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Bangkok is a city of superlatives but few know that its official name is the world’s longest place name.

The name of Thailand’s mega-metropolis has long been in the Guinness Book Of Records, with a tongue-twisting 168 Latin characters.

The city is affectionately known as “Krung Thep” among most Thais, a name generally translated as “City of Angels”.

But most people can say the whole name without any mistakes, thanks less to educational efforts than to a song.

“In the late 1980s, the rock band Asanee-Wasan set the capital’s ceremonial name to music in a catchy song that became so popular that many people can now sing along to it,” says Danai Ployplai, a linguist and teacher at Chulalongkorn University.

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Bangkok’s record-breaking, tongue-twister of a name

Bangkok is a city of superlatives but few know that its official name is the world’s longest place name.

The name of Thailand’s mega-metropolis has long been in the Guinness Book Of Records, with a tongue-twisting 168 Latin characters.

The city is affectionately known as “Krung Thep” among most Thais, a name generally translated as “City of Angels”.

But most people can say the whole name without any mistakes, thanks less to educational efforts than to a song.

“In the late 1980s, the rock band Asanee-Wasan set the capital’s ceremonial name to music in a catchy song that became so popular that many people can now sing along to it,” says Danai Ployplai, a linguist and teacher at Chulalongkorn University.

Ployplai, 31, wrote a Master’s thesis on the origins of Thai names – especially those that are royal in nature.

As for the country’s capital, he reels it off like music: “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udom Ratchaniwet Maha Sathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.”

Bangkok, originally the name of a village on the Chao Phraya River, became the capital of old Siam in 1782.

“The exact origin is not clear, but the name is composed of ‘bang’ and ‘kok’,” says Ployplai. “Presumably it is meant to mean ‘community by the big river with many trees’.”

This historic name is still in use worldwide.

But the fast-growing city, home to the nation’s kings for some 240 years, plus 15 million people in its wider metropolitan area, needed a more resonant name.

“It absolutely had to be longer than other city names to emphasise the importance of the place,” Ployplai says.

Even in Thai script, the word formed from the ancient Indian languages Pali and Sanskrit has 139 characters.

On the square in front of City Hall, the city’s name is engraved in golden letters on black stone, and it takes several seconds to walk the length of the sign.

Nearby, a plaque explains what it means. Roughly translated it would be: “Great city of devas (winged beings), residence of the holy Emerald Buddha, full of prosperity and everlasting beauty, adorned with nine precious gems, rich in immense royal palaces, heavenly abode built on Earth by Thao Sakka Thewarat Witsanukam for the reborn deities.”Avoiding the same last names

The capital’s name is less unusual if you consider that most Thai people also have long names, partly because they can also create their own family names.

“In Thailand, family names are so long and unique because you are not supposed to have the same last names as someone if you’re not related,” says Thai Surassa Fhaumnuaypol in a blog post.

That is why a maximum of 100 people have the same surname, says Ployplai.

When it comes to selection and composition, for most people, being unique is what counts. “Even names of the gods may be used. The law only forbids taking the name of the reigning king, otherwise everything else is allowed.”

As far as kings go, Rama IX, who died in 2016 and is widely known simply as “Bhumibol”, signed official documents: “Phrabat Somdet Phra Paraminthara Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej.”

If that sounds complicated, consider his ceremonial name: “Phrabat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Phumiphon Adunyadet Mahittalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayaminthrathirat Borommanat Bophit.”

Non-royal Thais don’t have to struggle with such tricky word formations, but when Ployplai asks his students about the meaning of their own names, most of them still have to pass, because the origin is so difficult.

He cites the example of “Assavvavirulhakarn”, a name made up of four parts in Pali that might be interpreted as, “The clan of the horse that will rise in the future”.Seeking to stand out

Another unique feature for Thais is that people may change their names as often as they like, and can make it official without excess complication.

“Some just don’t like their family name, others believe it brings bad luck, still others may have been advised by a monk to have their name changed to something else.”

As people seek to stand out and not repeat names of other families, their names just keep on getting longer and longer.

Nicknames, in contrast, are all about simplicity and perhaps unsurprisingly, almost everyone has one.

Most start out with one from their parents, but often change it over time.

First and last names only appear on official documents, while people are generally known by their nickname.

These nicknames are often unusual, says Ployplai. Many are given in English and range from Joke to Smile to Gift, Bank, Book, Golf, Apple or Cherry. “The main thing is that it sounds foreign and unique.”

There are some wild and crazy nicknames out there, says blogger Surassa “Anna” Fhaumnuaypol. Some stick in your mind just because of how unusual they are.

“There is a person named Password who has a brother named, guess what: Username.” – dpa/Carola Frentzen



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