Our daughter has three first names: her full name (Eliana), a nickname (Ellie) and a Thai nickname (Ah-ree-ya). Why does she have a Thai nickname, you might ask. Well sit down and enjoy your chocolate milk as we explain.
Familiarity is the key to a name. I know that celebrities today think a special name equates to a special child. Most famously is Gwyneth Paltrow’s child named Apple, and recently Mariah Carey who said she didn’t want to name her kids something strange, but one of her twins was named Moroccan. Aside from odd celebrities, most of us look for a name that has a sense of familiarity, of normalness.
Yes, Eliana may not be the most familiar name, but since Ellie was born we have heard of a handful of other babies with that name. Our Thai friends have a difficult time with pronouncing Eliana. That is one of the reasons Ellie has a Thai nickname. They have a much easier time saying Ellie.
Beyond familiarity with pronunciation in a name, we wanted familiarity in association. People who are not good with remembering names like to associate the name of a new acquaintance with a family member or friend’s name. When we came to Thailand, we had an outrageously difficult time remembering the names of our new Thai friends. These names were “simple” nicknames, usually only 1 syllable long. Thais typically have multiple syllables in their full name, so they pick a nickname to help other Thai people remember their names more easily. Even with this, we still had trouble locking their names away in our memory.
Recently, we were spending time with one of our Thai friends who asked us again, what is Ellie’s name? We answered first with her English name. The confused look on his face told us he was cautious in pronouncing her name. We then added her Thai name. He smiled giving us the sense he could say that name and remember it as he knows others in his world with that name.
When we decided on her Thai name, we kept thinking of names that sounded cute and had a good meaning but couldn’t come to any consensus until a friend helped us with a tip on how Thai’s pick a name. He told us that often a nickname can be picked, because it sounds similar to the real name. Therefore we picked “Ah-ree-ya” which has a similar sound and means gentle.