To understand the Persons Name Act and the history of marriage registration in Thailand. We will first need to look at the history of Thailand or Siam. We can go back to the 1600s in what was then Siam and the visit of one of the first foreigners to Siam. La Loubere who was the French envoy visited Ayutthaya in 1687. These are some of his observations concerning marriage as well as the social structure of Siam. Read below for more information on the Persons Name Act.
He noted that the marriage was arranged by the parents. The bridegroom usually built a house in the area of his fiancée. The women will live in the area of their parents even after marriage. La Loubère mentions that marriages in Siam were typically arranged by parents. Likewise the selection of a spouse was influenced by social and economic considerations.
He notes that Siamese marriages were often arranged to consolidate family fortunes or to strengthen political alliances. Additionally, he comments on the practice of polygamy among the Siamese elite, where wealthy and powerful men might have multiple wives. This is from the book The Kingdom of Siam, Bangkok.
Later in 1855, it was noted in the book, The Kingdom and People of Siam. Obtaining a divorce is relatively straightforward when initiated by the woman. In such instances, the dowry is returned to the wife. Furthermore, it is worth noting that a husband can sell a wife he has acquired, although this is not permissible for wives who have brought a dowry. In summary, it can be observed that the overall status of women in Siam is superior to that in many other Oriental countries. The Persons Name Act and its evolution is further explained. Surnames are a new phenomena to Thailand so the Persons Name Act was later brought in.
Then came the significant shift in women’s status in Siam. Likewise, this began with the reign of King Rama VI (1910–1925). In addition to earlier times, Siamese citizens didn’t possess family names or surnames. Instead, the people identified themselves by referencing their Siamese parents’ names or given names or their place of residence.
Although the Siamese government had initiated data recording for citizens as far back as the reign of King Rama V (1868–1910). The data collection was rather limited, focusing on aspects like birth, death, and household members, primarily within the Bangkok region.
The King envisioned that the introduction of surnames would simplify and enhance the accuracy of personal identification. King Rama VI had the unique experience of studying in Britain in 1893 when he was just 12 years old, returning in 1902.
In 1912 he decreed the establishment of a birth, death, and marriage registration system for Thailand. Likewise, it became mandatory for everyone to adopt a surname to establish their status properly. Subsequently, in 1913, the inaugural Surname Act was enacted. Now under this law, a “married woman could either adopt her husband’s surname or retain her maiden name” (Clause 6 of The Surname Act 1913). This became very important later as the Constitutional Court made a ruling on this issue in 2002 and the Surname Act was amended.
The Surname Act 1913 was the start and this was amended again a few years ago when it allowed women to change to their maiden surname. Likewise, the title issues have also returned a few years ago. Thai women are now also allowed to choose their tile as in Ms or Mrs again. This is where it started.
Before 1917, there were distinct honorifics used based on gender, and these honorifics were typically placed before a person’s given name:
For Men: Men were often addressed using honorifics such as “Nai” (นาย) or “Ay” (อา้ย) before their given name. As an example, a man named Somchai might be addressed as “Nai Somchai” or “Ay Somchai.”
For Women: Women were similarly addressed using honorifics like “Am daeng” (อําแดง) or “Ii” (อี) before their given name. For instance, a woman named Somsri might be addressed as “Am daeng Somsri” or “Ii Somsri.”
This practice of using gender-specific honorifics was a cultural tradition in Thai society and was not governed by law. It served as a way to indicate a person’s gender. However, in 1917, King Rama VI introduced a new law known as the “Form of Address for Woman Act, 1917.” This law standardized the form of address for women in Thailand. Under this act:
Unmarried women were to be addressed as “Nangsao” (นางสาว), which translates to “Miss” in English. Married women were to be addressed as “Nang” (นาง), which translates to “Mrs.” in English.
The title issues were settled with a Constitutional amendment in 2007.
In 1921, King Rama VI continued to refine the rules for addressing women in Thai society. According to the new proclamation:
Girls, meaning females under the age of 15, were not addressed using any specific honorifics. Women who were older than 15 years of age and unmarried (meaning they were not married to a man) were to use the address “Nangsao” before their given name. This meant that there was now a distinction made not only based on marital status but also on age. Girls and unmarried women over 15 were addressed differently.
The impact of these legal changes was significant. It standardized the way women were addressed and established a clear distinction based on age and marital status. Meanwhile, men did not undergo such changes in their surnames or forms of address after marriage, highlighting a gender disparity in these customs.
These historical developments in Thai society reflect how legal reforms can have a lasting impact on cultural and societal norms, particularly in matters related to gender roles and status. Note that this is similar to the British system where young boys are referred to as “Master”. Likewise you can also see the LGBTQ Rights community in Thailand wanted to be part of the honorific changes.
In 1932, a group of military and civil servants seized power from King Rama VII (1925–1935), marking a pivotal moment in Thai history. They established a democratic government that swiftly embarked on the transformation of Thailand into a modern society. As a part of this transformation, the first Constitution was drafted and promulgated. Subsequently, in 1935, the government introduced the inaugural Family Registration Act, 1935, marking a significant departure from past practices. Likewise the Persons Name Act has also changed later.
Under this new legislation, marriage acquired legal recognition. This was a departure from its previous societal acknowledgment, with no direct ties to the state or authority. Importantly, married women’s status remained unchanged during this initial phase of modernization, and they retained the right to choose their surname.
However, this era of women’s autonomy in selecting their surnames came to an end in 1941. This when the government enacted the Personal Name Act 1941. This legislation mandated that women adopt their husband’s surname after marriage. Thus effectively eliminating the option of retaining their maiden name. The regulation also stipulated that married women using their maiden names could not register a divorce unless they changed their surname to match their spouse’s.
Fast forward to 1997, after the political upheaval in 1991–1992, a new Constitution was promulgated, significantly addressing women’s rights. Article 30 of this Constitution guaranteed equality between men and women, leading to the revision and enforcement of the Personal Name Act in 2002. The Persons Name Act was to change again.
A further change in women’s status occurred in 2008 with the revision of the Form of Address for Woman Act. This act, which had been in place since 1917 and previously restricted women’s rights and freedoms, was reformed. The revised laws permitted Thai women who had adopted their spouse’s surname to revert to their maiden name. Moreover, married women gained the ability to change all their official documents, including ID cards, driver’s licenses, and bank accounts, to feature the title “Nangsao” before their given name.
In its Decision No. 21/2546, the Constitutional Court ruled that Section 12 of the Personal Name Act, BE 2505, is unconstitutional and consequently cannot be enforced. The court’s reasoning behind this decision is rooted in the Act’s flawed criteria concerning the utilization of middle names.
Specifically, it found fault in the Act’s failure to prohibit the adoption of another individual’s last name as one’s last name. Such a lapse in the legislation could potentially create confusion among the general public, as it might mistakenly lead them to believe that the person in question has the legal right to use that particular last name.
The issues that brought the matter to court were as follows:
Maintaining Family Surnames: Allowing married women to keep their maiden names enables families with only daughters to maintain their surnames through the female lineage.
Choice for Women: It gives women the opportunity to choose whether to use their husbands’ surnames, especially if their husbands are foreigners or if their surnames are well-known in the public domain.
Symbol of Equal Rights: Allowing women to make this choice is seen as an indication that women enjoy equal rights to men as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Uncertainty for Offspring: It raises questions about whether offspring would adopt the surname of their father or mother, potentially resulting in siblings in the same family having different surnames.
Identification Challenges: Allowing individuals to switch between two surnames could make it more difficult to identify a person, potentially leading to confusion.
Selective Benefit: Some argue that this proposal benefits only specific groups of people and may not be based on fundamental principles or the established traditions of society.*
Likewise the question was raised if this was a constitutional matter. The answer was yes as it affects the definition of equality in Thailand. The equality between men and women is a constitutional issue. Also the use of the expression “shall use” in the Surnames Act, makes the use of the husband’s surname mandatory.
*Likewise, for Thai customs, the court held that peace and harmony in a family is not about a surname but about mutual respect. It noted that in terms of Thai customs, Thailand has only made use of surnames since 1913 so that should not be seen as an issue.
Following the enactment of the revised Form of Address for Woman Act in 2008, a substantial number of women took action. A total of 429,387 women applied to alter their forms of address, with 174,674 opting for “Nang” and 254,173 choosing “Nangsao.” This significant response indicated that Thai women widely embraced the new law. The complex interplay of factors influencing women’s choices and perceptions of their rights remains a subject for further study. However, the impact of past unequal laws on women’s status warrants continued exploration and analysis. Likewise speak to our family lawyer in Bangkok for more assistance.
Termed as the “Persons Name Act, B.E. 2505 (1962),” this act initiates its effectiveness upon being published in the Government Gazette, beginning from the day following the publication date.
This Act shall come into force from the day following the date of its publication in the Government Gazette.
The following acts are to be annulled:
(1) Surname Designation Act, B.E. 2456 (1913);
(2) Surname Designation Emergency Decree, B.E. 2465 (1922);
(3) Likewise the Surname Designation Act (No. 2), B.E. 2481 (1938);
(4) Person’s Name Act, B.E. 2484 (1941).
Within this Act, the terms are defined as follows:
“First Name” designates the individual’s primary name.
“Middle Name” refers to the name following the First Name.
“Surname” pertains to the family name.
“Registrar” encompasses the local registrar, the Changwat’s registrar, or the central registrar designated by the Minister in line with this Act.
“Minister” designates the Minister responsible for overseeing the execution of this Act.
Individuals holding Thai nationality are obliged to possess both a First Name and a Surname, with the option to include a Middle Name.
The First Name must not bear any resemblance or intention to resemble the titles of the King, the Queen, or any titles bestowed by the King. It should also refrain from having offensive connotations. Regarding the Middle Name, it should not possess any prohibited characteristics as stated in the initial paragraph, and it must not resemble another person’s Surname, except in cases where a spouse adopts the Surname of their partner or a child takes on the previous Surname of either parent as their Middle Name. Consent from the other party is required when a spouse decides to use the Surname of their partner as their Middle Name.
Individuals who have received a title or have held a title in the past but have relinquished it may employ the title conferred by the King as their First Name or Middle Name.
Surnames are subject to certain regulations:
(1) They should not resemble or be intended to resemble the titles of the King or the Queen.
(2) They should not bear any resemblance to titles bestowed by the King unless it is the individual’s, an ascendant’s, or a descendant’s title granted by the King.
(3) Repeating Surnames conferred by the King or registered Surnames is prohibited.
(4) Likewise they must not contain offensive terms or meanings.
(5) They should not exceed ten alphabetical letters in length, except in cases where the title bestowed by the King is used as a Surname.
Thai nationals intending to register their Surname must submit an application to the local Registrar in the area where their name is listed on the household registry as per the civil registration law. The local Registrar will review the proposed Surname formation to ensure compliance with this Act. Once approval is granted by the central Registrar, if necessary, the local Registrar will register the Surname and issue a certification to the applicant. When a registration office is connected to the central registration office’s data network, local Registrars can proceed without awaiting central Registrar approval. Procedures under this section are following the criteria and methods prescribed in the Ministerial Regulations.
Surnames that were legally registered before the implementation of this Act are considered registered under this Act.
The individual registering a Surname formation must permit any Thai national to share the usage of that Surname. This can be achieved by submitting an application to the local Registrar in the area where the individual’s name is recorded on the household registry, according to civil registration law. Permission is granted by the local Registrar through a letter authorizing the usage of the Surname by the concerned individual. In the event of the registrant’s demise, the immediate surviving descendant who retains and uses the Surname holds the authority to grant permission as outlined in the first paragraph.
Spouses have the option to employ either party’s Surname, or each party may revert to their previous Surname. Agreements following the first paragraph can be established upon marriage or during the marriage. Such agreements can also be amended by mutual consent between the spouses. Section 12 as amended by the Person’s Name Act (No. 3), B.E. 2548 (2005).
In the event of divorce or a Court-issued annulment judgment, the party using the other party’s Surname must revert to their previous Surname.
In the case of a child’s caretaker, clinic owner, foster home, or childcare facility operator wishing to register the Surname of a child under their care, or when it is uncertain whether a child in such an establishment possesses a shared or separate Surname, an application must be submitted to the Registrar in the area where the caretaker is registered on the household registry or where the establishment is situated. Provisions in the second and third paragraphs of section 9 shall be applicable mutatis mutandis.
Likewise if an individual with a First Name or Middle Name desires to modify it, an application can be submitted to the Registrar in the area where their name is listed on the household registry as per the civil registration law. If the Registrar determines that the requested alteration does not violate this Act, the Registrar will approve and issue a certificate documenting the name change.
Individuals who already possess a Surname and wish to adopt a new one can submit an application to the local Registrar in the area where their name is registered on the household registry as per the civil registration law. Provisions in the second and third paragraphs of section 9 shall be applicable mutatis mutandis.
In cases where the Registrar issues an order rejecting Surname registration. The applicant can challenge the Registrar’s decision by appealing to the Minister within thirty days of receiving the order. The decision of the Minister is final.
Individuals seeking to employ their title conferred by the King, an ascendant, or a descendant as a Surname. They must submit an application to the local Registrar in the area where their name is listed on the household registry as per the civil registration law. The local Registrar will forward the matter to the central Registrar. If the central Registrar supports the application. It will be presented to the Minister for submission to the King. Upon receiving the King’s approval. The local Registrar will register the Surname and provide a certificate of registration to the applicant.
The Minister of Interior holds responsibility for overseeing the execution of this Act. Likewise possesses the authority to appoint Registrars and issue Ministerial Regulations governing fee rates. This which must not exceed those stipulated by this Act. The Ministerial Regulations come into effect upon their publication in the Government Gazette.
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