Monday, September 1, 2008

Names of districts and provinces

For a foreigner without knowledge on the Thai language all the names of towns, provinces or districts sound strange. For a few, the romanization has created more confusions as one is tempted to mispronounce the name - so Phuket gets to F*ck-it, and the inevitable Bang Cock of course. Or on a much higher intellectual level the pun that Ranong should be pronounced "Rain On", as it is the wettest area of all Thailand. But all this should not be the topic this time.

Many of the places in Thailand are named by some geographical or historical specialty of the area. For example Tha Song Yang means "Pier at two Yang trees", or the old name of Surat Thani, Ban Don, means something "village on a small hill". There are also several places named after persons, each of the three daughters of the King has one district named after her, also the district Mae Fa Luang is named after the mother of the King, and the district Watthana in Bangkok is named after the recently deceased princess Galyani Vadhana. However the only district named after a king is Phaya Mengrai, named after the first king of the northern Thai kingdom Lanna. The military dictator Phibun Songkhram even named one of the provinces annexed during World War II after himself.

Also a lot of the places have a name originating from Sanskrit, something which was very popular during the reign of King Rama VI, when many places were renamed. Four provinces got a new named originating from Sanskrit in 1915 - Surat Thani, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Narathiwat and Uttaradit.

But there are also some districts which - at least for a western - are somewhat odd when translating them to English. The province Roi Et - meaning 101 - is named after the exaggerated number of subordinate cities under it, which in real were just 11. Nam Som means "Ginseng water", Nam Khun means "muddy water", and Nam Nao simply "cold water". But maybe the oddest is the subdistrict municipality กม.5, Kilometer 5, located not far from the town Prachuap Khiri Khan.

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