For the LOVE OF
9 January 2008
Dear 10th International Conference on Thai Studies Participants
June 24, 1939 the Phibun Government proclaimed a change in the country’s name
2. The Phibun Government justified the change on the ‘racist-nationalist’ grounds that ‘the government finds it suitable to call the Nation by a name that represents the country’s majority and is popular with the people.’
3. The reasons cited by the Phibun Government concerning the ethnic majority are not true, and are contradicted by historical evidence.
4. There is great ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity among the people of our Nation. There are Thai, Lao, Lanna, Isan, Mon, Khmer, Kui, Techieu, Kwantung, Hokkien, Hailam, Khe, Cham, Javanese, Malays, Sakai, Sea Nomads, Tamils, Persians, Arabs, Pathans, Ho, Phuan, Shans, Black Tai, Phu Tai, Khyn, Viat, Yong, Lua/Lawa, Hmong, Mien, Yao, Karen, Po, Palong, Muser, Akha, Khammu, Melabri, Chong, Nyagur, Farang (different nationalities), Khaek (different nationalities), etc – in total over 50 ethnicities and languages.
first two Constitutions, dated June 27 and December 10, 1932, both used the
to reflect better the reality of the country’s ethnic, linguistic, and cultural
diversity, and to be faithful to historical evidence, the name of the country
in any future constitution should be
7. To express agreement with this letter, please send an individual or group letter directly to:
President of the Parliament
Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers
President of the Supreme Court
Buddhist Monks, Priests, Ustaz, etc.
Rector, Deans, Directors, Head-masters, Teachers
Ambassadors and Consuls
Heads of Political Parties and Local Politicians
Chairperson of the Provincial Administrative Organizations
and Tambon Administrative Organizations
Representatives of Grass-roots Organizations, Kamnan and Village Heads
FOCUS / HISTORY AND NOMENCLATURE
Some reflections on the circumstances prevalent in the late 1930s, when
BAREND JAN TERWIEL
Some countries change their names. For example, in 1935 the country
hitherto ubiquitously known as
Such name changes are usually not made lightly; it doesn't bear thinking how many letterheads suddenly have to be altered when a country decides to change its name.
The reasons for making a change may be symbolic, wanting to underline a change of regime or the beginning of a new era. Often, however, the renaming of a country marks a quite complex ideological statement.
Why was the name
One argument often used is that the name
It is, indeed, a fact that the word
The situation whereby a country is called by one name by the people inhabiting it and by a quite different name by people not living there is by no means unusual, and generally, when no offence is meant with the foreign appellation, no offence is taken.
In Europe, for example, there are people who call their country Suomi,
outsiders call it
In the same way, up to 1939 the Thais were not only used to the fact
that outsiders called their country
When people referred to their own country in the Siamese language, various
combinations of words were used. The oldest expression describing the whole
country was Mueang Thai, already accounted for in the 17th century by the
French ambassador Simon de
Other commonly used names of the country in the Thai language were:
Krung Thai, Prathet Thai, Krung
On bilingual coins, banknotes, stamps, seals and letterheads prior to 1939 we find usually in European characters simply the word Siam, while in Thai characters the word was spelled Sayam, or one of the five indigenous options mentioned above was used.
In formal state documents the name of the country could be couched in even more elaborate compounds, stringing together a whole series of honourable, pleasant-sounding words describing the wealth, extent and power of the realm.
King Mongkut (r. 1851-1868) is well known as being most sensitive
towards the proper use of the Thai language. How pleased he was with the word
What was the real reason for changing the name in 1939?
The Siamese government's announcement of a change in the country's name was published on the seventh anniversary of the overthrow of absolute monarchy, on June 24, 1939.
As for the official reason for making the change, the announcement
blithely mentioned that the people preferred the word ''Thai'' to the word ''
As far as we can see from letters to the editor, at least some
spokesmen for ''the people'' were by no means pleased with the new construct.
Particularly the word ''
In order to examine what really motivated the government to make the change of name, let us quickly note the situation prior to 1939.
Why did the Phibun government in 1939 announce that the people preferred the word ''Thai''?
In order to understand the measure, it is necessary to consider the
situation two months prior to
The Thai government was aware of the tense international situation, but saw the distinct possibility that a major armed conflict would result in a dramatic weakening of European powers.
Such a rearrangement, it was felt in government circles, could greatly benefit the Siamese nation for two reasons.
The first was the feeling that during the past 80 years much territory had been lost to the colonial powers. The second was the newly gained knowledge of vast numbers of close relatives living beyond the borders.
As for the first reason, during the period between 1867 and
Historians such as Thongchai Winichakul have pointed out that these outer regions had only been part of a sphere of influence that waxed or waned with the relative power of the central region, and that territory that was far away from the capital often usually was not ruled directly.
Nevertheless, in the 1920s and 1930s there was a growing feeling in
Particularly the French were singled out as having enriched their colonial empire at Siam's cost, beginning with the declaration of Cambodia to be a French protectorate in 1867, followed by the annexation of Laos in 1893, the loss of territories on the right bank of the Mekong River in 1904, and finally the loss of three provinces to Cambodia in 1907.
Similarly, the British had gained four provinces
in the Malay Peninsula at
As for the second reason, reports of millions of people living in areas
Luang Vichit Vadhakarn, who headed the Department of Fine Arts, was the
chief proponent of the change of name. Judith Stowe in her book Siam Becomes
Contemporary observers also pointed out that the change of name was not simply a rejection of a name that had been imposed by foreigners, it was at the same time a preparation for the Thai to assume a leading role among all Thai peoples.
The former British ambassador Sir Josiah Crosby also clearly identified
the underlying reason why Phibun's government decided to change the word
Typical for the thinking of the 1930s and early '40s, it did not occur to the proponents of a larger united land of all Thai peoples to ask themselves whether or not the peoples speaking related languages were interested in joining such a new venture, nor whether they were willing to accept Bangkok's rule.
Nevertheless, a growing number of Thais could be forgiven for dreaming
of a much larger country, one including northern
The dream of more than doubling their territory, at first a murmur with
the weakening of the colonial powers and
Premier Phibun was just the man for this difficult task, a master at playing off _ telling the British the Thais would remain neutral at all costs while at the same time secretly manoeuvring towards a pact with the Japanese.
It was in this situation, inspired by a mixture of nationalistic and irredentalist motivations that the name change of 1939 took place.
When Luang Vichit Vadhakarn proposed the idea of a name change for the country, this triggered a lively debate. It was by no means clear what should be chosen. In editorials and letters to the editor, some passionately wished to retain the old name.
Those who saw grounds for change were divided on whether to choose
''Mueang Thai'' or ''Prathet
Apparently, on June 23, merely one day prior to the formal announcement
the Phibun government decided to choose a compromise and coined the word ''
Crosby's overall advice in 1945 regarding the country's name was that
because of the heritage of chauvinism surrounding the change, it would be
desirable that the words ''
Throughout the past 60 years, there have been a number of intellectuals
who are in agreement with
In recent times, as a result of dramatic political changes, many almost
forgotten names have been resurrected. After almost a century of being
Should a Thai government ever wish to indicate the beginning of a new era, it could hardly find a more effective symbol than a re-investiture of the old name.
Professor Barend Jan Terwiel has taught Thai Studies at