May 20, 2008

Pen names of Thai writers

Thai writers very frequently use pen names (Thai: นามปากกา, literally 'pen name', likely a calque from English*). Seemingly more than English. Especially between the 1930s and 1960s, pen names were a small way of protecting oneself from the oppressive government. But the practice continues today. Let's look at a few:

กุหลาบ สายประดิษฐ์
Kulap Saipradit (1905-1974 -- See Thai/English Wikipedia), better known as ศรีบูรพา Siburapha, wrote more fifteen novels, many short stories, numerous non-fiction books, and even translated a few novels into Thai. A pioneering modern writer and prominent journalist, he was at times jailed and eventually spent the last 16 years of his life in exile in China. Thailand's military dictatorships were not kind to the new guard of intellectuals and writers, and "Siburapha" is a prime example. A prolific writer, history has vindicated him, and he is now rightly celebrated as one of the great writers of the mid-20th century. The pen name Siburapha is two words, Si ศรี "glory" and Burapha บูรพา "east", which together "glory of the east" or "glorious east", which is not a self-aggrandizing reference, but rather praise for the land of his birth--the orient, or east.

หม่อมหลวงบุปผา นิมมานเหมินท์ M.L. Buppha Nimmanhemin (1905-1963 -- See Thai Wikipedia) authored more than a dozen novels under the pen name ดอกไม้สด, which means "fresh flowers".

ก้าน พึ่งบุญ ณ อยุธยา Kan Phuengbun Na Ayutthaya (1905-1942, see Thai Wikipedia) is well known as ไม้ เมืองเดิม Mai Mueangdoem. The first name ไม้ /máay/ "wood", is a reference to his true first name, ก้าน /kâan/, which means "twig" or "stem". The last name means "old (former) city", which is a reference to his last name, ณ อยุธยา Na Ayutthaya. The former Thai capital of Ayutthaya, often called in Thai กรุงเก่า /kruŋ kàw/ (which also means "old city"). Thai surnames that begin with "Na" and are followed with a city name indicate that that family is descended from former royalty of that city. Besides Na Ayutthaya, you'll also see Na Songkhla, Na Lampang, etc.

มกุฏ อรฤด Makut Orarit (b. 1950) wrote the award-winning 1978 novel ผีเสื้อและดอกไม้ "Butterfly and Flowers", made into a film in 1985, under the name นิพพาน, the Thai word for "nirvana".

จิตร ภูมิศักดิ์ Chit Phumisak (1930-1966, see Thai/English Wikipedia) was another of Thailand's great thinkers. He was staunchly anti-nationalist, and as such he was persecuted by the harsh military dictatorships that ruled for decades in the wake of the 1932 fall of the absolute monarchy. He was shot to death
at the age of 36. He used more than a dozen pen names in his life, but given my recent post about wordplay, the one I find most interesting is จักร ภูมิสิทธิ์ Chak Phumisit, a spoonerism (คำผวน) of his real name.

*Also known as นามแฝง "hidden name".


  1. Hi! I'm interested in thai literature but I cannot find english versions of those books. From which writer or novel I can start?


  2. Lea, there are a number of books translated, but many are no longer in print. Thanks to book sites like,, and Amazon, it's relatively easy to find many titles.

    This is an excellent idea for its own post, but in the meantime, you can check out my book collection on Librarything. Specifically, the ones that I've tagged "translated Thai > English" will be what you're looking for.

    I haven't read all of the books I own, but you might start with any of the short story collections (The Sergeant's Garland, Treasure of Thai Literature: The Modern Period, among others). Also, if you can find them, any of the books in the Thai Modern Classics series.

    DCO Thai has a number of English translations at reasonable prices, too.