Where Is Siam?
Siam was the name that was used to refer to the Southeast Asian country of Thailand. Siam was an exonym of the country before 1949. This implies that only the foreigners and outsiders referred to the country by the name Siam. The name was popular among westerners; in fact, it is believed that the name may have originated from the Portuguese. Other sources believe that the name was a Pali word which translated to “Land of Gold.” Interestingly, the citizens of the country, the Thais, did not use the name Siam and if they did, it was probably very unpopular. They commonly referred to the country as “Mueang Thai.”
When Was the Name Siam Changed to Thailand?
The name was changed to Thailand when the country joined World War II in support of the allies. At the time when the country was joining the war, it had developed friendly relations with the United States, which it maintained for a long period. Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram, who was majorly behind the rise of fascism in the country at the time, came up with official orders and mandates that changed the country’s name from Siam to Thailand. The name was officially changed from Siam to Thailand on June 24, 1939. The country was known as Thailand from 1939 to 1946 when the name was again changed back to Siam. It remained as Siam from 1946 to 1948. In 1948, the country was again renamed Thailand and the name has remained the same to date.
Why Was the Name of the Country Changed to Thailand?
When Field Marshall Phibunsongkhram took over the reign, he was determined to modernize the country and bring it to the same level as other developed countries of the world. Changing the country’s name from Siam to Thailand was part of his strategies of developing the country. The change of name was also seen as an emphasis on the unique identity of the Thais. The name Thailand became popular within a short time since it was included in an anti-Chinese slogan “Thailand for the Thais.” At the time of the name change, there were many Chinese in the country and most of them held prosperous businesses. Phibunsongkhram cut down on immigration from China, allowing for the setting up of Thai businesses. Thailand adopted a new flag, national anthem, and western-style clothes. These changes and the strict adherence to the new name ensured that “Siam” lost its popularity.
The popularity of the name Thailand is credited to Phibun. When he was ousted from power in 1957 by the newer, younger generation, the name was not changed. Thailand continues to be used to this date. The name is included in the first line of the national anthem; "Thailand is the unity of Thai flesh and blood.” The majority of the people, including the ruling class, continue to support the name, probably because to them the name means “free people.” However, there are others who feel that the name should revert to Siam for the purpose of religious and ethnic inclusiveness.