In Thailand it is customary to call everyone by their first name, but unless speaking to servants it is not very polite to use the name alone without a title of some sort in front of it just as we use the word “Mr.” in front of a man’s name in English.
When speaking to or about a man of approximately the same social status as yourself you can use NAI (meaning Mr.) in front of the name or a more polite word still, KOON.
KOON should certainly be used for men of superior social status and is in very general use even amongst friends.
For females the words corresponding to NAI are NAHNG (Mrs.) and NAHNGSAOU (Miss.) but these are never used in conversation, only in writing. In conversation we always use KOON as for men.
These titles may be used as a form of address on their own or a pronouns; that is to say, you can address a man as NAI or KOON without using his name or you can talk about him as NAI or KOON as long as it is clear to whom you are talking or referring.
For a woman use KOON and not NAHNG or NAHNGSAOU.
As many foreigners get mixed up regarding the correct way in which to introduce a Thai lady it is worth setting out the position quite clearly.
Take the case of a Thai girl called MAHLINEE X.
As a young unmarried girl she will be addressed and introduced simply as MAHLINEE, though when she is grown up it is better to use KOON MAHLINEE.
If she marries PRASERT Y. she will still be introduced and addressed as KOON MAHLINEE and you may not know for a long time that she is married.
If you want to be specific you can use as in English her first name followed by her husband’s second name. MAHLINEE Y.
Foreigners when talking with educated Thai people in English however often use the Western terms Mrs. or Madame followed by the husband’s first name but this though understandable is not correct, and you should avoid it.
To summarise, the only acceptable versions are:
KOON MAHLINEE X.
KOON MAHLINEE Y.
Mrs./Madame MAHLINEE Y.
If you know your servants’ first names, and you should, you can address them by their first names without any prefix using the name instead of the pronoun “you”.
If you don’t know their names you can address them and refer to them by the name of their job.
“Cook going where?”
“Gardener come here” etc.
You will probably find that your servants,
if they are Thai, will address you and refer to you as NAI meaning
“Master” and KOON NAI meaning
Generated by Lyndon Hill on Thu Jul 20 18:40:31 BST 2006.
Copyright remains with the original authors.