Hello. My name is Marcus and I am a Gengo Language Specialist for the Thai to English language pair. I originally hail from Australia but have been living in Thailand for over 25 years where I work as a translator and editor. When I am not working, I like gardening, walking, cats and durian.

Beginning today, I will start posting regular articles with tips and techniques for translating from Thai to English as well as addressing common errors encountered on GoCheck reviews for Thai to English translation jobs in Gengo. Feel free to add any comments below or suggest topics that you would like me to cover in future articles.

Today I am going to address the topic of transcribing Thai names into English. Often a job will require you to transcribe the first and last names of Thai people, as well as titles and nicknames, into English. So which system should you use? You could just sound the names out yourself, or you could use one of the many Thai transcription systems that have been invented over the years – all of which have their own shortcomings. However, I suggest using the Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS) published by the Royal Society of Thailand, for the following reasons:

  • It is the official system
  • It is used in government publications
  • It is used for road signs
  • It is used by Wikipedia
  • It does not make use of any special characters
  • It is easy to read and write/type

The rules of the RTGS are not easy to find on the website of the Royal Society (www.orst.go.th). So here is a direct link to the page on their site where you can download a PDF file with details of the system:

Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS)

Also, thai-language.com has a handy tool for converting Thai to RTGS (and other systems):

Romanize an Arbitrary Thai Word

Let's have a look at some Thai names that have been transcribed into English using RTGS:

สมชาย ใจขว้าง Somchai Chaikhwang

กัลยา จิตงาม Kanlaya Chitngam

กิตติศักดิ์ เจริญเมือง Kittisak Charoenmueang

Names should be written as single words with no spaces separating syllables. If you must break up a name in order to avoid mispronunciation, then use a hyphen (-) as in the example below:

บังอร สง่าราศี

Incorrect: Bang On Sa Ngarasi (you can't tell which syllables belong to the first name and which to the last name)

Incorrect: Bangon Sangarasi (pronunciation is ambiguous)

Correct: Bang-on Sa-ngarasi

When it comes to a famous person, there may be an official, preferred or popular way of spelling their name that differs from the RTGS. In that case, use the common spelling rather than the RTGS form. For example:

ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช Bhumibol Adulyadej (RTGS: Phumiphon Adunyadet)

ทักษิณ ชินวัตร Thaksin Shinawatra (RTGS: Thaksin Chinnawat)

You can check the spelling by searching on reputable English news and information websites such as www.bangkokpost.com and www.thaipbsworld.com.

Most Thai people have nicknames and it is normal to call children and adults by their nicknames in informal situations. When the nickname is a Thai word, transcribe it using RTGS or an alternate spelling rather than translating it into English:

พลอย Phloi (RTGS) or Ploy (Not: Gemstone)

ฟ้า Fa (RTGS) or Fah (Not: Sky)

หน่อย Noi (RTGS) (Not: Little)

A famous person may have a preferred way of spelling their nickname in English. You can usually find it by looking them up on  the English version of Wikipedia which lists nicknames in Thai script, RTGS and alternate spelling. For example, the model Metinee Kingpayome spells her nickname (ลูกเกด) as 'Lukkade', rather than 'Lukket' (RTGS).  

English words are popular as Thai nicknames. When a nickname is an English loanword, use the normal English spelling of that word, rather than transcribing it with RTGS or another system:

เบิร์ด Bird (Not: Boet (RTGS))

แจ็ค Jack (Not: Chaek (RTGS))

เบนซ์ Benz (Not: Ben (RTGS))

Well, I hope this gives you some pointers for translating Thai names. See you next time with some more tips and techniques for success in translating Thai to English.