I want to be a Smith – Lao Names

by cubiclejot on February 24, 2011

Field behind my house

The snow came floating down and I cheered. The snow resulted in the office closing, saving me from a stressful day in the office cube. Although I only worked 2 days this whole week man it felt long. At work I am currently working on correcting 30+ items within our financial system and each time I make a correction I am required to call the help desk. This means I have to say and spell my name. My last name is 13 characters long and contains letters V,P,C and T. Letters that can easily be heard incorrectly and results with me repeating and spelling my name over and over again. Sometimes I wish my name could be as simple as Smith, Jones or Adams. With extra time on my hands today I decided to research where my Lao name came from. This is what I found and now I don’t want to be a Smith anymore. My name may be long but is unique and has meaning. The beginning of my last name, ‘Vora” means superb or excellent! 

Source: Wikipedia
The French Colonial government mandated the introduction of surnames in Laos in 1943, beginning first with the royalty and the élite before becoming a common practice among the other classes. To this day, among isolated ethnic groups and remote rural villages, it is still possible to find individuals who do not possess a surname.

Both first and surname are a mixture of Pali or Sanskrit and Lao words. The wording comes from variety of influences, such as nature, animals, and royal titles. Lao names are generally made up of 2 or 3 words, but when translated into English span nearly 10-15 letters.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Quincy March 2, 2011 at 8:14 am

Y’know, some of us of SE Asian descent ARE “Smiths”; Smith is a romanized shortening of Smithi which is also rooted in Pali/Sanskrit.

-Quincy, who met you on Saturday. Great blog!

vong March 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm

well, now that i’m technically a “smith” myself, i can honestly say that i was relieved never to have to repeat or spell my last name to people over and over again. however, whenever i say my first name, people often hear it has ‘bong’ and i have to repeat myself or spelled it constantly – an i don’t even have to use my full verson to confuse them!

i always thought i was going to keep my maiden name when i got married because i wanted to honor my father (who actually changed the spelling when we moved to the states) and because my brother would be the only boy carrying on our last name in the states but i decided to change it to my husband’s because there are three of us vongs in the family, and boy, does it confuse the credit bureaus and postal systems – especially if we live in the same state! so, that was my reasoning to give up a last name that i loved so much and become “generic,” as i told a friend who asked if i changed my last name.

i thought vong smith would actually be orginal but when i googled myself, i found another vong smith. i even found a vongphet smith (my older sis’ name)! makes sense, i guess, since ‘vong’ is pretty generic for a lao name and ‘smith’ is a generic american name. but i guess i can say, i’m the only ‘vongphone luangphaxay smith’ in the world. when people see my i.d., they still ask me to say my name and make me repeat myself…then we share a laugh that my last name is now ‘smith.’

cubiclejot March 7, 2011 at 3:49 am

Nice fun fact Quincy! I was gonna share it with my friend who just became a Smith but it looks like she found the post.

It was good to meet you at the conference!

Nok April 6, 2011 at 3:06 am

I created that Wikipedia article years ago. My dad’s former surname was Syhavong (hence its up at the top hahaha).

cubiclejot April 6, 2011 at 4:33 am

Thanks for paying us a visit Nok and more thanks for creating that wikipedia post. It gave me and I’m sure a lot of other Lao folk a greater appreciation for our names. I still want to decipher the rest of my last name. Any reference you can point me to?

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