How to Call Your Sweetheart in Thai

Jun 28, 2011

A few are rather honey-dripping sweet but more are fun and quintessentially and charmingly Thai – here’s our list of Thai terms of endearment.

852 Photo by deepsha

Are Thais big on terms of endearment?

I’ve been pondering this question for some time. I had previously believed that Thais were not into terms of endearment but I might have been proven wrong – or at least not all right. I have almost never heard Thai couples calling each other endearing names. Once I heard my old Thai lady professor and her farang husband call each other by a very strange Thai term of endearment which almost gave me constipation. But that’s one whole other story.

Compared to Western couples, I think it’s fair to say that Thai couples aren’t very big on using terms of endearment with each other (they might call each other by other nicknames which are necessarily lovey-dovey). Things may be a bit different with Thai-farang couples, among whom I’ve seen a common Thai term of endearment used: ที่รัก/tîi rák/, although it is often (mis)pronounced as /tîi–lák/. In fact, isn’t there a girlie bar called “Tilac” somewhere in Soi Nana or Cowboy?

In my own case, it is my (farang) hubby who does all the endearing things. His default term of address to me is “darling.” Alternately it’s “sweetheart,” “baby,” and a few other terms which I probably should not mention (lest his manly reputation will be severely damaged or his macho friends will be put at risk of death from uncontrolled gagging).

Because my hubby and I speak English to each other, I am more accustomed to the English terms of endearment than the Thai ones. I tried to think of the equivalent Thai terms on my own yesterday and came up with a pathetically short list of three. So I asked my Thai Twitter friends who gave me over 10 more. The lively discussion we had also stimulated me to recall some more that must have lain dormant in my consciousness.

As a late Valentine’s present to my hubby (which I’m sure he won’t mind sharing with my readers), I’ve compiled a list of Thai terms of endearment. They might come in handy particularly for foreign lovers of Thais and romantically challenged Thais like me. The list is in no way exhaustive, but if I may say so, it gives not a bad coverage of romantic terms of endearment in Thai. A few are rather honey-dripping sweet that may spike up your blood sugar level but more are fun, quintessentially and charmingly Thai but rather hard to translate. I tried my best.



The standard modern edition

ที่รัก/tîi rák/* = dear, darling, love

*Just so you know the “correct” pronunciation is /rák/ with the letter ‘r’, not ‘l.’ I don’t know about other Thais, but I prefer the pronunciation of /rák/ with the letter ‘r’ which means ‘love’ because /lák/ with the letter ‘l’ means ‘to steal.’ Plus, to discerning ears /tîi lák/ with ‘l’ may not sound very polished.


หวานใจ/wǎan jai/ = sweetheart

I guess this term is probably a Thai translation of the English “sweetheart” for that’s what it literally translates as.


ดาหลิง/daa-lǐng/ or ด่าลิ้ง/dàa-líng/ = darling

This one leaves no doubt that it’s borrowed from English “darling” with variants of Thai-ified tone.


The charming & sweet Thai edition

คนดี/khon dii/ = my good girl, my love

This is one of my most favorites. It is not too syrupy sweet but very loving and intimate, and not too common. It can be used with either male or female lover. (It can be used as a term of address in non-romantic context, like with a child.) I think it is most effective and appropriate, when you want to soothe or console:


โอ๋ๆไม่เป็นไรนะคนดี/ǒo ǒo, mâi pen rai ná, khon dii/

“Oh, come, it’ll be all right, my love.”


ทูนหัว/tuun hǔa/ = dearest, beloved

ยาหยี/yaa yǐi/ = dear, darling

These two are used in the same way as ที่รัก/tîi rák/ but are more traditional. Though a bit quaint, they are still quite charming.


น้องรัก/nÓOng rák/ = dear (lady) love

This is a term used with a female lover (it can also be used to address a dear younger sibling, which is the meaning of /nÓOng/). When you see น้อง/nÓOng/ in a romantic context, 95% of the time it refers to a woman (I’m leaving the 5% for the possibility that gay couples may use it too, though I have nothing to collaborate this). Traditionally the male lover refers to himself and is called พี่/phîi/ and the female น้อง/nÓOng/, sometimes even if the woman is older.


The honey-dripping, li-ke-esque Thai edition

ยอดรัก/yÔOt rák/ = most beloved

สุดที่รัก/sùt tîi rák/ = dearest love

They are not embarrassing at all provided you don’t utter it with your beloved in public.

ยอดดวงใจ/yÔOt duang jai/ = dearest heart

These are beautiful terms of endearment – really, if you like li-ke ลิเก, the Thai operatic-cum-musical performance art. Or the old style Thai luuk-thung ลูกทุ่ง(country) music. They are not embarrassing at all provided you don’t utter it with your beloved in public. They are just pushing the quota of sweetness for most Thais with modern sensibilities. But who knows, your Thai lover may like them.


The quintessentially &19th-century charming Thai edition

แม่ยอดชู้/mÊE yÔOt chúu/ พ่อยอดชู้/phÔO yÔOt chúu/ = most beloved lover

As I explained in my book, the term ชู้/chúu/ used to mean “lover” in Thai but has turned bad. Now it only means lover in an extra-marital or extra-relationship affair. Not kosher. The above terms hence refer to the “most beloved lover” in the old sense, not in the modern sense. But if you happen to have one in the modern sense, there’s nothing stopping you from using it. I’m just not sure I can guarantee that it will go down well. The former term is used with female lovers and the latter male lovers.


แม่ยอดขมองอิ่ม/mÊE yÔOt khà-mǑOng ìm/ = ??

There isn’t an equivalent English expression for this one that I can think of. Hard as I tried. But how do you translate something that says “my brains-full dearest beloved”? Take your shot. I give up. Or if you know anything similar in English or any other language, please let me know.


แม่เนื้อเย็น/mÊE núeaa yen/ = my cool-skinned love

แม่เนื้ออุ่น/mÊE núeaa ùn/ = my warm-skinned love