Indonesian Culture

Naming

Naming practices and traditions vary significantly across different regions, ethnicities and linguistic groups in Indonesia. The following information provides a guideline to general conventions across the country, although is most representative of Javenese Indonesian naming practices.

 

Naming Conventions

  • The Western concept of having a ‘first name’, ‘middle name’ and ‘family name’ is not followed in Indonesia.
  • Under Indonesian naming conventions, all components of a name are considered part of a single given name that is their unique personal identifier, i.e. [personal name]. 
  • Similarly, official Indonesian documents (e.g. ID, license, passport) consider any sequence or number of names to comprise an individual’s full personal name alone. 
  • Indonesian personal names are usually either one to three words long, although some may be longer. For example, Suparman (male) and Wulandari Hartono (female).
  • One-word names (e.g. Suparman) are especially common among Javanese people. In these instances, the single word alone is considered the person’s full name.
  • Similarly, all words in longer names (e.g. Yovan Gunardio Darmawan) are considered components of a single personal name, rather than a first name, middle name and surname.
  • Surnames are not legally recognised and there is no national custom of inheriting family names. Some people may have words in their name that operate like a surname (see Inherited Names below). However, most Indonesians do not have a surname.
  • This means the names of family members often have no resemblance to each other. For example, Wulandari Hartono and Suparman’s child may be called Hasan. The birth certificate would read “Hasan child of Suparman and Wulandari Hartono". However, the child’s name would appear as simply ‘Hasan’ for all other intents and purposes (e.g. ID, license, passport).
  • Name structures may also vary within a family. For example, a parent with a one-word name may give their child a name three-words long.
  • It is not customary for Indonesian women to change their legal name at marriage. However, some may adopt their husband’s name informally in social settings, based on personal choice. For example, the wife of President Joko Widodo was named Iriana at birth and changed it to Iriana Widodo.

 

Inherited Names

  • While surnames or ‘inherited names’ are not legally recognised in Indonesia, parents may choose to add a word component to their child’s given name that reflects the person’s lineage. This is usually the last word in a person’s name that essentially operates like a surname. The practice is most common in names that are two words long or more.
  • Traditionally noble families (usually Javanese or Sundanese) may pass on a name that indicates their family’s lineage and prestige. For example, in the case of Prince Kanjeng Pangeran Haryo Notonegoro, “Notonegoro” is the family name indicating he is from a noble family.‬‬‬‬‬‬
  • For some ethnic groups, the first word of a person’s name may be a noble title. For example, Teuku Wisnu – ‘Teuku’ indicates nobility among the Acehnese people. 
  • Some parents may choose to pass on their father’s given name to the child, followed by the suffix ‘putra’ (prince/son) or ‘putri’ (princess/daughter). For example, Suparman’s child may be called ‘Hasan Suparmanputra’. This patronymic name is still considered part of the person’s full personal name, rather than a surname.
  • Certain Indonesian ethnic groups and tribes may pass on a clan name that operates as a surname. For example, a person of Batak descent may be named Ruhut Sitompul, in which ‘Sitompul’ is a clan name.  

 

Names

  • Indonesian parents are generally free to choose whatever name they want for their child. This often leads to a lot of variation in name structure and formations.
  • There is a general preference to try and choose a highly individual name that endures as the child’s unique personal identifier throughout life. Therefore, children are rarely named after other family members or friends. 
  • Names are often created by adding suffixes to existing names or words, or by blending elements from different languages and ethnic or religious naming traditions, such as Sanskrit, Javanese, Arabic, Chinese and Dutch. For example, the name ‘Annisa Eka Martha Widaswari’ has words from Arabic, Sanskrit, Latin and Javanese.
  • For example, many names are derived from Sanskrit words, reflecting cultural influence of Hinduism in the country, e.g. Sudarto (Javanese for Siddharta), Satya, Aryo, Bima, Dewi.
  • Arabic names are especially popular among Muslim Indonesians, e.g. Muhammad, Ali, Hasan (male) or Aisha, Fatimah, Nabila (female). 
  • It is common for male names to end with the suffix ‘-uddin’ or ‘-udin’ to make them more recognisably Arabic, e.g. Najmuddin, Hasanuddin, etc.1
  • Some people may have English-Western names (e.g. Rudy, Betty, Iwan, Anita). These are especially among Chinese Indonesians.2 English names may be combined with an Indonesian name, e.g. Tony Kusuma and Lisa Chandrawi.
  • Most Indonesian names are also instilled with some significant meaning that symbolises parents’ aspirations and wishes for the child, e.g. Slamet (Javanese – safe/peaceful), Beja (Javanese – luck).
  • Some names may indicate the order a child was born. For example, Javanese people may use the Sanskrit words ‘Eka’ or ‘Eko’ (first-born), ‘Dwi’ (second-born), ‘Tri’ (third-born), etc. Similarly, Balinese people may name their eldest son ‘Wayan’, the second son ‘Made’, ‘Nyoman’ (third-born), ‘Ketut’ (fourth-born), etc.
  • A name may reflect the time or circumstance of a person’s birth, such as the month they were born. For example, Nova, Novita (November) or Yuni, Yunisa (June).3

 

Addressing Others

  • Indonesians generally address friends and acquaintances by their given name in casual contexts. However, this is only appropriate when communicating with people of the same age and status as one’s self.
  • In all other contexts, the given name is accompanied by an honorific title that shows politeness and respect based on people’s gender, age and social relationship to one another. 
  • Titles usually have familial connotations, such as ‘uncle or ‘aunt’ instead of professional meanings.
  • The formal way to address those who are older than yourself or of higher status is ‘Bapak’ (Sir.) or ‘Pak’ (Mr.) for men and ‘Ibu’ (Ma’am) or ‘Bu’ (Ms./Mrs.) for women. These literally translate to “father” and “mother” respectively, and are commonly used in professional settings and when meeting someone for the first time.
  • An informal way to address someone significantly older is ‘Kakak’ (older sibling), while ‘Adik’ (younger sibling) is for someone younger. These can be used for either gender.
  • The title always comes before the person’s name. For example, you would refer to Wulandari Hartono as ‘Ibu Wulandari Hartono’.
  • Be aware terms of address vary between different ethnicities and linguistic groups in Indonesia. 
  • It is common for Indonesians to refer to friends by nicknames that are an abbreviation of their full name. For example, ‘Kinidwi’ may be referred to as ‘Dwi’.4
  • People with three-word names or longer generally use the first word of their name or a nickname in most casual contexts. For example, Annisa Eka Martha Widaswari may be known as ‘Nisa’ for all intents and purposes However, an Indonesian will usually tell you which name or nickname to refer to them by. 
  • Some people may add initials before or after their name in official written form (e.g. emails, invitations, etc.). These are usually honorific titles relating to one’s educational or religious background. For example, “H. Senen Maryono, M.” – the ‘H’ stands for ‘Haji’ meaning the person has completed a pilgrimage to Mecca, and the ‘M’ means he has a master’s degree.5


1 Van der Meij, 2010

2 LingoNomad, 2021

3 The Spice Route End, 2018

4 The Spice Route End, 2018

5 The Spice Route End, 2018

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