You might have heard of people changing their names because they didn’t like the ones their parents gave them. Or in an attempt to change their identity and escape their past. But in Thailand, name changes are common for a different reason altogether – to bring good luck.
A case-in-point is 46-year-old Baramee Thammabandan, formerly known as Teerapol Lilitjirawat. While neither name strikes us as charismatic, the change has made a world of difference to Mr. Baramee. About 10 years ago, he had suffered a major misfortune, when his garments business had failed. His eyesight became poor, he couldn’t manage his affairs and to make matters worse, his wife left him. And so he did what is natural to the people of Thailand – he changed his name. “I wanted to become a new person,” the now clean shaven and slim Baramee says. Ironically, his new name does mean ‘charisma’.
In his case, the name change worked wonders in more ways than one. Not only did it change his fortunes, but it provided him with a means of livelihood. Today, the almost blind Mr. Baramee runs a thriving business, helping people change their names. The service he provides involves advising his fellow Thais on how best to choose a new name for themselves. His clients range from regular people to Thai business tycoons and celebrities. He runs his office in one of the busiest shopping malls in Bangkok, with a team that takes almost 250 inquiry calls a day. It took Mr. Baramee only 5 years to create four websites and double his business, creating a niche that competitors have now jumped into. His philosophy is that changing names should be a process as simple as changing a flat tire. “People are like cars,” he says, “and changing names is like changing a flat tire. It can take you further and give you a smoother ride.” For now, he charges 500 baht (about $17) to provide several alternative name suggestions.
While there are places in the world where changing one’s name might seem a little extreme, it is something that comes naturally and easily to the people of Thailand. In fact, even parents exercise extreme caution while choosing names for their children. Astrologers and fortune tellers are consulted to make sure that the names they choose are suitable and complement the date/time of birth. Even so, if their names aren’t working when they grow up, there is no hesitation in changing it to something better. Given the fact that Thailand has a fast growing economy, stiff competition between businesses calls for drastic measures. According to 34-year-old Suchada Jarernsritrakul, who changed her name a couple of years ago, “Thailand is changing very quickly and it is natural to look for ways to help you prosper.”
Because of this, changing your name in Thailand isn’t much of a hassle at all. All that Thais need to do is register their new name at the local government office and get a new identification card printed on the spot. This is quite surprising, given that name changes in other countries are a complicated and long-drawn out affair, involving several procedures. Naturally, the police aren’t all too happy about this and have a hard time catching criminals. There was once the case of 35-year-old Sahachat Kasemthang, who changed his name and bank accounts numerous times and used bounced cheques to purchase gold worth $167,000. Which is why names and ID cards aren’t so reliable in Thailand now. Fingerprints are used by the authorities to handle all sorts of routine processes.
It seems that the name-changing strategy of the Thais has actually worked in their favor. How else would you explain the fact that 28-year-old athlete Junpim Kuntatean won a silver medal in weight lifting at the Beijing Olympics after changing her name to Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon. Quite a mouthful, that. What else could you expect, when they even have an algorithm and a software in place to make name suggestions easier. Of course, it isn’t all that great for everyone who changed their name. There are less fortunate cases as well: like a businesswoman who had to rebuild all her relationships from scratch, and another woman who sent out her wedding invitations, but no one knew who it was from. People agreed to attend her wedding only after she invited them in person.
I don’t know if all this name changing business really works, or is mostly psychological. As Shakespeare had so wisely put it, “What’s in a name?”