what’s in a name?

almost every Thai person has a nickname.  true Thai names are long and unwieldy, full of vowels, and typically contain more syllables in one name than most Westerners have in their full name.

in  contrast, Thai nicknames span a wide lexical range and tend to take on humorous meanings.

sometimes you’ll meet a Thai person who has a name related to an animal – like Muu (pig), Gai (chicken), or Pla (fish).

other nicknames are food-related: I call my Thai teacher Dtang-Moo (watermelon), and I have quite a fewstudents simply named Milk.
 
my favorite, however, are the names that seem to originate from popular culture or students’ imaginations. between my four classes of high school girls, i’ve got a Mulan, a Ping Pong, two Popcorns, Stamp, Teen, Fonz, and a handful named Ice.

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“fah” means sky.

that is, unless you say it with incorrect intonation, in which case it translates to lid.

my host father here in Thailand gave me the nickname “nong fah” (one calls anyone younger than them nong).  i prefer to be called sky (high tone) rather than lid (rising tone).  most anyone i meet is relieved to use my thai nickname, which is more much easier than the pronunciation of my real name.  i’ve finally caught on to translating my name to thai syllables– “bri-taa-nee” — instead of the usual two syllables “brit-nee” that i’ve grown up saying in America.  if i don’t use three syllables, i find that people think there’s a “ch” in the middle of my name, and it’s not entirely flattering.

i didn’t understand at first why people usually said “miss universe!” when i told them my thai nickname, but it turns out that a) fah is also the nickname of Miss Thailand Universe 2011, and b) Miss Thailand 2005 is a foreigner named Natalie Glebova.  somehow these two things get associated in the blink of an eye in the Thai cultural consciousness.  i suppose it’s an indirect compliment from my host family and their friends, who also lovingly nicknamed my German host sister “nong suai,” which means literally means “beautiful girl.”

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i guess this is the start of a new attempt at a blog chronicling my random musings about thailand.  i’ll try to be decently regular about posting, but no promises!

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