what’s in a name?

I’m quickly jotting down something that occurred to me when I saw the name of the Thai king in the news recently. It’s Maha Vajiralongkorn. It seemed so familiar, so Indian. I broke it down like this:

Maha = great

Vajira = diamond, in two of the languages I know well, Konkani and Kannada.

Longkorn = ?

I looked up the meaning of longkorn in Thai. It means decoration. And it is apparently pronounced alongkorn.

Longkorn . . . alongkorn . . . alongkorn . . . I said it over and over, trying to catch the association that was floating in my mind, almost within reach. Then I grasped it! Alankar, meaning decoration in Sanskrit. It means the same thing in North Indian languages like Hindi, and South Indian languages like Tamil as well. Alankar refers only to decoration of a deity, or dressing up a murthi of a goddess in a silk sari and gold ornaments. When a woman dresses up in finery it’s called shringar, though alankar is also used as a slightly sarcastic sort of hyperbole in my community.

I know that there has been contact between Thailand and India from way back, starting around 300 BCE. There are many Indian words in the Thai language. Some of those relating to rituals haven’t even changed. I wonder when longkorn became a Thai word. I also wonder if what I have deduced is right.

This kind of guesswork can go wrong too. I read more about Thai linguistic history on the net and came across the name of an important Thai festival, Songkron. I toyed with the idea that it may be related to our Sankranti, but it doesn’t seem to be.

I remember being similarly surprised when I came across the Cambodian version of The Ramayana in a museum in Phnom Penh last year. It’s called The Reamker and the story and cast of characters is identical. Though almost all the names are distorted many still carry a faint echo of the original!

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3 thoughts on “what’s in a name?

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