Origins of Titles for Common Men and Women
Keywords:origins of titles for men and women, legal history
The use of titles for men and women who are common people can be traced back to the Sukhothai period. The titles Nai (Mr.), Nang (Mrs.) and Umdang (an archaic term used before a personal name to indicate that the person was a common woman) are present in historical evidence of this period. During the Ayutthaya, Thonburi and Rattanakosin periods – up to the reign of King Rama V and before the King launched a large-scale administrative reform – the political and legal structures of the kingdom were based on a sakdina system, whereby society was organized into a complex nexus of hierarchical relationships. In this society everyone was assigned a sakdina status (symbolically indicated by territorial units of rice field) in accordance with his/her status and rank, which then determined his/her rights and obligations, in society. Within this system various titles were used in addressing, or referring to, persons of different statuses and ranks, from the ruling elites to common people. In extant historical sources the use of Nai before the personal name of a common man is found: the term was also used to form honorific titles, for instance Nai Prapasmontian or Nai Satianraksa. For women the use of Umdang was common. In addition, for men and women who were convicted of a criminal offense the terms Ai (for men) and Ei (for women) were used before their personal names.
There is no historical evidence indicating that the titles such as those mentioned above were legally designated: their use can simply be assumed to represent customary practices. A legal designation of titles for common people for the purpose of maintaining a consistent use of such titles was introduced only in the reign of King Rama IV, who, on 11 September 2404 B.E. (1861), issued an Act Designating Titles for Various People. Following two subsequent decrees issued in the reign of King Rama VI in 2460 B.E. (1917) and 2464 B.E. (1921), and the announcement of the Interior Ministry of 3 August 2509 B.E. (1966), a pattern was established, whereby those with neither noble nor any other official ranks, or with neither royal nor other honorific statuses, would have the titles of Nai (for men), Nang(for married women), or Nang Sao (for unmarried women). Today we have more complicated cases of titles for women: now it has been formally accepted that a married woman can adopt the title of Nang or Nang Sao, depending on her own decision.