Thai students, with nicknames like Poo, Pee and Porn, are being asked to change their names for "smoother cultural integration" in New Zealand.

It is a cultural norm for Thais to have nicknames, with many given by their parents or family members at birth.

However, Thai study abroad agency Smart NZ Education Centre - an Education New Zealand recognised outfit - said six out of 10 students who applied through the agency had been advised to rethink their nicknames.

But ENZ said it did not recommend or mandate agents in Thailand to advise Thai students to change their nicknames.


"Some nicknames may contain unfavourable pronunciation like 'poo', 'pee', 'chit', which resemble 'shit' or 'porn," says Chonnanit Na Songkhla, an agent at the centre.

"There are nicknames that you know will result with the student getting harassed if nothing is done".

Thailand, New Zealand's sixth largest market for international students, is being viewed as a safer study destination compared to countries such as the USA or the UK, Chonnanit said.

Vichaya Nilrungratana, 22, whose nickname is Peach, was advised to change his name to Pete when he arrived in 2014.

"My mum named me Peach because my mum is Apple and my sister is Pear," said the former Thai student at CCEL Christchurch.

"I was surprised because I didn't think my nickname would be understood differently in another country."

Smart Education now include this advice for all would-be students on its study abroad application form.

NZ Thai Society president Songvut Manoonpong said nicknames were often linked to a person's birth date or for good luck.


"If someone is born in January she could be called 'Jan' or if there was a full moon, then the name could be 'Moon'," Manoonpong said.

"Nicknames are also given for good luck or to chase away evil, and it is part of our Thai culture."

Klaowsaung Apinantaswasdi, 21, who studies interior design and architecture at Victoria University in Wellington, goes by the name of "Perfume".

Despite often getting asked twice when she introduces herself, she decided to keep her name because she felt it was unique.

"I guess we are quite proud to have unique nicknames, people can remember us by something," she said.

Pribphandao Suwannarat, 15, a St Margaret's College student in Christchurch was given the nickname "Mydear" by her grandmother - so that she would be "loved by many".

"My classmates thought my name was a joke when the teachers introduced me to the class," said Suwannarat, who came to New Zealand last year.

"When I first moved here, introducing myself to others can be quite a pain."

Kaylie Gleeson, who used to teach English in Thailand, said some student nicknames did make her feel uncomfortable, but most were just fun.

"A girl in my class was called English, so every time during English period I would feel odd going up to the front of the class and saying 'Okay, let's study English'," Gleeson said.

"That was just uncomfortable to me because the class was already used to her name and didn't think it that funny I suppose."

An ENZ spokeswoman said international students brought rich cultural diversity to New Zealand and schools.

"Part of that learning is being exposed to other people's languages, customs and cultures . . . that may include cultural norms such as the Thai custom of nicknames," she said.

"It is our understanding that nicknames are common in Thailand and these are generally terms of endearment."

She said the agent involved provided advice if a name translated as something unusual in English, such as "Poosit" in Thai and shortened to "Poo" in English.

"It could create some discomfort for the student concerned and the New Zealanders they meet while here," she added.

"Their advice was to think about it, and make a decision on a case-by-case basis only."

- Additional reporting Lincoln Tan