What’s in a name?…

As my parents prepare to make the trip back to Laos where they now spend half of their retired time, my older sister Sirisone cooked up a storm over the weekend. Euay Toui is her nickname – euay = older sister, and Toui… well, means ‘chubby’, though my parents gave it a spin by using a higher intonation. She was born with chubby cheeks, but the nickname does no longer describe her physical appearance.

Lao children are usually given long, complicated (especially when you add the French spelling), and beautiful names derived from the Sanskrit or Pali languages, intended to give strength of character. They are named after flowers, precious stones, war heroes. Siblings’ names typically rhyme and/or share a theme. They begin with the same letter or syllable. They have meanings such as kind hearted, artistic, spirited, power, etc. carrying the parents’ wishes for their long and happy life.

But Lao people will seldom use or be known by these lovely names. Instead they will be called by nicknames that will stick to them like superglue all throughout their life. The nicknames are usually shortened from their full names, derived from terms of endearment, (such as ‘Air’ meaning ‘Baby’), rank or number in the birth order (‘La’ for the youngest, ‘Yai’ for the first born), descriptive words for how they look when they were born (‘Joy’ meaning ‘Skinny’, ‘Lae’ meaning ‘Dark’), or simply names that are easier to pronounce, and to remember (particularly when families tend to be big, with several children). It is like having a double (triple for those who have opted to change their name to an easier on the tongue all American one when they became US citizens) or secret identity: one for work in official papers, and the other for family and close friends.

My Lao friends and I have tried to change the tradition when we get together by calling each other by our full names. The challenge would last about 5 minutes, enough to recall each other’s mouthful and pretty names. But for me, these friends will forever be: Yai (aka Sinnakhone), Noi (aka Sinlapakone), Deng (aka Pinkeo), Dum (aka Pinkham), Mui (aka Souphaphone), Oud (aka Viphavanh), Aod (aka Boupha), and Aoi (aka Douangmala)… You should be able to tell if some are siblings, an/or how they look when they were born 😉 These names are either the opposite of how they grew up to be, or surprisingly a total and perfect match. I often wonder how much taller I would have been had my parents given me a nickname that meant ‘Long’ or ‘Tall’ instead of ‘Short & Round’.

Anyway, I totally digressed… Next post will be about my sister’s sit-down nine-course meal over the weekend 😉

This entry was posted in Family and Life, Festivals, Traditions, and Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to What’s in a name?…

  1. kayvondoll says:

    Hehehe, love this blog about the nicknames! Reminded me of something I briefly wrote on my nickname. Thanks for the knowledge Euay Pom 🙂

  2. I love the digression. Keep it coming and so ready for the nine-course meal as well…eheeh!

  3. Amy Raj says:

    I really like this Pom. Keep it coming I will follow your blog. 🙂

  4. Kanya says:

    That is a really great Pom. Loved it. And you’re right. We get so caught up in our nicknames, we forget to call each other by our real names.

  5. seeharhed says:

    Most laotians only knows each other by nick name or first name basis. I would say half of my laotian friends doesn’t know my first name. A lot of them knows me by my nick name. My given name is pretty long..

    • It gets even more complicated with last names! What I find most interesting is that we tend to give additional information about people by describing them, such as ai Touy hua lanh (=big brother Touy who is bald), or nang Khek kheow jeung (Ms. Khek with bunny teeth)… and the description becomes part of their name. Amazingly enough, we know who’s who from that!

  6. Latda says:

    I love this post! I have an Ai Thouy in Laos! He picks us up every time we visit! 🙂

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