What's in a Name? Balinese Naming Traditions

Posted by Anne Macindoe on 7 August 2014 | 0 Comments

Balinese Name Traditions

The Indonesian island of Bali is famous for its culture. Among other qualities, its inhabitants are renowned for traditional dance, Hindu spiritualism and shadow puppetry. Balinese people also have a truly unique name convention. It is a tradition that visitors quickly notice, because so many locals share the same given names.

One in Four

New parents on Bali and in parts of nearby Lombok, Indonesia name their children according to the family caste and the order in which they are born.

Although caste no longer plays a part in everyday life, it is one of the deciding factors in naming a newborn. A long history of Hindu spiritualism means that, similar to India, indigenous Balinese belong to one of four traditional castes:

  • Brahmana (priest)
  • Ksatria (ruler or warrior)
  • Wesia (merchant or officials)
  • Sudra (rice grower)

Each caste has unique names, but because around 90% of the Bali population belong to the Sudra caste, these names are especially prevalent.

Balinese are unofficially “invited” to limit families to four children, who are given names that follow their birth order. In fact, many people will introduce themselves only by their birth number. Should a family produce fifth and further children, the name sequence is repeated, beginning at one and often with the suffix Balik (meaning “again”).

Child Sudra names Other names
First Wayan, Putu Gede, Nengah
Second Made, Kadek Nengah
Third Nyoman Komang
Fourth Ketut

 

Gender

Balinese names are non-gender specific so both male and female children are named in the one-to-four series. But the caste system helps make some differentiations.

In the Sudra and Waisya castes, male names are preceded by "I" and female by “Ni”, for example I Made Putra of Ni Made Putra meaning second child with the name putra from Sudra or Waisya cast.

Similar conventions are adopted to distinguish Kesatrya and Brahmana names.

Origins

Although some name versions reflect the island district, regional customs or local language, most Balinese names are of Sanskrit origin. The island’s name tradition is therefore thought to originate from its people’s Hindu spiritual roots. Other than old religious manuscripts, there is no historical fact that can evidence the evolution of the distinctive Bali naming convention.

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