It is shown that thermal turbulence, not unlike the standard kinetic and magnetic turbulence, can be an effective driver of a mean-field dynamo. In simple models, such as hydrodynamics and magnetohydrodynamics, both vorticity and induction equations can have strong thermal drives that resemble the α and γ effects in conventional dynamo theories; the thermal drives are likely to be dominant in systems that are endowed with subsonic, low-β turbulence. A pure thermal dynamo is quite different from the conventional dynamo in which the same kinetic/magnetic mix in the ambient turbulence can yield a different ratio of macroscopic magnetic/vortical fields. The possible implications of the similarities and differences between the thermal and non-thermal dynamos are discussed. The thermal dynamo is shown to be highly important in the stellar and planetary context, and yields results broadly consistent with other theoretical and experimental approaches. © 2016 Author(s).