Thais have a bunch of names – first there’s the given name, which is usually auspicious and something that remarks on the future wealth and good luck of the named child. These names can be a little long. Then there’s the nickname, or the “play name” that is usually only one or two syllables and remarks on a quality of the named child, something cute like “oot” (oink), “uan” (pudgy), “pon” (apple), or “neung” (meaning the number one). These names are shared among many people; you might meet a dozen Neung’s and a bunch of Ploy’s (gem), but it’s the name used almost exclusively. You can know someone for years and never know their given name, just the “play name.” And then there’s a fighter’s name, like Buakaw (white lotus) or Yodying (super woman), which are usually glorious representations of being the pride of a location – Phet Mae Rim (the diamond of Mae Rim) – or the fighter’s fierceness – See Oui (the cannibal).
I had a lot of nicknames growing up, mostly from my family. I was very rarely called Sylvie, although the only nickname that has remained into my adulthood is Boffus, sometimes shortened to Bo, bestowed by my eldest brother. I have no idea where he came up with it. I almost had a fight nickname from Master K, Prikkinu, which is the smallest, spiciest Thai chili. It connotes strength in a small package, so to speak. But it’s used to talk about any small fighter that has power in a fight, at that moment when it’s evident. It didn’t stick as a nickname, although Nook at the gym loves to laugh and call me Prikkinu and then call himself Prik-yai, meaning “big pepper.” Then guys at the gym started calling me “Mini Wolverine” or “Mini Hulk” because of my T-shirts, and one guy, Kahlid, came up with my favorite that is also in reference to my shirts but carries an awesome connotation: “The Marvel.”
It makes me a little sad that I don’t have a fighter name. It’s something you can’t really give yourself and my trainers never thought to give me one. It’s almost like having nicknames with how often my name is misspelled to the point of not even being close to Sylvie anymore, but that’s not a nickname.
After my 55th fight against a young woman named Cherry – a fighter many expected to beat me – her coach was quoted in the national Muay Thai newspaper Muay Siam that the reason I’d won the fight was due only to my size and strength advantage. He said that I was “yai gwaa,” (ใหญ่กว่า) which means “bigger than.” I was actually pissed by the quote because it’s simply not true – this chick is, if anything, a couple kilos heavier than I am – look at the picture above. I’m more muscular and stronger, sure, but the way he used the phrase means I am physically bigger than his fighter and that’s why I won, due to my size advantage. It’s a silly thing to get upset about because it’s just so laughably untrue – when am I ever the bigger fighter?
So my husband took to calling me Yaigwaa as a nickname – something that is working, at the moment, as a very funny fight name. Sylvie Yaigwaa Lanna Muay Thai. Sylvie “Bigger Than” – Lanna Muay Thai.
The Muay Siam Article:
I picture myself winning against Cherry again this Saturday when we face off again in the ring. I picture going over to her corner after the fight to give my respect to her coach, but telling him in Thai when it’s over, “Don’t worry about it, it’s just that I’m ‘Bigger Than’ your fighter.” In truth, I want her and her coach to believe it, to make that excuse feel true.