The death of the Thai monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, on October 13 has shaken up the country, and created a serious vacuum in Thailand’s monarchy. All eyes will be on his son, Vajiralongkorn, who is expected to succeed Bhumibol, yet lacks both the following and gravitas of his father, whose public image was carefully cultivated over his seven decade reign.
Thailand’s Chakri dynasty is undoubtedly the most prominent monarchy in Southeast Asia to fuse Hindu and Theravada Buddhist notions of kingship (the concept of the dhammarāja, or in Burmese ဓမ္မရာဇ ‘dhammayaza‘), a direct descendant of the royal institutions that once ruled kingdoms across Southeast Asia, including modern-day Burma.
A royal treatment
In Burmese language media, Bhumibol’s death has also revived the usage of royal terminology, with Burmese writers dusting off jargon that was historically reserved for royals in pre-colonial times. Of note, these euphemisms announcing Bhumibol’s death have littered Burmese headlines in recent days:
- နတ်ရွာစံ (nat ywa san, “ascend to the celestial abode”)
- ကံတော်ကုန် (kandaw kon, “expiration of one’s royal kamma”)
The Burmese struggle with Thai exonyms
It’s also noteworthy how inconsistent the Burmese have been, in transcribing Bhumibol’s name, even though his name is completely derived from Indic words. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of diminishing historical literacy in modern-day Burma. Even in comparing announcements coming from the President’s Office, I noted two Burmese spelling variants of Bhumibol’s name:
- ဘူမိဘော အဒူရာဒက်ရှ် (Bumibaw Aduyadesh)
- ဘူမိဘော အဒူလျာဒက်ဂျ် (Bumibaw Adulyadej)
Like the Thais, the Burmese have historically had a penchant for giving their monarchs elaborate names, in a long string of indigenous and Indic (Sanskrit and Pali) styles. For instance, the formal name of Thibaw Min, the last king of Burma’s last dynasty, was 59 syllables long.
Fortunately, all is not lost. Burmese writers have managed to recognize that “bhumi” (ภูมิ) in “Bhumibol,” means “earth” in Sanskrit and Pali, with a cognate in Burmese (ဘူမိ), as in the Burmese word for ‘geology’ (ဘူမိဗေဒ).
My longstanding interest in etymology led me to examine the names of several key members of the Thai royal family. And I found that these names and styles can be transcribed with greater etymological fidelity.
Bhumibol Adulyadej → ဘူမိဗလအတုလျတေဇ
The late king’s full name consists of Indic terms, broken down as follows:
 Cognate with Burmese ဘုံ (bon, ‘realm).
 Cognate with Burmese ဗိုလ် (bo, ‘lieutenant’).
Sirikit → သိရိကိတ္တိ
 Cognate with Burmese သီရိ (thiri, ‘splendor’).
Vajiralongkorn → ဝဇိရလင်္ကရဏ
The crown prince and Bhumibol’s only son.
|shortened form of alaṅkaraṇa
 Cognate with Burmese စိန် (sein, ‘diamond’).
 Cognate with Burmese လင်္ကာ (linga, ‘verse’) and အလင်္ကာ (alinga, ‘prosody’).
Sirindhorn → သိရိန္ဓရ
Bhuimbol’s second eldest daughter.
Ananda Mahidol → အာနန္ဒမဟီတလ
Bhumibol’s elder brother, and 8th king of the Chakri dynasty.
Chulalongkorn → စူဠာလင်္ကရဏ
Bhumibol’s paternal grandfather, and 6th king of the Chakri dynasty.
|shortened form of alaṅkaraṇa
Ubolratana Rajakanya → ဥပ္ပလရတနရာဇကညာ
Bhumibol’s eldest daughter.
Chulabhorn Walailak → စူဠာဘရဏ ဝလယလက္ခဏ
Bhumibol’s youngest daughter.