Why are Thai Surnames (Last Names) So Long?


Lada Engchawadechasilp - Former Miss Thailand World, has a long Thai surname


Many visitors to Thailand are struck by the long surnames or last names Thais often have. When a Thai introduces themselves, it’s not uncommon to hear something like, “Hi, my name is Suree Wontiphontiphontipoom” and, of course few foreigners, even those living here, remembers these names. They’re just too long for the average brain to remember. But why do Thai surnames sound like this?

You’ll actually discover, if you do some research, many Thais have short names.  For instance, Metanee, Kitsuwan and Timkun are all short Thai last names. These are usually last names belonging to ethnic Thais ie: those whose families have been native Thai for tens of generations.

Where the long surnames come in are usually with Chinese-Thais, ie: people who are members of families who emigrated to Thailand from China a generation or two ago.

When they first arrived, they often kept their usual Chinese last name — Wong, Tek, or Tan, for instance. But, as time went on and they had children, those children wanted to have Thai names, which they had to apply for with the Thai government.

In Thailand, you’re not allowed to have the same last name as another family (basically anyone who has the same last name, is a member of the same family) so, as many names were already taken, Chinese-Thais had to create long last names that sounded Thai, so they too could have a unique Thai last name. And that’s why, today, many Chinese-Thais have long (and for us, impossible to remember) Thai last names.

One good example of this is a former Miss Thailand World, Lada Engchawadechasilp. She’s Thai-American and was born in America, so must have a heckuva hard time in the US with her name. But, she is beautiful, so even that long surname probably wasn’t much of a detriment to her.

It’s interesting though.