Singaporean Culture

Naming

Most name choices are reflective of a Singaporean’s ethnicity and indicate whether a person is Chinese, Malay, Indian or Western.

Malay
  • Malay names are usually structured with their first name followed by a patronym (bin, binte, binti), and the patronym being followed by their father’s first name. For example, a girl named Aisyah whose father is named Musa would be ‘Aisyah binte Musa’.
  • A title of ‘Haji’ or ‘Hajjah’ indicates the person has made their pilgrimage to Mecca. ‘Sayyed’ or ‘Sharifah’ shows that the person is considered to have descended from the prophet Mohammed.

Chinese
  • In Chinese names, the surname comes before one or two given names (e.g. WANG Zhifu Ping). The surname is usually one syllable, and the given names may contain one or two syllables each.
  • Chinese women do not change their names when they marry, but children are given their father's name.
  • Chinese names are hard for Westerners to pronounce as the tones of Cantonese and Mandarin are very specific. Upon moving to Australia, the Chinese take this into consideration (along with the pressure to conform to Western standards), and therefore, most will adopt a Westernised first name. They may keep one of their original first names as a middle name, but essentially adopt a new name and format it in the Western way: [Westernised first name] [Chinese first name/middle name] [surname] (e.g. James Zhifu WANG). This new name is only used in Western and international contexts; they revert to their original name when returning to China. However, first generation Chinese migrants living in Australia usually give their Australia-born child a Western name instead of a Chinese one.

Indian
  • Many Indian names do not include a surname. The initial of the father’s name is placed before their first name (e.g. N. Kumar). When addressed formally, the name is written as ‘s/o N. Kumar’. ‘S/o’ means ‘son of’, while ‘d/o’ is used for females and means ‘daughter of’.
  • Sometimes when women marry, they omit their father’s initial and adopt their husband’s first name as their surname (e.g. Nita KUMAR). However, it is also common for women to adopt their husband’s family name (e.g. Nita VASANI).
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