In Thai cultural battle, name-calling is encouraged.
hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Aug 29 13:21:42 UTC 2007
[image: The New York Times] <http://www.nytimes.com/>
August 29, 2007
In Thai Cultural Battle, Name-Calling Is Encouraged By THOMAS FULLER
BANGKOK, Aug. 23 — America has Tom, Dick and Harry.
Pig, Money and Fat.
For as long as people here can remember, children have been given playful
nicknames — classics include Shrimp, Chubby and Crab — that are carried into
But now, to the consternation of some nickname purists, children are being
given such offbeat English-language nicknames as Mafia or Seven — as in
7-Eleven, the convenience store.
The spread of foreign names mirrors a rapidly urbanizing society that has
absorbed any number of influences, including Hollywood, fast-food chains and
English Premier League soccer.
The trend worries Vira Rojpojchanarat, the permanent secretary of the Thai
Ministry of Culture. Mr. Vira, whose nickname is the relatively
unimaginative Ra, is embarking on a campaign to revive the simple and often
more pastoral nicknames of yore.
"It's important because it's about the usage of the Thai language," Mr.
Vira, an architect by training, said in his office decorated with Thai
theatrical masks and a small Buddhist altar. "We worry that Thai culture
With help from language experts at the Royal Institute, the official arbiter
of the Thai language, Mr. Vira plans to produce by the end of the year a
collection of thousands of old-fashioned nicknames, listed by such wholesome
categories as colors, animals and fruit and including simple favorites like
Yaay (big), Ouan (fat) and Dam (black).
Published in a small booklet, the names will be distributed to the news
media and libraries, and posted on the Internet.
"We can't force people," Mr. Vira said. "It's their right to have their own
ideas. But what we can do is give them options by producing this handbook."
The Culture Ministry's plans have not yet been made public, but some Thais,
when told about the nickname campaign, were skeptical.
"I don't agree with this; it's unnecessary," said Manthanee Akaracharanrya,
a 29-year-old real estate contractor. Ms. Manthanee, whose nickname is
Money, says having an English name is practical because it is easier for
foreigners to pronounce, unlike Thai names, which are tonal and can include
sounds alien to non-Thai speakers.
Her name has meaning, Ms. Manthanee said. Her father chose Money because she
was born on Nov. 29, around the time his paycheck landed. Her elder brother
is named Bonus because he was born on Chinese New Year, when some companies
hand out extra cash. And her younger brother is called Bank, because it fit
Korakoad Wongsinchai, an English teacher at a private primary school in
Bangkok, is also not sure whether the Culture Ministry's campaign will stem
the tide of English names. "Parents think they are modern names," Ms.
Korakoad said of the foreign nicknames. "Thai names are from 20 years ago."
More than half of her students have English names, she said, offering this
sampling: Tomcruise, Elizabeth, Army, Kiwi, Charlie and God. One apparently
gourmand family named their child Gateaux, the French word for cakes.
"I think a lot of parents get the names from television or magazines," she
Ms. Korakoad, 30, carries the nickname Moo (Pig), a traditional name that
Mr. Vira approves of and says will be in the booklet.
After years of hearing about the spread of foreign nicknames, Mr. Vira says
he was spurred into action in July when he saw the results of a survey of
almost 3,000 students in and around the city of Khon Khaen, in northeastern
In one classroom there were three children nicknamed Bank. To tell them
apart, fellow pupils had renamed the children Big Bank, Medium Bank and
Forty percent of secondary students and 56 percent of primary students had
English nicknames, the survey showed, compared with just 6 percent of
university students, indicating a clear trend among the youngest Thais, Mr.
Ball was the most popular English nickname — possibly because it is the
nickname of a well-known Thai tennis star, Paradorn Srichaphan — followed by
Oil and Bank.
The most common Thai nicknames were Lek (small), Ng (one) and Mai (new).
Mr. Vira, who is the most senior civil servant in the Culture Ministry, says
his mission is to preserve what he calls Thai-ness: "not only the Thai
language but Thai dress, Thai food — everything that shows Thai identity."
The year 2007 (2550 according to Thailand's Buddhist calendar) has been
proclaimed the Year of Promoting Correct Thai Usage, he said, and the
nickname campaign is part of that effort.
>>From a purely practical point of view, Mr. Vira added, having a foreign name
like Apple or Bank may be cute for a child, "but once you're an old man with
no teeth, it doesn't match with the name."
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