What’s In A Name: How “thailand” Came To Be

With a name that is a fusion of Thai and English, one cannot help but wonder how the “Land of Smiles” ended up with such a name. “Land”, being English, is self-explanatory.  “Thai”, however, is a bit of a mystery, and it’s tied quite closely to the colorful history of the nation. Read on about how Thailand got its name below.


In the beginning, the area where we can now find Thailand was once occupied by a number of indigenous Mon-Khmer and Malay civilizations. Not much is known of them as not much was written about this part of Thailand’s history. What is known is that there the area was owned by several tribes that spoke the same Tai language. As the area of the Tai people grew and the tribes gained power, they became independent of the weakened Khmer Empire. The biggest of these tribes were The Lanna (that occupied the area that is now known as Chiang Mai), Sukhothai, and Ayutthaya Kingdoms.


In the 14th century, these three great kingdoms had a literal Battle Royale to take control. The Age of the Sukhothai, when the kingdom was most prominent was referred to as the Golden Age of Thailand when the construction of their temples and palaces showcase the brilliant architecture of that time. Although the people of Sukhothai were amazing at architecture, they were pretty crap at warfare and they lost power to the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.

The Ayutthaya Kingdom stayed strong for about 400 years before it was sacked by the Burmese One of their generals, Phraya Taksin, rallied back and established a new capital in Thonburi, not far from the present capital, Bangkok. He then reclaimed and reunited all the states and called it Siam, Thailand’s former identity.


The name Siam stayed on for some time until modernity set in when the radical People’s Party was formed in 1927. One of its founders, the army officer, Phibun, led a coup to overthrow the monarchy in favor of a parliament. To complement it’s new, more modern, and chic identity, the name of the country was changed to Thailand.


Before it became Siam, the Thai people recognized themselves as Tai and their kingdom, the Land of the Tai, making Thailand a name that fits the identity of its people. Thai also means free in Thai, making Thailand the land of the free. Although Thailand did become the land of the free with the change of its government, this name is more of Thailand’s way of gloating about its ability to keep its country liberated from the Western colonizers that took over the Indochine region and other countries of Southeast Asia.


Now that we have given you a brief timeline of Thailand’s identities, you now have a better idea of the different phases that Thailand went through like a person looking for its identity as it slowly grew up, as well as the origin the Siamese cat and the Siamese twins. If you have any more trivia about Thailand that you would like to share with fellow travelers, please comment below. It is always nice to learn more about our favorite vacation place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts