
Then again, a lot of people mistake my last name for a married female's: Ruigrok van der Werven. This name is actually of old nobility, we used to be called Ruigrok but inherited a piece of land with a house called 'Te Werve', so it got tacked on as 'van te werve' and slowly formed into 'van der Werven' and a bunch of variaties of that.

In Japan you generally use the family name in formal settings, but more intimate dealings or that of children's might reinterpret some kanji with different pronunciations giving you a new (nick)name.

It's even more funny when you look at mainland China, so many Chinese I know take on an English name because they're tired of their Chinese name. So I know a Liz, Lily (multiple even), Olivia, and so on.

From the Thai side they either have Thai nicknames, like Katae (which means squirrel for all I know) or English names like Jinnie...

Bruce said...

Good example. I tend to favor Ian Davis' suggestion for FOAF: forget about modeling name parts in a structured way and just focus on different display names for different contexts (formalname, informalname, penname, etc.).

Anonymous said...

In Italy is a little bit different too.

Basically we have a given name and a family name, say Mario Rossi.

Sometimes we have several given name, say Mario Alberto Rossi.

And sometimes we have more with a comma, say Mario, Alberto Giovanni Rossi.

In the last case, from a legal point of view (e.g. legal signature) only Mario Rossi is required.

Anonymous said...

I have Thai friends at my school named Top, Benz, and Boom. I had always thought they assumed such nicknames because their real names are so long and hard to pronounce (which they are). Thanks for the insight.

Unknown said...

I find it fascinating how Lars Marius separates second given names into 'second first' and middle names. I'm Austrian and it would never have occured to me to make that distinction. I know Austrians with up to four given names, but using more than just the first one is either a way of expressing formality or done to distinguish them from another person with the same first and last names. However, there is a similar concept of an integral unity of two given names, which is double first names. For example, if an Austrian named his child after Hans Christian Anderson, he might choose Hans-Christian. Addressing Hans-Christian as just Hans would be very informal, similar to addressing Richard as Ric; unless you knew that the person in question prefers the shorter version himself, you'd only do that among close friends.

James Clark said...

The point about commas in Italian names is interesting. What's the difference between "Mario, Alberto Giovanni Rossi" and "Mario Alberto Giovanni Rossi"? Does it change the status of Alberto and Giovanni somehow?

Anonymous said...

I'm Thai and I agree with what you wrote. Every one of my Thai friends has a nickname and only a few have a nickname the same as the first name. For example, my friend's first name is "Patr", so is his nickname.

Some of my friends have a nickname from part of their first name. For instance, first name is "Paveena", so her nickname is "vee."

A nickname can be given by parents or close relatives. As far as I know, it usually is from a baby's personality or some unique feature when a baby was born. For example, my nickname is "nid" because I was tiny when I was born. My daughter is "fa" because her eye color was blue. My friend is "may" because she was born in May. But of course there are some nicknames that come from nowhere.

You might notice that many Thai people have an animal nickname or even fruit nickname like nok (bird), poo (crab), moo (pig), pla (fish), chompoo (type of apple), etc.

You're right about how Thai people pronounce an English word in a different way. For example, in some words that end with "le", we tend to change it to "en". Like you wrote, "applern" to "appen", "little" to "littern", etc. There's a little bit of "r" sound but almost silent, it's subtle - I can't even explain it. It took me a while to say the word "little" correctly. :)

My husband, American, tries to learn Thai and while Thai has less things to learn in some ways, there are an abundance of consonants, vowels, tonal variation, accents etc. He said the Thai language seems to have fewer verb conjugations, and eliminate some redundancies such as saying "two chair" instead of "two chairs."

We usually don't address people by last name. It'd be too long to say it - by the time you finish saying it, they're gone. :) Sometimes, we do address each other using first name, usually in a formal situation like business meeting. Even in a formal situation, once you get to know a person, you'll likely address them using their nickname.

Anyway, thank you for the observant comments about naming in my culture.

Anonymous said...

Q: (In Italy)
What's the difference between "Mario, Alberto Giovanni Rossi" and "Mario Alberto Giovanni Rossi"?

It means when you sign a check you must use all four names - taking twice as long and twice as much ink.

Unknown said...

Thanks James. Very informative.


Anonymous said...

In France, it is the same as in Italy, except that the usual given names are always joined by a dash.
So you can tell the difference between "Jean-Christophe Dupond" and "Jean, Christophe Dupond". The latter would be known by most people as "Jean Dupond".
The second given names (after the comma), as we call them, are used to avoid homonymy for the administration (even though they're not required), and must be told when dealing with formal authorities (exams, tax payments).
During day-to-day life (checks, signatures), you don't use those, so usually you only know the secondary given names of your family and very close friends.
They are usually the same as the given name of one of the parent, grand-parent or godparent. Some people are a bit ashamed of their second name (old-fashionned grand-parent's given name for example) and can easily manage to keep it secret most of the time, at least until they marry (where the mayor or the city clerk says all the given names). :D

Anonymous said...

I worked in China for several years and found the fluidity of names there fascinating.

One friend of mine, for example, chose the name "Michelle" for herself early on in school. Her friends typically call her "Mixue" (pinyin) which is how the name ends up being pronounced when you transliterate it into Chinese characters.

A couple of years ago, she decided her official given Chinese name was "unlucky" so she changed it, unofficially. She did this by having new business cards printed and by informing her colleagues that this was how she wished to be known from now on.

Any new business acquaintances from that point on would not know that she was previously known by a different name.

Apparently this was not regarded as unusual by those around her.

As for romanisation of Chinese names, the use of pinyin is of course most common. In the Cantonese parts where I lived, people sometimes chose to romanise their name as pronounced in Cantonese.

To sum up, it seems to me that in China people will call you whatever you want to be called.

Unknown said...

In Spain, we have one or more "nombres" - forenames - followed by normally two "apellidos" - surnames.

It is normal for the surnames to be the father's first surname followed by mother's first surname. A person has the right to apply to a court to swap his surnames round, or, in extreme circumstances (such as a surname now being used as a common swearword) to change your surname to something similar - e.g. Maricón to Marimón, but it you cannot officially change your surnames on a whim.

Some Surnames ending in -ez are an ancient form meaning "son of" - e.g. Fernandez, meaning son of Fernando, or Rodriguez, son of Rodrigo. These were adopted a large number of generations back, and no longer necessarily indicate the father's name.

When a woman marries, she keeps her names, but may optionally be referred to as being "of [husband's first surname]".

The first names are considered officially indivisible, and many people commonly use both - e.g. Juan Carlos, José María, José Luis, Juan Pablo, María Luisa, María José... Some people go only by one of their forenames colloquially, especially women whose first forename is "María" as it is common, though less so these days, for women to be named after an aspect of the virgin Mary - e.g. María de la Concepción (Mary of the Cencetion), María Inmaculáda (Mary the Immaculate), María del Pilar (Mary of the Pillar), María del Mar (Mary of the sea), María de la Trinidad (Mary of the Trinity). There are also common shirtened forms of long forenames - Concha or Conchi for Concepción, Encarna for Encarnación, and so on.

Up until the latter part of the 20th century, a person's forenames were only allowed to be from a list that was officially sanctioned by the church. It is still common for the first son or first daughter to be named after their father or mother.

There are exceptions to these rules, I do know people with more than two forenames or more than two surnames, but they are not hte common case. Certainly for any legal document, the full name must be shown.

As an example: "Manuel Fernandez Rodriguez" - whose father's line is descended from a Fernando sometime in the past - marries "María del Carmen Soto Verdaguéz". She keeps her names though can also be known as "Sra. de Fernandez" (Mrs. of Fernandez) or some variation, such as "Carmen Soto de Fernández". She probably introduces herself as "Maricarmen Soto", and her friends may know her as "Carmen".

They have two (male) children. The firstborn, "Manuel Fernandez Soto", is probably known in the family as Manolíto (a diminutive form) to distinguish him from his father, Manolo (a common contraction of Manuel) to his friends, and to the wider comunity as "Manuel Fernandez Hijo" (Hijo being Son) to distiguish him from "Manuel Fernandez Padre" (Padre being Father). The second, "José María Fernandez Soto" is probably known as "Chema" to his friends - another common contraction.

All in all, you can trace back a person's geneaology pretty easily in spain through church records and the various surnames that people have.

For i18n, Spaniards never have a middle name. It's incorrect to refere to José María Fernandez Soto as José Fernandez, though José María Fernandez is acceptable. Most spanish databases that involve names have a "First Surname" and "Second Surname" field, though as a nod to the many non-spaniards out there, the second surname is normally not required. They will never have a "Middle Name" field.

Eugene Lazutkin said...

Lars Marius explained the Russian system correctly: typicaly a person can be called using "nickname, given name, given + patronymic, given + family, or all three".

A nickname (usually the short form of a given name) is mostly used between peers in the informal settings, e.g., friends, family members of the same seniority, and so on. Example: Vova (given name: Vladimir). To be on a nickname basis between peers assumes a friendship usually. It is common to use nicknames to address children, in fact in some situations it can be used officially to distinguish child names from adult names.

Variation: in some cases a nickname + family name is used informally to differentiate people with the same nickname. Example: Vova Putin, not Vova Lenin (different people with the same nickname/given name).

A nickname + patronymic [+ family] is not used normally.

The other forms are more or less formal.

A given name is used in official settings between peers, or by older people to address younger people. Example: Vladimir (addressing a peer officially, e.g, in front of other people during the official ceremony).

Variation: a given + family name --- it's more formal, yet stresses "we are peers". Commonly used by politicians. Example: Vladimir Putin. This is the common way to map Russian full names to the "first-name last-name" convention.

A given name + patronymic is used to show the respect for the person. Typical situations: a junior person addresses a senior person, e.g, a younger man talks to a much older man, a subordinate talks to an executive of much higher rank. It can be used in official settings too. Example: Vladimir Vladimirovich.

All three names (the full name) is used in official settings, mostly on legal documents, or public official addresses. Example: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

In short: a nickname is strictly informal, a family name is added to differentiate between people, a patronymic is used to show the respect, and can be added to help further differentiate people with the same given and family names.

Anonymous said...

Even in the US, the usual first + middle + last convention can break down. My first name (Jon) was similar enough to my father's name (John) that my parents decided to call me by my middle name (David). It seems like every other form I'm asked to fill out asks for first name and middle initial. Filling in "Jon" just guarantees I'll be getting mail addressed to somebody named "Jon D." for years to come. Better add a <preferred> to that hypothetical markup!

hdhoang said...

Right, a preferred name should be marked up as so. Currently my name in hCard looks like so:
<div id='hcard-Hiếu-Đức-Hoàng' class='vcard'>
<a class='uri url fn' xml:lang='vi' lang='vi'>
<span class='family-name sort-string'>Hoàng</span>
<span class='given-name n'>Hiếu</span>
(<span class='nickname'>hđh</span>)</div>

So I can arrange my name the way it was given in vi, and still have hCard readers extract and sort by the right names. I'm not very sure about the n name, does it mean preferred way of addressing?

Anonymous said...

@Lars - Funny, as I was reading James's piece, I was thinking of Ethiopian names, having just visited there. Amongst the Amhara (one of the main ethnic groups in Ethiopia), names follow the pattern
<given name> <father's name>.
I didn't come across any cases of a trailing <grandfather's name> entry. In any case the concept of "family name" definitely isn't i18n'd!

Similarities with Thai are:
- people are addressed by given name (Mr James, not Mr Clark).
- romanisation not standardised

Given names can I think be whatever the parents wish. They're often Biblical (Haile Selassie = Power Trinity, Fasika = Easter), but can also be describe circumstances of a child's birth (eg "Unexpected", "Bringer together (of the family)").

Anonymous said...

Some more random information about Dutch names:

In catholic parts of the country people can have even more than 3 first names. Usually names of saints and the name you're addressed by is an abbreviation of the first. This is not really considered a nickname, but a 'roepnaam', calling-name.

My father for instance had five names, Petrus Christofel Dorotheus Bernardus Maria (yes, the 5th name is the woman's name 'Mary').
On the cards that where send to friends and family after he was born it must have said:
"born is Petrus Christofel Dorotheus Bernardus Maria, and we call him Peter"

(by the way, his two brothers share the same 5 names, but in different order so they do have different calling-names)

trentm said...

Here is a good bog post discussing some i18n naming issues:

"Personal names around the world 1"

Michael Everson said...

Lars Marius, if you put a non-breaking space between your first names, does Facebook treat them as one?

Paul Morriss said...

When we developed our worldwide personnel system we came up with a whole screen for people to enter their names, including unattached prefixes, orders, sort orders.

I did some research at the time (probably 4 years ago) and I couldn't find anyone else who'd done this work already.

It's probably hidden in the design notes of personnel systems for similarly international organisations.

The nice thing would be to share what we'd done, but does anyone else want that?

Unknown said...

Paul Morris said:

The nice thing would be to share what we'd done, but does anyone else want that?

I think it would be useful, listening
to the comments here?


Unknown said...

In Texas the first two names are frequently used together. My mother was Sara Jean before she came North and simply Sara after she got here. Her best friend was Mary Alice. I never heard her call her just Mary, and she often called me Christopher William or just CW for short. So this isn't just an outside the US peculiarity.

Anonymous said...

How does this concept In Thai relate to the (not just English) idea of "pet names" or hypocoristics (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet_name)?

James Clark said...

I guess you could look at the chue len as being a particular flavour of hypocoristic. One notable feature of this flavour is that the chue len is typically not derived from the formal given name.

Anonymous said...

German names are of course similar to Austrian names. E.g. Hans-Peter Müller has a single first name, and Hans Peter Müller has two. Common double names are frequently shortened in informal contexts, e.g. Hans-Peter is called Hape, Hans-Joachim is Hajo and so on.

Additionally, there used to be a tradition (at least in Northern Germany) to name children after their grand parents first names, e.g. my fathers first names are Gerhard Otto Adolf, as his grandfathers were called Otto and Adolf, respectively, but that's no longer in use apparently.

Another fun thing is that in Bavaria people are traditionally adressed Lastname Firstname.

Also, people frequently have double lastnames when married. On marriage, the couple picks one of their names as the marriage name ("Ehename") which will be the lastname of the kids. The couple itself can choose to keep the old name, take the new name, or prepend/append the new name to their old one, using a dash.

The idea to simply store names for use in certain contexts is probably a good one. Even the variations within western name systems are huge.

Also, to be correct you'll have to adapt context uses. I.e. most German users would be somewhat surprised to be greeted by a webpage as "Hallo Karl", as the usage of the first name only is quite uncommon in professional contexts.

Anonymous said...


angienadia said...

"Whereas formal given names are restricted to names that the bureaucrats of the interior ministry deem appropriate"

We pick our own formal given names, the govt has nothing to do with it. The only thing they can control is obtaining new last names, to make sure that the assumption that people with the same family names are related continue to apply. Everything else is as you mentioned.

Unknown said...

Christopher William, the dual-naming convention you described in Texas seems to be fairly common across in the south-east US.

Sometimes the diminutive (ie nicknames) are used also, so you could be Chris Will. Although this typically only happens when the diminutives sound good together, such as Mary Sue (short for Mary Susan) or Jim Bob (short for James Robert).

Anonymous said...

In Poland, it is not uncommon for people to use different names when dealing with family and close friends. Also, diminutive forms of names are extremely common.

For example, My cousins non-family names are Piotr Bartosh. His entire family calls him Bartek (diminutive form of Bartosh) while all his friends call him Piotrek (diminutive form of Piotr). People who don't know him that well would of course use either Piotr or his last name.

Aaron Davies said...

i understand russian also sometimes has different nicknames for different levels of intimacy--ivan would be "vanya" to most of his friends, "vanyushka" to his mother or his girlfriend, and "vanka" to some other friends.

i've heard that in arabic, if your son becomes famous, you may decide to be known as his father: ali, son of (the not famous) yusuf, father of the (now-famous) achmed, would change his preferred name from "ali ibn yusuf" to "ali abu achmed".

Anonymous said...

My family followed the French catholic tradition so I have:

First Name + Middle Name + Last Name

But the middle name is my godfather's first name and is *never* used except on my passport and ID card.

Anonymous said...

I've been involved in i18n/l10n for 25 years now, and this is the most exhaustive discussion in a single place of just how varied naming conventions are as I've ever seen. My brain hurts; I think it would have even if it weren't nearly 23.30 here.

Well done, all; bookmarked.

Unknown said...

In Sweden there are a few other, special old name conventions. One is called "Gårdsnamn" ("Farm name"). Before the 20th century when Swedish farmers still used patronymic family names, there were sometimes several people in a parish or village with the same name. To separate them, they took the name of their farm as a part of the full name, like "Dammens Lars Johansson" (Farmname Given name('s) Family name). Swedish name law still allows for such names.

Another convention is the soldier name, which was previously used in the Swedish Army, with the same use as above. If there were several men named Andersson in one military unit, they would be alotted names like Duva ("Dove"), Svärd ("Sword") or Rask ("Fast") or other epithas. Those names are today used as family names.

Gerlof said...

In Frisia (Friesland) in the north of the Netherlands, it used to be that the oldest son was called after the grandfather and that sons were called by their own name and their fathers name (+s) as a second name. The result was that the names of the oldest sons would flip between the generation: Piter Jelles would get a Jelle Piters who would get a Piter Jelles, etc. This continued even after last names were made obligatory and official in napoleontic times.

I do not know how common it is now, but I guess it must have been common still at the beginning of the 20th century. The tradition of being called after your grandfather is probably still alive.

annodomini said...

One of the other complications is in European names which have a preposition in them, such as von Trapp. This preposition "von" is always lowercase, and never used as an initial; I don't believe it's considered in sorting, either, though I can't say that for certain. I had a friend who's middle name was "von Wrangel", and she always had trouble convincing computer systems that while her full middle name was "von Wrangle", when abbreviated to an initial it was simply "W.", not "V." or even "v. W.".

Dave Rolsky said...

The point about having two first names that Rajmus made for Swedish also applies to Chinese.

My wife's name (in Pinyin) is Hui Ling Chen. Her given name is Hui Ling. Sometimes Americans we know get confused and call her Hui, which sounds kind of weird to my ears (I know enough Chinese to know that's not right).

However, you can take one of the syllables it in a nickname. Doing that you could have Xiao Hui, Xiao Ling, Hui Hui, and Ling Ling. The "Xiao" in the first two nicknames is the word "small". Using "Xiao" plus one of the given name syllables is a common nickname pattern, as is the repetition.

There are also nicknames that don't include a given name syllable. My wife has a friend whose given name is Hui Ping, but her nickname is Pi Pi (which just does not sound good in English, obviously). I have no idea how this nickname came about. It could be related to the Ping sound in her name, or it could be something else entirely.

Alexander Rymasheusky said...

In addition to what uhop described, there's another common mode of address in Russian tradition: in informal context between grown-ups, it's possible to use just a patronymic. So, for example, my father's friends at work call him Antonovich (son of Anton).

What Aaron Davies said about different forms of the name for different levels of intimacy is not entirely true. Russian language has a rich system of prefixes and postfixes for changing words, so Vanka, Vanechka, Vanyok, Vanyushka are all forms of Vanya, which is a diminutive form of Ivan. There is no common preferred way of choosing one of those forms, so a given Vanya can be called Vanka or Vanek even in the same conversation.

In marriage, the wife traditionally takes the husband's surname (though it's not required). For example, if Katia Ivanova becomes the wife of Ivan Petrov, she will become Katia Petrova. Their children's surname will also be Petrov.

Pete Young said...

My Thai wife and I had a boy a couple of months ago, with the given name Miles and the Thai nickname Tanat. I blogged about the naming conventions here. Interestingly, his nickname is never used by my wife's family and friends, and instead they prefer to call him Smiles, a derivation of his English given name. I wonder if this will stick, with his English nickname superceding his Thai nickname. Time will tell.

records of marriage said...

you have a great observation of your thai culture re:names. this post is very interactive and sought comments from people from different country.

Pedro Ivo said...

In Brazil it usually follows first(s) name(s) + mother's family name + father's family name. Myself, for example, am called Pedro Ivo Coimbra Siqueira e Dantas. Pedro Ivo being my first names, Coimbra my mother family's name, and Siqueira e Dantas comes from my father. It's quite a long name (for a brazilian, at least) and sometimes I'm mocked by my friends that say I must belong to the royal family, for having such a long name.
But this structure, mother's family name + father's family is just a tradition, not a law: my wife, for instance, has a different name structure: she is called Marina Campos Magalhães, but Campos comes from her father and Magalhães from her mother. Her parents just though it sounded nicer. So, when we have kids, if we follow the tradition it should be named Something Campos Dantas, but it could really have any combination of our last names.
In the countryside and small towns, some time ago, people used to be known by their first name and mother's first name. For example, João de Maria, meaning João son of Maria. Off course, they would still have an canonical name for official purposes.

Christopher Swift said...

Within the UK this can vary too. In Northern England where my girlfriend originates, supposing her full name is Amber Charlotte Mycock, she will use Amber Mycock in situations such as signing up to a book-club or the library, Amber Charlotte Mycock when getting her passport or driving license and then Amber Charlotte amongst close friends and family.

In Wales where I'm from it's slightly different. My full name is Christopher Russell Swift however I've never used Russell in my name apart from government documents such as a passport or driver's license. I'm universally known as just Chris and I can use Chris Swift if I'm feeling lazy to sign up to a group or Christopher Swift if I wish to use my full name, there is no pattern to this but just a preference on how much I feel like writing/typing.

On a side note, historically in Wales we were named after our fathers for example if my father were Llywelyn and my name were Ioan, then I'd be called Ioan ap Llywelyn, however if the father's name began with a vowel such as Iolo then I would be Ioan ab Iolo, ap/ab means "son of". For girls sometimes they would be named after the mother, so Myfanwy the daughter of Caridwen would be Myfanwy ferch Caridwen.

thpitsch said...

Why so many Thai given names have no meaning? They have. The names are words from Pali or Sanskrit. But maybe seldom used in Thai language. The ClickThai dictionary try to find the meaning also for such words or names. Many of them are included in the free online dict and much more in the full version.

nickshanks said...

Chris has remarked that Welsh patronyms are out of use, but although I am not Welsh, I have seen this is not so. A few years back there was an article on the national news about a teenage boy who had died in an accident whilst kyaking or camping or rock-climbing or some such. The boy's name was of the form A ap B, and the TV crew interviewed his father, who's name was given as B ap C. It stuck in my mind because I too had wondered if the system was still in use.

Anonymous said...

Traditionally Thai nameing ceremony of formal given name of baby is auspicious or religious event with first letter of the name to be chosen based on the day of birth and time of birth by monk in temple or such religious person. Thai parents can choose the name of baby either traditionally with 'guidance' from monk or by themselves.

Usually Thai names are mostly inspiring or beautiful adjectives describing personality traits or looks or such.

Some Thai names are derived from Pali or Sanskrit such as name of King Bhumibol Adulyatej of Thailand. In Sanskrit Bhumi means Earth, bol means Power, Adulya or Atulya means Immense and Tej means Brightness. So Bhumibol Adulyatej means Earth Power with immense brightness.

Thai nicknames are mostly given by parents or close family members with recent trend of western sounding nicknames such as Fone (Phone), Bell (Bell), Amp (Amplifier), Angie, Vicki so easy to pronounce and sounding more modern.

Traditional common Thai nicknames are Lek (Small), Noi (Little), Piak (Tiny), Nok (Bird), Aoi (Sugarcane), Faa (Sky), Nu (Mouse) such.

smurfix said...

Names are fun. Sometimes even your own government doesn't understand them.

Germans usually have more than one given name, the first of which is the one you're called by. However, sometimes it's the second, which is underlined by convenience. Apparently the next iteration of our passports will drop that distinction, so I'll have to either get my first name officially swapped around, or get used to officially being named (and naming myself!) "Peter" instead of "Matthias", or fight them tooth and nail. We'll see …

John Cowan said...

Here's my rant from some years back: "Against Structured Names and Telephone Numbers".

Unknown said...

@jcowan sorry, can you make the document public?

Bryce Glover said...

A couple of other articles/blog posts that are probably applicable here are http://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/ and, as linked to from that, http://blog.jgc.org/2010/06/your-last-name-contains-invalid.html.

John Cowan said...

Also, there was a historical distinction in German names between "von" (a prefix of the surname marking a member of the nobility) and "Von" (part of the surname, historically meaning that a family was "from" the named place.