The King and Pai, Part 9: “The Hidden Meaning of their Names”

Thai people usually have a long official first and last name, and very short nickname that is much more often used. Both Pai and King Vajiralongkorn fit this pattern.

Vajiralongkorn is pronounced “wa-CHEE-raa-long-gon” with the accent on the second syllable. According to the English version of the BBC article that Pai is in jail for sharing on Facebook, this name means “adorned with jewels or thunderbolts.”

The King’s full name at birth was: “Vajiralongkorn Borommachakkrayadisonsantatiwong Thewetthamrongsuboriban Aphikhunuprakanmahittaladunladet Phumiphonnaretwarangkun Kittisirisombunsawangkhawat Borommakhattiyaratchakuman.” On December 28, 1972, when Vajiralongkorn was named Crown Prince, his name was changed to Somdet Phra Boroma Orasadhiraj Chao Fah Maha Vajiralongkorn Sayam Makutrajakuman.”

But more recently, Vajiralongkorn was given the name that he will be using as king: Somdet Prajao Yoo Hua Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun. The first part “Somdet Prajao Yoo Hua” is a title that directly translates either “His Majesty, King of our hearts” or “His Majesty, King over our heads.” So English speakers are only asked to call him:

His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

Maha, just means “Great.” For the reasons described in earlier episodes of “The King and Pai,” I personally can’t bring myself to call him that. As for “Bodindradebayavarangkun,” I’m going to wait and see if it catches on before I go to the trouble of learning it. So for the moment, he is “King Vajiralongkorn” to me.

In fact, until recently, even his first name “Vajiralongkorn,” which he has always had, sounded very unfamiliar – and not only to me. On the couple occasions when I asked people how to pronounce the name of the Thai Prince, they’d check with each other and the Internet before settling on an answer.

So how is it that people from Thailand would not be familiar with the name of Thailand’s Crown Prince? Well, he has a short nickname, “Sia O,” that is more often used. Sia O is the name of a gangster. This is definitely how most of the Thais I know view the new king: He is someone dangerous, someone to be feared – like a mafia boss who won’t hesitate to take out his rivals. While King Bhumibol (pronounced “p00-mee-pawn”) was genuinely loved by millions, this King rules through fear, and the reflected glory of his deceased father.

Pai’s name is equally interesting. In this series, I have been calling him Pai Daodin (pronounced “pie dow din”). His official given name is actually Jatupat Boonpattaraksa (ja-dtu-pat bun-pat-a-rak-saa).

“Pai,” is a nickname, probably given to him as an infant. It means “Bamboo.” Around Christmas time, when Pai Daodin’s bail was first revoked, Pai’s friend Ja New (real name Sirawith Seritiwat) organized a bamboo-themed protest, handing out FREE BAMBOO-sticky-rice sweets to the crowd. You can see the protest here.

This is the type of protest that Pai and his friends were good at: something wholesome and nonviolent, such that the dictatorship would look like bullies objecting to it. (You might also enjoy watching the pink ballon demonstration – broken up by police angrily snatching the dangerous pink ballons from out of the hands of the students.)

“Daodin” or “Dao Din” is actually the name of the organization Pai is part of. It means “Star[s] on Earth.” Or “Star[s] of the Earth.”

In Thailand, it is common to take the name of your band, or your organization, as your informal last name – especially if you are famous and it sounds kind of cool. Thus, for instance, the leader of the band Bodyslam has the stage name Tun Bodyslam. I just realized that Pai Daodin’s famous friend Ja New, probably gets his informal last name from his organization, New Democracy Movement. (My new Thai name will be Ann Alliance.)

So what does Pai’s organization, Dao Din, or Stars on Earth, do? They focus on human rights education and environmental activism in Northeast Thailand, where Pai lives (even now he is in jail in Northeast Thailand awaiting trial for lese majesty). In an official letter from Dao Din to a similar organization, Acción Ecológica, in Ecuador they say, “In protecting our homelands from destructive industries, i.e. gold mining, coal mining, potash mining and coal power plant, we have also experienced intimidation by Thai governments, especially this military government. Under its rule and unjust laws, we have been suppressed from organizing public activities to show our concerns and opposition toward these dirty industries; some of us are being prosecuted; some of us are threatened with forced disappearance; and we are under constant surveillance by the authorities. But we stand by our rights to protect our homelands and our children.”

And now you know why they are “Stars on Earth.”

Pai’s name “Bamboo” also has cool connotations in Thai. It seems that all bamboo spreads by sending out shoots underground such that all bamboo in a clump or a grove is actually related. In the Thai songs I translate (by Carabao), the metaphor of bamboo is used to remind us that all of humanity is related like a clump of bamboo. And, in another song, that a person in trouble is not alone. When one piece of bamboo is cut down that is not the end. More shoots spring up to take its place.

The persecution of Pai Daodin is having a similar effect. It is drawing attention to the evils of this lese majesty law in the starkest terms. It is intolerable bullying of the weak by the strong. Freeing Pai Daodin and all the other political prisoners is an urgently needed first step towards the reconciliation of opposing parties in Thailand, which both the junta and the palace say they want.

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