Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Cambodia (Kampuchea)

Capital : Phnom Penh

Size: 70 000 sq m Popn: 9 054 000


There is evidence of a fairly sophisticated prehistoric culture in the area but it is not certain whether the early inhabitants came from China, India or the islands of South East Asia. Remains from about 1500 BC suggest that they were similar to modern Cambodians and by the Christian era they were speaking a language related to modern Khmer or Cambodian. It was at this period that the process of 'Indianization' began. There was no forced conversion, but Cambodians adopted many of the customs of the Indian colonists including music, dress, jewellery, the Hindu religion and a written language, which were still in evidence during the C19th.

The country was made up of smaller states under their own rulers and inscriptions suggest that the majority of the population were slaves of varying degrees of importance. Sanskrit was used for inscriptions that addressed the gods directly or concerned the ruling elite while Khmer was used for temple records and administrative details and there appears to have been a class division between those who spoke Sanskrit and those who only knew Khmer.

During the Ankorean period, usually defined by the dates AD 802 - 1431, the Khmer Empire of Cambodia was the strongest kingdom in South East Asia. Jayavarman II, king of an area near what became the Angkor Wat complex, adopted the title of 'universal monarch' or god king. He enlarged his kingdom through conquest and alliance, establishing his capital at Hariharalaya (modern Roluos). His son, Jayavarman III, succeeded him but when he died in AD 877, the throne was usurped by Indravarman who built a system of temples and irrigation works around Hariharalaya. His son, Yasovarman, continued the construction process, endowing many religious hermitages and temple mountains and the city at Angkor was called Yasodharapura after him. Subsequent rulers continued the tradition and under Rajendravarman II trade with what is now northeast Thailand increased. He and his son, Jayavarman VI, were tolerant of Buddhism and the religion was strengthened by this.

A period of unrest followed but by 1003, Suryavarman had emerged as king. During his reign, priests and officials came under government control and urbanisation and foreign trade increased. During the C11th, several leaders claimed the title of absolute ruler and Suryavarman II was the first king of a unified kingdom since the 1060s. He campaigned in Vietnam and Champa and was the first Cambodian king to establish diplomatic relations with China and started to build the temple of Angkor Wat, dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu god to whom he was particularly devoted. His successor, Dharanindravarman, was a Buddhist and may not actually have reigned in Yasodharapura.

After a troubled reign, the next king, Yasovarman II, was assassinated by a subordinate who took the throne and it was not until the rule of Jayavarman VII that the country regained stability. The early part of his reign saw a grand programme of temple building. He was well-educated in Buddhist teachings and saw the religion as a way to redeem the kingdom. This had the effect of making the people more significant as they were now seen as objects of compassion and participants in Jayavarman's redemption rather than slaves. During the C13th, Cambodia largely converted to Theravedra Buddhism which was more oriented towards ordinary individuals although Brahmanism and Shaivism were still recognised religions.

Angkor was in decline and Thai invasions during the 13th and 14th led to a migration southward to the Phnom Penh area of both population and institutions. By the C16th, Thai influence was strong in the west and Thai patronage restored the Cambodian king, Chan, to power after he was deposed. In the east, Vietnamese influence was felt, with so many immigrants arriving in the C17th and 18th that the Cambodians were in the minority. There were Thai and Vietnamese factions at the Cambodian court and the conflict between these rival patrons lasted until the 1860s.

The Portuguese reached Cambodia by the early C16th but were not allowed to make converts to Catholicism or establish a power base. The Spanish governor of the Phillippines was asked for help against Thai invasions in 1593 but the Cambodian king had fled with his son before any action could be taken. Spanish imperialism of the last few years of the C16th led to a revolution in warfare and an influx of foreign traders. In the 1640s, a Cambodian king married a Malay and converted to Islam and his rivals asked Vietnam for help. They succeeded in removing him and began to control Cambodia's sea trade with Saigon becoming an important centre. Vietnamese pressure increased over the years and by the C19th, Thai and Vietnamese forces had invaded many times.

Cambodia regained some degree of independence under Duang who was restored to the throne with Thai help but allowed political freedom. Relations with Vietnam did not improve and in 1853 he offered homage to Napoleonic France. By the 1860s, France had taken over Vietnam's position of influence in Cambodia and a French Protectorate was established in 1863. The French saw themselves as a civilising force in Cambodia and life became increasingly westernized although the Cambodian royal family was still nominally in power. In the first half of the C19th, some nationalist feeling emerged but there were no uprisings as there were in Vietnam, also under French rule. The Cambodian language newspaper, Nagara Vatta, founded in 1935, began to promote the idea of a Cambodian nation free from Chinese, Vietnamese or French control but few Cambodians had any kind of education and there was little political awareness.

Anti-French resistance increased despite French reforms in the early 1940s and during the Second World War, France's instability at home contributed to her defeat in Indochina. In March 1945, the Japanese disarmed French forces and removed French officials in an attempt to prevent armed resistance but there were several months of unrest. After the Japanese surrender, the Vietnamese under Son Ngoc Thanh tried to regain control of Cambodia but he was arrested by the returning French.

In the 1940s, two leading political parties emerged. The Democratic Party (Krom Pracheathipodei) led by Prince Sisowath Yuthevong, wanted an independent Cambodia with a democratic system based on that of the French. The Liberals or Freedom Group (Kanaq Sereipheap) led by Prince Norodom Norindeth, wanted to remain dependent upon France and maintain the status quo. In the elections of 1946, the Democrats won 50 seats, the Liberals 14 and three went to independent candidates. The new constitution reduced the king's powers in favour of a National Assembly although the French were still in charge. In 1949, a treaty was signed which created an autonomous military area around Battambang and Siem Reap and allowed Cambodia more freedom in her foreign policies. Financial and defensive affairs remained the province of the French.

War continued throughout Indochina and the Communist victory in China gave Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam an ally and communist guerrillas controlled about half Cambodia's territory by 1953 with the Communist Khmer People's Revolutionary Party forming in 1951. After much negotiation, France granted King Norodom Sihanouk (elected 1941) independence with power over the army and legal system but retained her economic involvement in rubber production. In order to be able to stand in the 1955 elections, the king abdicated in favour of his father, Prince Suramarit. Prince Sihanouk, as he was now known, monopolised political power, becoming prime minister and leader of the Popular Socialist Community in 1955. The country was relatively prosperous and peaceful with little organised opposition until he was voted out of office by his National Assembly early in 1970 when he was in France. His cousin, Sisowath Sirik Matak, forced the prime minister, Lon Nol, to support the vote and he was allowed to keep his post with Matak as his assistant. They were determined to remove the Vietnamese but the many volunteer troops were not well enough trained and were heavily defeated by the North Vietnamese.

Cambodia became the Khmer Republic in October 1970 and Lon Nol became president in 1972. His regime was opposed by the exiled Sihanouk and by the communist Khmer Rouge/CPK which gained control of the resistance although victory was postponed due to a heavy US bombing campaign early in 1973. In April 1975 they took over Phnom Penh and Lon Nol's government fell. The country was renamed Kampuchea with Prince Sihanouk as head of state although he was removed in 1976 by a new constitution. Khieu Samphan, former deputy prime minister was appointed president and Pol Pot and his Communist Party of Kampuchea gained control. They were determined revolutionize the country and most of the population was forced out of the towns into the countryside leaving only factory workers and CPK officials and their families. The Four Year Plan was to introduce new crops and with the money earned from their export, to establish industry despite the lack of raw materials. Pol Pot was certain that change could be achieved very quickly and this involved virtually the whole population having to work at least ten hours a day without enough food. It is believed that at least a million people, a seventh of the population, died in what became known as Cambodia's 'killing fields' as a result of DK policies, many of them executed as enemies of the revolution.

The CPK developed close links with China and when Vietnam attempted to open negotiations in 1975-6, the Cambodians demanded that the agreements made with Sihanouk in the 1960s were honoured. Vietnamese troops gathered on the border in 1978 and by 1979, Cambodia was under their control as The People's Republic of Kampuchea with a puppet government headed by Heng Samrin. The defeated regime kept up a guerrilla resistance and over 300,000 refugees fled to Thailand in 1979 alone. Many people had welcomed the Vietnamese as they brought the end of DK but an alliance with the Soviet Union led to a Chinese invasion in February 1979. The main effect of the two-week campaign was to cause many Sino-Vietnamese to leave the country and throughout 1979 and early 1980, many Cambodians also returned to their old homes and travelled the country trying to find relatives. Drought and famine led to humanitarian aid becoming necessary. In the elections of 1981, there were no opposing parties and the PRK signed a treaty of co-operation and friendship with Vietnam.

In the 1980s, China and Thailand gave continued support to the DK whose dependants were given refugee status by the United Nations which did not recognise the PRK. There were now three main factions, that of Prince Sihanouk, that of former prime minister Son Sann and the DK. The agreed to form create a coalition 1981-2 but there was no real trust between them and the PRK, helped by Vietnam, drove their forces into Thailand and destroyed their camps. Pol Pot retired as leader of the Khmer Rouge in 1985 and there was hope of a political settlement. Hun Sen, a reformist, became prime minister, adopting a mixed economy approach and appointing indigenous Khmers to key government posts. On the prompting of Soviet leader Gorbachev, Vietnam began a phased withdrawal, completed in September 1989. The coalition regained bases inside Cambodia and the DK continued to raid villages and kill many people with anti-personnel mines. After talks with the resistance coalition, the Phnom Penh government agreed to constitutional reforms including the adoption of Buddhism as the state religion, and the return to the ideologically neutral name 'State of Cambodia'.

The UN refused to recognise Hun Sen's government and civil war intensified, with the Khmer Rouge making advances in the western provinces and capturing the border town of Pailin in October. The government now had an army of only 40 000 with 100 000 militia against the resistance coalition's 45000 guerrillas, half of which belonged to the Khmer Rouge. In 1990, the USSR and China reportedly agreed to stop supplying arms to their respective clients and the US decided to stop backing the CGDK representative at the UN as this was beginning to be seen as condoning the actions of Pol Pot. A peace settlement was proposed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council but it was dismissed by the Phnom Penh government which objected to the establishment of permanent UN bases in Cambodia.

In January 1991, guerrilla fighting increased but a ceasefire was agreed in May-June and an accord was reached by the all-party Supreme National Council in Pataya, Thailand between Prince Sihanouk, nominal leader of the guerrillas, and the Hun Sen government, maybe due to pressure from their respective backers Vietnam and China. In October, the four warring factions and 18 interested countries signed a peace agreement in Paris. The ruling Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party changed its name to the Khmer/Cambodian People's Party, abandoning its Marxist-Leninist ideology. Chea Sim replaced Hun Sen as party chairman and it endorsed a multiparty system, free-market economy and the protection of human rights. Buddhism was upheld as the state religion and Prince Sihanouk was supported as a future candidate for the presidency, returning to the country in November after thirteen years away. The Khmer Rouge leader, Khieu Samphan, also returned but flew back to Thailand after being attacked by an angry mob. Hundreds of political prisoners were released from January 1992 and freedom of speech and the formation of new political parties were allowed.

Despite promising to co-operate in the peace process, the Khmer Rouge refused to disarm and continued to receive support from Thailand, expanding its territory in 1992. In the 1993 elections, the royalist party of Sihanouk's son, Norodom Rannariddh, won a majority over Hun Sen's Vietnamese controlled communists but they refused to relinquish power. A coalition was formed but the royalists never had any real control over the running of the country although the monarchy had officially been restored under Sihanouk and Cambodia reverted to a one-party state in all but name. The Khmer Rouge was outlawed in 1994 but still controlled about a fifth of the country although there were attempts to remove them by force. By 1995, Thai support had lessened and defections increased and although Pol Pot remained in charge, there is evidence that the leadership was fragmenting. He was eventually tried and executed by his own forces early in 1998. The country still has a largely impoverished population but is receiving foreign assistance and rebuilding its infrastructure. It was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as an observer in 1995 and the United States gave it 'most favoured nation' status for trading.

Cambodian Names

These are often taken from the Buddhist religion to which 90% of Cambodians belong. Nature, morality and good behaviour are also popular themes.


Arun Bourey Bun-Rong Chankrisna Chay Chhan
Dara Jun-Chhoun Kiman Kiri Makara Meng
Munney Munny Nath Nghor Nhean Norodom
Phirun Ranariddh Rithisak Rongsey Sakngea Samrin
Sen Sim Sopheara Sovann Sutshakan Thai
Uth Varin Veasna Vhadtma Yok-Seng  


Flower names are common.

Baen Boupha Chan Channary Chantou Chantrea
Chea Kalliyan Kannitha Kolab Kunthea Mei
Mliss Pheakkley Sopheary Soportevy Teva Tevy
Thirith Vanna Veata      


Agoume Chea Chey Chhour Chouan Chun
Haing Hen(g) Him Im Meth Mian
Ouch Pan Prak Rous Sat Sien
Sihanouk Sin Sok Som Son Sotpeak
Sourn Toan Uch Vann    

Actual Names

Bunchhan Muul Dith Pran Haing Nghor Hem Chieu Hou Yuon Hu Nim
Ieng Sary Keng Vannsak Keo Meas Khieu Samphan Kragum Chey Lambool Dtangpaibool
Lon Nol Lon Non Monirak Sisowath Monireth Montana Nhek Tioulong
Non Suon Norindeth Nuon Chea Oum Hoeung Pach Chhoeun Saloth Sar
Sam Rainsy Samnang Siv Sao Phim Sim Var Sirik Nheth Siwotha
Son Sann Son Sen Sroy Kim Sreang f Suramarit Svay So Thiounn Mumm
Vanthy Rath Vathana Biv Vorn Vet Yem Sambaur Youk Chhang Yukanthor



Name Reign Family

Jayavarman II      
Jayavarman III -877 Son of Jay II  
Indravarman 877-889 Usurper, desc of a wife of JII  
Yasovarman 889-910 Son of V  
2 sons of Y      
Brother of Y's wife C 921    
Jayavarman IV 928-42 Usurper  
942-4 Son of J IV  
Rajendravarman II 944-68 Nephew of J IV  
Jayavarman V 968-1001 Son of Raj II  
Suryavarman C 1003-50    
Utyadityavarman II 1050-68    


Jayavarman VI C 1100    
Dharanindravarman I   Bro of J VI  
Suryavarman II -c1150 Greatnephew of J VI + D I  
Dharanindravarman II c1150-60 Cousin of S II  
Yasovarman II 1160s    
Jayavarman VII 1181- Cousin of S II  
Indravarman II      
Jayavarman VIII      
Indravarman III 1296-1308 Son-in-law of J VIII  


Chan 1550s    
Eng -1797    
Chan -1835 Son of Eng  
Mei 1835-48 Daughter of Chan  
Duang 1848-60 Brother of Chan  
Norodom C 1884-1904 Nephew of Chan  
Sisowath 1904-27 Half brother of N  
Monivong 1927-41 Son of Sisowath  
Norodom Sihanouk 1941-55 abd. Gs of Monivong  
Suramarit 1955-60 Father of NS  

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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