I was curious why we called people from Thailand "Thai" and those from Taiwan "Taiwanese."
The latter by itself is a bit less surprising, though.

See also:
Are there any rules governing what we call people from different countries?
Is there a rule to what ending you use when you construct the nationality adjective? Or where did the various endings come from?
Demonym on Wikipedia.

  • 3
    Thainese would surely be funnier.
    – user85526
    Apr 29, 2015 at 15:36
  • 1
    Other European languages call them thailandais, Thailender and so forth. English is thus being respectful and (I believe) calling them what they call themselves. In the period in which they migrated south from what is now Yunnan, namely the early 13th, I think you will find them spelt T'ai. Are you suggesting it's the same name as in Taiwan? You have any reason to think so? Coincidences exist: I have been in a Japanese town called Obama.
    – David Pugh
    Apr 29, 2015 at 15:45
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    @WBT: It seems like you already did some research. Can you please include in your question also? For example, Etymonline mentions that "Thai" is a native name and same as 'Tai' which literally means "free".
    – ermanen
    Apr 29, 2015 at 15:56
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    @WBT: I mean in the original post. Not in the comments. The more detailed question is, the better it is. Your question as it appears lacks research about the words you mentioned. I'm helping also. Etymonline was one of the commonly available references that you could check.
    – ermanen
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:01
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    @WBT. My sense is that Thai and Taiwan are of entirely different etymologies. The latter sounds to me like a classic Chinese tonal double name Tai Wan, based on Chinese characters. But as you seem to know about Thailand, when did we stop calling it Siam and why?
    – WS2
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:43

2 Answers 2


WBT's answer is correct. The country is named after the people. Here's the Wikipedia reference for the Tai People (sic) tribe, to which the original Thai people originated from. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_peoples

And the official Thailand Wikipedia page mentions this under the Etymology section: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thailand


Apparently, it's because the country is named for the people, rather than the other way around.

(This is from a secondary comment on the linked Wikipedia page).

  • It would be better to cite a source that backs up your assertion than to use the weasel word 'apparently' to justify it.
    – Erik Kowal
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:39
  • I didn't know Wikipedia counted for a reliable source around here. "Apparently" is because I didn't vet that through independently, but I wanted to provide a starting point for what to possibly look for in writing a more reliable answer.
    – WBT
    Apr 29, 2015 at 19:28
  • A Wikipedia article may or may or may not be reliable, depending on how judiciously the information it contains has been assessed, interpreted and curated. The list of references cited at the end of a Wikipedia entry is a good starting point for judging the quality of the article. In general, Wikipedia's peer review mechanism will rapidly eliminate inaccurate or questionable material in high-importance, high-visibility articles like those cited in @Ben Bearfish's answer.
    – Erik Kowal
    Apr 29, 2015 at 19:54
  • @Erik: And in low-importance articles, ghod help us all. I use Wikipedia to improve a chronology of the 12th century I have created, and tendentious material is fairly rare there. But the number of links that go somewhere else entirely, and the number of articles that give deeds done by men who have been dead for years is astounding. (They do this in the same article as gives his date of death.) No malice, just sloppiness. I would correct this sort of careless error myself except that I find the process intimidating, far worse than here; and no one else does.
    – David Pugh
    Apr 30, 2015 at 14:24

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