Lao names (Lao: ຊື່ [sɯː]), like Thai ones, are given in Western order, where the family name goes after the first given name. On official documents, both first given name and surname are written, but it is customary to refer to people in formal situations by their first name, plus titles and honorifics, alone.[1]

In daily life, outside of formal, international, or academic spheres, Lao people generally refer to themselves and others by nicknames, or seu lin—literally "playnames" (Lao: ຊື່ຫຼິ້ນ [sɯː lin]).[2] Much like the nicknames of Thai people (with whom the Lao share a great deal of cultural similarity), the names are often unflattering, although some are based on onomatopoeia, nonsense syllables, or peculiar characteristics. This is largely based on old superstitions from times when health care was not available and there was high infant mortality, as many of these names were supposed to ward off evil spirits from claiming the child.

The French Colonial government mandated the introduction of surnames in Laos in 1943, beginning first with the royalty and the élite before becoming a common practice among the other classes. To this day, among isolated ethnic groups and remote rural villages, it is still possible to find individuals who do not possess a surname.[3]

Both first and surname are a mixture of Pali or Sanskrit and Lao words. The wording comes from variety of influences, such as nature, animals, and royal titles. Lao names are generally made up of two or three words, but when translated into English span nearly 10–15 letters, for which both Lao and Thai names are known.

Common name components

Name Component Modern Spelling Archaic Spelling Origin and Meaning
Boun ບຸນ [bun˩(˧)] N/A Pali puñña, “happiness,” “prosperity,” "goodness,” “virtue”.
Vong(sa) [wóŋ], Phong(sa) [pʰóŋ] ວົງ, ພົງ ວົງສ໌, ພົງສ໌ Sanskrit vamsha, "royal lineage" or "family", hence this component is a staple in many Lao surnames.
Singh or Syha ສິງ [sǐŋ], ສິຫະ [sǐː háʔ] ສິງຫ໌, N/A Sanskrit siṃha, "Leo" or "lion".
Chan, Chanh, Chantha [càn] ຈັນ ຈັນທ໌, ຈັນທຣ໌ Sanskrit chandra, "moon", not to be confused with the tiane in Vientiane which means "sandalwood".
Dao ດາວ N/A Lao, "star."
Dara [daː ráː], [daː láː] ດາລາ ດາຣາ Sanskrit tara, "Evening Star".
Pha [pʰāʔ], Phra [pʰrāʔ] ພະ ພຣະ Lao, usually imparts royal or religious significance to the following component.
Kham ຄຳ [kʰám] N/A Lao, "golden" or "precious."
Mali ມະລິ [ma-li] ມາລີ Lao/Thai, "Jasmine" (Thai: มะลิ) or "blossom".
Ngeun, Ngoen ເງິນ [ŋɤn˧˥] N/A Lao, "money" or "silver."
Racha, Rasa [ráː sáː], [láː sáː] ລາຊາ, ລາດ ຣາຊາ, ຣາຊ Sanskrit raja, "king".
Savane, Savan, Savanh [sáʔ wǎn] ສະຫວັນ ສວັຣ, ສວັຣຄ໌ Sanskrit swarga, or "heaven".
Seng, Saeng ແສງ [sǣng] N/A Lao, "light".
Phou, Phu [pʰúː] ພູ N/A Lao, "mountain".
Sri, Si [sǐː] ສີ ສີ, ສຣີ Sanskrit sri, or "splendid".
Keo, Kaew, Kèw [kɛ̂ːw] ແກ້ວ N/A Lao, "glass", "precious", "gem".
Vora, Worra [vɔː rāʔ] ວໍລະ ວໍຣະ Sanskrit varaha, "excellent", "superb".
Chai, Sai, Xai, Xay [sái] ໄຊ ໄຊຍ໌, ຊັຍ Sanskrit jaya, "victory".
Tong, Thong ທອງ [tʰɔːŋ˧˥] N/A Lao, "golden" or "copper."

See also


  1. ^ Siegall, A. L., & Connoly, W. G. (1999). The New York Times manual of style and usage. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
  2. ^ Rehbein, B. (2007). Globalization, culture and society in Laos. New York: Routledge.
  3. ^ LeBar, F., & Suddard, A. (1967). Laos: Its people, its society, its culture. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press.