Making a name for oneself in Thailand
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Making a name for oneself in Thailand

Last week's PostScript noted how the use of first names or nicknames in Thailand saves everyone a lot of trouble considering the long Thai surnames. However, this does not totally rule out misunderstandings. Many foreigners find their names pronounced in a unique manner, but that's all part of the fun of living in Thailand.

I received an email this week from a reader called Brian who says he regularly enjoys an almost cerebral experience being called Mr Brain in Thai offices. Steve is another name that sparks an assortment of pronunciations with Sa-teve the most common while other variations include Sa-teep and Sa-diff.

If your name is George you are probably no stranger to being called Jaws. Anyone called Hugh will probably have experienced being regularly referred to as Huge. Most people called Chris are quite familiar with being known as Kiss, while Bruce may sometimes have to put up with Brute.

Names with lots of "rs" or "ls" often cause problems. If you are named Larry don't be surprised to hear La-lee or Ra-ree. People named Julian will almost inevitably be known as Durian and will also have to put up with the assorted smelly fruit jokes that go with that. All the Bills out there must be used to being called Mr Bin. If your name is Vince don't get too upset when being greeted with Wince, and if you happen to be a Doug don't be offended if on occasions you are introduced as Mr Dog.

The last chair

My favourite tale concerning confusing names involves a fellow called Cyril. He had lived in Thailand for a few years and had become used to the locals struggling to pronounce his name, let alone write it.

The situation was highlighted one day when Cyril was invited to a dinner party in Bangkok. To assist in the seating arrangements the thoughtful Thai hosts had put the name of every guest on the dining table. As the guests began to sit in their allotted places Cyril hovered as he couldn't spot his name anywhere. Eventually there was only one seat left. In Cyril's place was the neatly-written name… Zero.

Homeless in Thailand

It's not just the men. A reader with a daughter called Ruth told me that her Thai friends had problems pronouncing the "r" and the "th". Thus Ruth had to accept being called a variety of names including Loof, Loos, Root and Roos, which actually sounds a bit like a company of lawyers.

I once received a letter from an English lady whose family name was Holmes. When she was living in Thailand she was regularly called Mrs Homeless. She laughed it off as it was at least a welcome change from the tired comments she received in England of "Oh you must be related to Sherlock."

Headline help

The use of first names in everyday life is a huge help to newspapers and any other publication in Thailand. Just imagine what it would be like if we had to use Thai family names in headlines. We would never get the names to fit. Thus we have become familiar with headlines like "Somchai gets top post" or "Sakda stands firm" with the second name only appearing once in the text.

This can still puzzle visitors as there are tens of thousands of Somchais and Sakdas in Thailand so how do we know to which one the newspaper headlines are referring? To some westerners it is almost the equivalent of reading something like "Fred elected president" or "Bert in charge of police."

Of course after a while we get to know there are only a few Sakdas or Somchais of sufficient status to be mentioned in newspapers and eventually you get to know who's who.

John and Mary

Some people have such attractive names they regularly get a mention in song titles. Everyone is familiar with (Sweet) Caroline, Michelle, Prudence, Angie, Billie Jean, Billy Joe, Delilah, Jude, Jolene and many others which have all featured in big hit songs. But although they are well-known, none of these make it in the list of the most common names used in song titles, according to a survey published for the music industry in Britain earlier this year.

It will probably come as no surprise that John is the most common representative, getting a mention in an amazing 2,040 song titles. Coming in second, and leading the way for the ladies is Mary who features in 1,803 titles. Making up the top five are Maria and Johnny (both variations of the top two) and David. I must admit that off the top of my head I can't think of any songs with David in the title.

Completing the musical top ten are James, Georgia, Jane, Peter and Michael. Not a hint of a Roger.

From Daisy to Eleanor

Possibly my favourite song with a name in the title is Paul McCartney's beautiful but melancholy Eleanor Rigby. Its working title was actually "Miss Daisy Hawkins'' but Paul felt it didn't sound right. Contrary to speculation that the name derived from a headstone in a Liverpool churchyard, McCartney says it was inspired by Eleanor Bron, an actress he worked with at the time and a Bristol shop Rigby & Evens. Wherever the name came from it's still a great song.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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