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What's in a Lao Name?

Names, in many languages and cultures, are something that our parents hope we will grow to embody. A strong and respected namesake suggests the hope and aspirations for us to live up to or even exceed. For example, being named after great kings and queens is not only a great honor, but sets one forth unto the world. That’s what I think of Lao names anyway: majestic, sagacious, and destiny-filled. I believe my Lao name is characteristic of who I am—Somkhith—proper or summative (“som”) thinking (“khith”), which I likened that to a person dedicated to life-long learning.

The Lao nickname, on the other hand, is often more endearing than in jest. To an outsider’s ear, a Lao nickname can be outright rude in translation or completely nonsensical. Lao nicknames are playful, sing-song, and sometimes truthful. Lao parents will nickname their child the opposite of what they appear, like my cousin Joi (“skinny”). Or, they can be honest with Noi (“small” or “petite”) and Lae (“dark” as in skin tone). At times, Lao parents may feel that animals are more fitting, like Nou (“mouse”) or Ped (“duck”). Sometimes, Lao nicknames can be astronomical, like Chanh (“moon”) or Dao (“star”). The most endearing are body parts, specifically the male and female genitalia as Hum and Moh, respectively.

The past year I’ve had to witness a couple parents struggle to find names for their children. We grow old with the names we are given, so when you decide on a name for your child, consider its meaning and your hopes and dreams. But, while they are young, have fun with the nicknames.

Here is a short list of Lao nicknames:

Ae (“baby”)                Mee (“bear”)
Bee (“marble”)          Nok (“bird”)
Chit (“mind”)             Oy (“sugarcane”)
Dang (“red”)               Phone (“wish”)
Ek (“hero”)                 Singh (“lion”)
Fah (“sky”)                 Tai (“rabbit”)
Goong (“shrimp”)   Vanh (“day”)
Jai (“heart”)              Xay (“victory”)
Keo (“crystal”)         Yode (“droopy”)
Lah (“last”)



  1. I met a woman named ‘Gen’ – pronounced like ‘get’ – but as the 2nd generation born in the US she speaks little Lao and she didn’t know what it meant. She did say that the first-hand second-born males were often given specific names, but didn’t think her name was like that.

    Any idea?

  2. Linda says

    My first name is Sengsoulivanh and my Laotian dad has passed, so I don’t have anyone to ask what my name really means. I tried so hard to search online and haven’t found anything. Apparently it’s a common name in Laos though, so… maybe someone out there may be able to help me out?

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