When you watched the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions last week, you noticed the outstanding performance of finalist Veronica Vichit-Vadakan.

And you probably wondered about her last name. You figured that there were several possibilities: perhaps she has a parent named Vichit and the other parent is named Vadakan, or else she herself was originally a Vichit and her husband is a Vadakan. Or perhaps vice versa.

All of these are reasonable hypotheses.

But all are apparently incorrect!

The first thing to know is that she is clearly a Thai-American. Why do I say “clearly”? Because her name surely reminds you of the famous Luang Wichitwathakan, who is credited with being the one responsible for changing the name of his country from Siam to Thailand! And it doesn’t take much linguistics to see that Wichitwathakan could easily be spelled Vichit-Vadakan, and I don’t mean at Ellis Island. The correct spelling, of course, is วิจิตรวาทการ, but that’s not much help to those of us who are overwhelmed by the Thai alphabet, much as we might admire its beauty. Watching The King and I doesn’t help one bit.

I make no claim here to having figured out the correct story; mostly I’m just guessing. I don’t even know whether Veronica V-V and Luang W…w… are really from the same family, though it certainly looks likely. In any case, I admire the “V V-V” alliteration, found also in Visra Vichit-Vadakan, Viria Vichit-Vadakan, Varanya Vichit-Vadakan, and Vicharee Vichit-Vadakan. The exact relationships are left as an exercise for the reader.

Categories: Linguistics