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 is not uncommon to hear something like, “Hi, my name is Suree Wontiphontiphontipoom” and, of course few foreigners, even those living here, remember these names.

They are just too long for the average non-Thai brain to remember. After all, Thais are used to them. The rest of us are not.

But why do Thai surnames sound like this?

You will 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 are 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 is why, today, many Chinese-Thais have long (and for us, impossible to remember) Thai last names.

Long names may also be because the person is a member of the Thai royal family, or a noble, or has been awarded the name by the royal family in recognition of their good work.

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 is interesting though.