The King and I

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. Surprise! Yours truly has royal DNA. Really I do.

I am the great, great grand daughter 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, another beef for another day.) Really, I am.

There are some twenty-seven royal lines of descent (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, I found at least 2 friends of mine to actually be my relatives. We all share the same great, great grandfather!

How come I have no title? First, you’ll have to understand the royal ranking system. According to the Mahidol University website on the Chakri dynasty, the current dynasty of the kingdom, the ranking goes like this.

Currently, the king’s sons and daughters are titled “Chao Fa” – Prince and Princess. Their children are titled “Phra Ong Chao” – Still in English, the Prince and Princess.

But 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 back then had a complete different set of titles. Not to mention that, also back then, 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 new name. You’ll see an example of that here in my very own family line.

The Princes started their own family line, usually a part of their names or titles became the last name for the following generations. The Princes’ children had title of “Mom Chao”, Serene Highness. Same title for the children of the modern day “Phra Ong Chao”.

“Mom Chao” is the lowest of the royal ranks according to these folks. Pretty much after this the royal-ness is too thinned out, I guess.

After “Mom Chao”, it’s “Mom Rajawongse”, or M. R. in the title. There is no English translation for this nor the following generation, “Mom 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.

On my last trip, 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 – in Thai and English in one book. One heck of a coffee table book, I tell you. Wait until I have a coffee table. Included in this hefty volume are family trees with photos, plus a group photo of the surviving grandchildren of the King.

(Unfortunately, we don’t have a scanner at home, and the book is too cumbersome to be hauling up to my office on a commuter train. Unless Richard could pull a miracle, in the mean time, sorry kiddies! )

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 … and many others.

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 grand father’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.

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.

Now. Prince Varavarnakara + Mom Phan = Her Serene Highness Princess Barnacheud Varnavaranga Voravarn. … and many others.

Again, “Mom” is a title for a commoner wife of the prince. And this is the first generation to use the family name, Varavarn.

Still with me? Excellent.

Her Serene Highness Princess Barnacheud Varnavaranga Voravarn + Lieutenant General Mangkorn Phromyothi = Dad and Uncle Phromyothi.

General Mangkorn, also known as Luang Phromyothi, was the origin of the Phromyothi family name. “Phromyothi” is actually a bestowed title, like Narathip Prabandhabongse earlier, for his military rank. 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, because 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 grand father’s last name, and no royal title.

Hence, it’s Oakley Phromyothi, and not Oakley Varavarn.

If my grandfather was from another branch of the royal family, then my father would have been a Mom Rajawongse Dad RoyalLastname, and therefore I would have been Mom Luang Oakley RoyalLastname, and my brothers’ kids Nieces and Nephews RoyalLastname Na Ayuddhaya.

But as it stands, my dad will end up with Grand Kids Phromyothi, and GrandKitten Boren.

All I have to show for my royal bloodline are my physical features. Apparently, the Varavarn’s genes are quiet strong. My dad attended a Varavarn bloodline family reunion of sort many years ago, 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 yesterday, and he was like, 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 at about the same age. My mom displays 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.

Well, look at me! I’m a rubber stamp of my dad, but more so of my grandmother. Especially my feet. I have my grandmother’s feet. According to her, she had the same feet as King Mongkut.

You may address me as Her Royal Shortness Princess Royal Feet.

19 responses to “The King and I

  1. Unless there’s a freak accident very much like in the movie “King Ralph”, you won’t see this face on the throne of Thai kingdom. I’m wayyyy down the line and the royal blood is much diluted, my friend. 🙂

  2. The Royal line is really confusing yet interesting, especially when you are a descendant of King Mongkut…thanks for sharing!

  3. How weird (not you, Oakmonster -or your illustrious ancestors !) At 01.00 GMT this morning I was beavering away on constructing and revising my new website, which includes a history of Siam/Thailand. The section I was working on? The Chakri dynasty. Rama VIIIth to be precise. Enough said.
    It is very interesting to have contact with a descendant of King Mongkut, who I feel history has under rated. Without his preparatory work I don’t think King Chulalongkorn would have been able to achieve as much as he did (this is not to detract from or criticise King Chulalongkorn’s achievements in any way, given the problems he had with the Court and us British and the French)
    Great explanation of Royal titles -I think you might find this blog linked, subject to your Royal Shortness having no objection !


    Pictures of oakmonster’s ancestors.

  5. Ghengis Khan has 16 million living decendants.

    Beat that 🙂

  6. very interesting read!! its nice to know ur family roots 🙂 thanks for the great post 😀

  7. Wow what a blog! Well worth the re-writting Oakley! One of my students let me borrow a book on Thailand recently from his High School library. It was also full of intricate (*PC* for confusing as heck) info on the history of the Chakri Kings and bloodlines.

    Not the most easily understood topic but still an engrossing read, the same as with your blog! Bravo!


  8. Btw, loved the bit about the thrown shoe haha. Amelda Markos ain’t got nothin’ on you 😉

    W., again

  9. Hi Oakley,

    Wow. Firstly, it’s cool you are a descendant of King Mongkut. Secondly, interesting about the history also although I got kind of lost in a way at first. 555

  10. Thanks you guys for all the comments! I’d prefer to reply to each of you but I don’t have enough time this week. (I’m stealing work time a la Wit’s top ten list right now…hahahah!)

    Just want to let y’all know, I intend to follow up with a mini-history of my family from both the royal side and my mother’s common side, an extension of a paper I did in college.

    Wit – No Emelda still has a whole lot on me. I’m a Converse/Nike/want to get a Caterpillar/Doc Martin kind of girl. 😉

    Trangam – Hey, I like that! Royal Oak Tree. Brandon calls me Princess Duck Feet. LOL.

  11. ‘Princess Duck Feet’ hahaha I like that, ah the endearing pet names that spell love!

    Maybe it’s karmic revenge but I am actually home sick today. Perfect time to have written my ‘Top Ten’ list but then where’s the fun if your not being sneaky on the computer at work?

    Looking forward to, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, ‘the REST of the story’ on your Royal heritage. Chaiyo!


  12. Thanks for the insight as sadly there isn’t that much info on this subject around.

    A few years back i worked for a nice lady for a long time and when i just checked her namecard last night she is a ‘Varavarn’ and an M.R.

    Now i can remeber at the time that i had a right funny young friend at the time, an artist, who was an M.L with a fancy ‘na’ ayutthaya surname. Even though he was not a ‘Varavarn’ he was a ‘Kasemsarn’.

    Then by sheer chance there was a friend of my who worked in the TV business who also had a ‘Kasemsarn’ surname. I queeried my artist buddie and my lady boss about their surname and both of them said that ‘Kasemsarn’ and ‘Varavarn’ were related.

    In what way are they related?

    I have noticed that even a few Farangs in the US hold the surname ‘Kasemsarn’. Does this mean that even if the Kasemsarn or Varavarn girl gets married she still holds on to her surname and the man takes his wife’s surname. This is legal in the States but illegal here in Thailand until just last year. So how have surnames like Varavarn and Kasemsarn etc… spread across even international borders at such a rate since the era of King Mongkut? Was there a law in Thailand that allowed married woman who on holding a royal surname keep it even after she was married?

    One more question Oakie. If i were to marry (impossible now after last week!!) a girl holding ‘na ayutthaya’ or ‘na chiang mai’ etc.. after her surname would i as her husband also be entitled to a ‘na’ surname?? Or is this ‘na’ only passed down to ‘her children’?? But then how could son have ‘na’ and ‘dad’ not?

    If ‘yes’ to the husband taking a ‘na’ surname would a ‘Farang’ also be entitled to a ‘na ayutthaya’ surname even though he has no Thai blood??

    And may i ask about you?? its a little personal you dont have to answer but did you keep your Varavarn surname after marriage or take your husband’s? or does he now even though he is a Farang now have Varavarn as a surname.

    I have been interested in this topic for years but i have found it difficult to get any real insight as most Thais themselves haven’t the faintest. In fact i know more about the matter than most Thais as the subject interests me.

    Thanks in advance. Stevesuphan

  13. Hey Steve,

    I can’t answer all of the questions right now as I have to go home and consult my big geneology book. But a few items.

    I should probably add this to my story as well. I am a Phromyothi, actually, before I got married and became a Boren, that is. My father takes on my grandfather’s last name Phromyothi. I think when you are born, you have to put the father’s last name down on the birth certificate.

    My princess grandmother retained her royal title. Although we’d probably have to do research to get into more details, but I think anyone with a title (Serene Highness, M.R. or M.L.) get to retain their names. I asked that of my grandmother once, why she is not a Phromyothi, and she said because she was a princess.

    With that said, the royal name only gets passed down through the father. So if your imaginary wife is a Na Ayuddhaya, your kids will still be a Suphan. 🙂

    I also don’t think the law works the other way that you take on your wife’s name. It’s not really done that way. Bloodlines are passed through the male. Pretty much.

    As for Kasemsarn and Varavarn being related, I have to consult the book at home, but I’m sure we’re related because we’re all descendants of King Mongkut.

    *UPDATE* Confirm: Kasemsarn (and for some reason I keep thinking it’s Kritikarn…but they too are related) and Varavarn are both descending from King Mongkut. Different Chao Chom Manda’s (royal mothers).

    Also, for other Farangs having the Thai name, and again, I have to consult the book, but I’ve seen a few prince and the descendents married foreigners. Of course, the sons take on the name, so that’s probably how the names get out there.

    *UPDATE* One of the Varavarn Serene Highness’ had a foreigner wife, for example. So there you go.

  14. hello oakley

    people always ask me about the line of the thorne in Thai kingdom. I am only can trace to 2 to the crown’s prince and princess. Anyone can trace more than me.
    btw what nomber you are on the throne?

  15. Setsuko Negami Ozawa

    Hi, OakMonster, this is not a comment. Perhaps you could help me find a friend of mine from college. I have desperately been looking for one of Voravarn ladies who has been to US college, Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, between 1971 to 1974. I was there with her for a year, and we correspended for some time after my graduation from the college. Could you help locate her? As soon as I find her, I would like to visit her in Bangkok. Please contact me for more details.

  16. Hi Oakmonster,

    I’m a great great great great grandson of Rama IV (also a great great grandson on Rama VI). So presumably we are very distantly related.

  17. Sorry correction, I mixed up the Kings. I’m a great great grandson of Rama V, which is nice to know when you go to a Thai restaurant and see his portrait. I think my Grandfather had an independent streak in him as he married a women that was not only a commoner but also French. Thanks for the article.

  18. Hi,

    I really like to know how you did your research.