The King and I
I first wrote about my tie to the Thai royal family on my very first website. Then I re-wrote it for Thai-Blogs.com with all the explanations of the cultures and traditions involved. So, here it is again for your reading pleasure.
If you throw a shoe into a gathering crowd in Bangkok’s upper-middle to high class social circle, you’re bound to hit one person who is a descendant from the current Thai royal dynasty.
In that case, thanks for throwing a flip-flop instead of a steel-toed Caterpillar. I really don’t need a concussion.
Surprise! Yours truly has royal DNA! Really, I do.
I am the great, great granddaughter of King Mongkut of Siam (King Rama IV). That’s Chow Yun Fat or Yul Brynner depending on which movies you saw. (And by the way, both are inaccurate. But of course, that’s another beef for another day.) Really, I am.
There are some twenty-seven royal lines of descendants (Rajasakul) from King Mongkut. Twenty-eight if you also count the line that became King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). And I’m a part of this lineage.
Weirder yet, by family lineage, at least 2 of my friends are actually my relatives. We all share the same great, great grandfather! And even more people are related to me up and down this dynasty. Good times!
So, how come I have no title? First, you’ll have to understand the royal ranking system. Brace yourself.
Thai Royal Titles
Currently, the king’s sons and daughters are titled Chao Fa, meaning Prince or Princess. Their children are titled Phra Ong Chao, still Prince and Princess in translation.
Prior to King Rama VII, Thai kings had more than one wife, and each of these ladies had more than one child. So, the king’s children had a complete different set of titles. Not to mention that titles could change with military and political ranking. Such titles are not just simply the rank–i.e. Commander or Minister–either, but almost a whole new name. You’ll see an example of that here in my very own family line in a little bit.
When Phra Ong Chao princes start their own family lines, typically a part of their names or titles became the last name for the following generations. Their children had the title of Mhom Chao, Serene Highness.
Children of Mhom Chao are Mhom Rajawongse, or M. R. in the title. There is no English translation for this nor the following generation, Mhom Luang, or M. L.
Subsequent generations in the male line of decent from a king have no titles, but may add the dynastic surname of “na Ayudhya” to the surname of the branch of the Royal Family from which they descend.
Everybody still with me? Okay. Good. We are now coming back to MY family line for examples.
My Royal Family Tree
On one of my trips home, I brought back with me the family history book of King Mongkut, “A Royal Album: The Children and Grandchildren of King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam” by Jeffrey Finestone. The book is in both Thai and English and it’s one heck of a coffee table book. Included in this hefty volume are family trees with photos, plus a group photo of the surviving grandchildren of the King.
So, now we’re going to trace my family tree down from King Mongkut.
King Mongkut + Chao Chom Manda Kian = His Royal Highness Prince Voravarnakara Krom Phra Narathip Prabandhabongse
Read: King Great, Great Grandfather plus Great, Great Common Folk Grandmother equals Prince Great Grandfather and his siblings.
Here’s a little decryption for you. Chao Chom Manda is the title for the king’s wife who is not of royal birth. It’s translated to the royal mother.
My great grandfather’s name is actually Prince Voravarnakara. The “Krom Phra Narathip Prabandhabongse” is his title originally bestowed upon him by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and then raised by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) for his literary works. I know this much that the “Prabandhabongse” part means to praise his gift of language. Rightfully so as prince Varavarnakara was a poet, a playwright, and a composer. He introduced the Thai musical theater and wrote the adaptation of Madame Butterfly for Thai stage, and built one of the first public theaters in the city.
Prince Varavarnakara + Mhom Phan = Her Serene Highness Princess Barnacheud Varnavaranga Varavarn
Read: Prince Great Grandfather plus Common Folk Great Grandmother equals Princess Grandmother and her siblings.
Again, Mhom is a title for a commoner wife of a Prince. And this is the first generation to use the family name, Varavarn (also spelled “Voravarn”).
Still with me? Excellent.
A little closer now.
Her Serene Highness Princess Barnacheud Varnavaranga Varavarn + Lieutenant General Mangkorn Phromyothi = Jed and Dej Phromyothi
Read: Princess Grandmother plus Lieutenant General Common Folk Grandfather equals the twins, Dad and Uncle.
General Mangkorn Phromyothi, also known as Luang Phromyothi, was the origin of the Phromyothi family name. Luang part is a military/feudal ranking. Phromyothi is actually a bestowed title, like Narathip Prabandhabongse earlier, for his military ranking. Phromyothi is the Thai way of spelling it, but the pali/sanskrit root of our last name is Brahmayodhi. Appropriately, it means the army of Brahma.
And this is where the royal title ended.
Princess Grandmother retained her royal status, but it did not get passed to her children, my father and uncle. My grandfather, despite having held the highest ranking in the Royal Thai Army and being a highly respected political figure, was after all still of common blood.
You know how it goes with a male-dominated culture. The wife and children take on the name of the husband. Being of royal birth, Princess Grandmother was exempted from changing her name, but not the kids. Therefore my father and uncle bear my grandfather’s last name, and no royal title.
If my grandfather was from another branch of the royal family then we’d have two royals equals M.R. Jed RoyalLastname. Then my brothers and I would have been M.L., and our kids will be Sons/Daughters RoyalLastname na Ayuddhaya.
I could’ve been M.L. Oakley Varavarn, but instead I am Oakley Phromyothi. All I have to show for my royal bloodline aside from my genetic markups are my physical features.
Apparently, the Varavarn’s genes are quiet strong. My dad attended a Varavarn family reunion, now an annual event, and he said it was a surreal experience to be in a hotel ballroom full of people who look just like him.
I flipped the book through with Brandon’s dad who was visiting. He said, “Damn Oaks! Everyone in here looks kind of like you!”
There was a picture in this book of my grandmother as a teenager, sitting in a window in traditional Thai sash (Sabai). I have a similar picture taken for Loy Kratong festival at about the same age. My mom displayed these two pictures side by side at home. If my picture was a black and white and I was a little meatier and sitting in a window, it would’ve been spot on.
I don’t have that picture I mentioned scanned, but here’s of me from Renaissance Faire a few years ago. (Yes, I went to a Renaissance Faire in Thai costume. Siam represetin’!)
Well, look at me! I’m a rubber stamp of my dad who is obviously a rubber stamp of my Princess Grandmother. Interestingly though, everyone agrees I look more like my grandmother.
Then again, I do have her feet.
My funny shaped feet, Brandon called it “duck feet”, are exactly like my grandmother. According to her, she had the same feet as her grandfather, King Mongkut.
You may address me as Her Royal Shortness Princess Duck Feet.