Why Did Siam Change Its Name to Thailand?

Mike Behnken/CC-BY 2.0

In 1939, Siam had its name changed to Thailand by the Fascist leader Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram out of nationalism and, some believe, racism. The name means “Land of the Free” and reflects the fact that it is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized. It was known as Siam from 1945-1949 and then was renamed to Thailand again in 1949.

In the 1200s, a sect of people in the central plains of Thailand first took on the name of “Thai” as a way to denote their status as free in relation to another sect in the region who were called “Tai.” The name of the country was repeatedly subsequently changed over the following hundreds of years as various chieftains took control. Thailand has been an independent country since 1238 and, as of 2014, its government is a constitutional monarchy. Thailand’s official language is Thai with many members of the elite speaking English as a second language.