Names in Indonesia

Naming your children : pure liberty

No last name required

ID One Name Indonesia
A perfectly fine Indonesian ID (source :

Basically you are free to pick whatever you want for the first, the middle and the last name of your child.

Many people, usually from a rural background, don’t have a last name at all ! Even on their identity card they have only their first name (which is their full name).

It may become a problem if they want to go abroad, for instance to undertake the Haji or Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca. Usually the administration makes up a last name on their passport, most of time they simply repeat the first name.

So a guy called Agus for instance will be called Agus Agus on his passport. I had a driver at work in Jakarta whose name was Sulaiman, on his passport his name is Sulaiman Mansulai.

Popular names

The name given by parents usually reflect their aspiration for their child. For instance in Java you can meet people called Slamet (Javanese : safe, peaceful ; only for boys) or Beja (Javanese : Luck). People with Putri/Putra (princess/prince) in their name are very common too.

People also get inspiration from the characters of the wayang epics of Javanese litterature : Panji, Sukarno or Suhadi for boys, Sriyati, Lestari or Kartini for girls.

Religion is of course a great source of name, usually of Arabic origin for Muslims : Abduh, Muhamad, Anisa …

Don’t be surprised if you meet Christian people with latin name like Martinus, Paulanus (quite common in Flores or Papua for instance).

Particular circumstances of birth can also serve as an inspiration. It is common to use the birth month of the child. I have the feeling that this is more true for girls than boys.

  • Juli, Juliani refer to the month of July (ind. Juli).
  • Nova, Novita refer to the month of November (ind. November)
  • Yuni, Yunisa refer to the month of June (ind. Juni)

Some rather original choices

Some parents can be quite creative when searching for inspiration. Anyway, many consider the official name not very important given it is seldom used in the daily life unless for administrative purpose.

  • In 2017, newspaper reported the case of this family from Tangerang (Jakarta’s suburb) who named their child Pajero Sport after the name of a Mitsubishi SUV (source).
  • In 2018, a couple from Palembang named their baby Asian Games because he was born during the Opening Ceremony of the Asian Games held in Jakarta (source).
  • I personnaly met guys whose first name was Beckham or Clinton.
  • This article relate the case of a policeman in Magelang (Central Java) called Andi Go To School.

In 2018, a chicken noodle seller made the headline because he requested the court to change his name from Kentut (Indonesian : fart) to Ihsan Hadi. His father would latter explain that he named his son Kenthut (strong, muscular in Javanese) and that someone at school made a mistake when registering his son.

Family name and marriage name

Given parents are free to pick whatever they want as a last name, there is usually no family name in Indonesia.

The Batak of North Sumatra do transmit their clan name (different name depending on the sub-ethnic group, Toba call it marga, Karo merga …) through the father. A few typical Batak names : Siahaan, Simanjuntak, Nasution, Damanik…

On nearby Nias island, people usually share a family name too. As a more general rule, regions where the Christian missionaries had an influence tend to have more family names than others, for instance in North Sulawesi or in Maluku.

I have the impression that when the family has prestige, they tend to transmit their name to their children. For instance a very well known political journalist is called Najwa Shihab, she is the daughter of famous Islamic scholar and former minister of religion Quraish Shihab. Most of the children of Indonesia first president Sukarno bear the name of their father too, like his daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri (litteraly daughter/princess of Sukarno).

When a woman marries she most of the time doesn’t take the name of her husband. This is especially true among Muslims, but there is no general rule. Current first lady of Indonesia Iriana Widodo has assumed the name of her husband for instance (she was born simply as Iriana).

I remember that I was very confused the first time I received a wedding invitation. Names of the parents is written on it but each one was totally different. It doesn’t mean that the parents are not married though !


Almost everyone have a nickname in Indonesia. It is often a shorten up version of the first name : Kinidwi becomes Dwi, Norvianda becomes Novi

It goes not only for close friends but even proeminent public figures. For instance the current president of Indonesia Joko Widodo is called Jokowi by everyone, including ministers during interviews and  journalists in articles. Its predecessor at the presidency, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is referred to as SBY (pronounced s-bay-yay).

The nickname given to someone can be quite different from its original name :

  • The governmor of Jakarta from 2014 to 2017 Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is publicly known as Ahok (for the origin of the nickname see this article in Indonesian).
  • All the children of late general Suharto are known by their nickname : its eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana is called Tutut or Mbak Tutut, its youngest son Hutomo Mandala Putra is known as Tommy
  • The governor of Nusa Tenggara province (2008-2018) Muhammad Zainul Majdi is usually called Tuan Guru Bajang or TGB (Tuan Guru is an Islamic title given to a master in religious teaching, Bajang means ‘young’ in the Sasak language of Lombok).

Initials before names

For official purpose (typically a wedding invitation or an election), people usually add many initials before and after their name. They are usually a honorific title related to education or religious background.

Let’s take for instance the candidates for the regency of Sintang (West Kalimantan) in 2015 (source of the image : an interesting political blog), the names are below the pictures :

Cabup-Cawabup Sintang

H. (Haji, for men) / Hj. (Hajah, for women) means that the person has done the Haji pilgrimage in Mecca. Of course, only Muslim people use it. If you pay attention to the picture above, only men wearing a peci (typical black Muslim hat) claim to be Haji.

Besides that, initials usually refer to a university degree. If you want the full list, check this (in Indonesian).

  • Ir (Insinyur) or Drs (Doktorandus, for women use Dra) are old academic titles inherited from the Dutch which are no longer given by university since the 90s. Doktorandus is the equivalent of an English MSc, Insinyur is a bachelor in engineering.
  • dr (dokter) means that the bearer is a medical doctor.
  • Dr (doktor) means that the bearer has a PhD.
  • S stands for sarjana (bachelor degree). For instance S.H is sarjana hukum (bachelor in law), S.E sarjana ekonomy (bachelor in economy) …
  • M stands for magister (master degree)

Sometimes, people also give their professional certification. For instance if you see S.K.A it stands for Sertifikat Keahlian Kerja, S.K.T for Sertifikat Keterempilan Kerja. They are expert certifications in the construction industry.

Other possibility : give one’s rank

Here I’m thinking in particular about Bali, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar system exists elsewhere in Indonesia. For Javanese the system is a bit different, for instance names ending by -kusuma, -tananya or -ningrat indicate the nobility. In the villages of North Lombok, some names are the prerogative of the descendants of the old kings…

Back to Bali and abreviations :

  • For Brahmins (high priest) : I.B (Ida Bagus) for men and I.A (Ida Ayu) for women
  • For Satriyas (upper nobility) : A.A (Anak Agung), Cok (Cokorda) Gst (Gusti).
    • Another initial is often added depending on the gender : A.A.I Anak Agung Istri, Gst. Bgs Gusti Bagus
  • For Wesyas (lower nobility) : Gst (Gusti), Dw (Dewa), Ngkn (Ngakan), Dsk (Desak).

I (for men) and Ni (for women) is often added to names that can be both male and female.

In honorary title, if Bagus (Bgs, I.B Ida Bagus is an exception) is added then it’s a male, if you have Ayu (A) then it’s a female. They respectively means ‘handsome’ and ‘pretty’ in Balinese. Sometimes female also bear a I for Istri (wife).

For more comprehensive explanations, please refer to this document (in Indonesian).

Kinship terms

It is always possible to call someone by a kinship term : usually father/mother, uncle/aunt or sister/brother. You could actually talk to the same people for month and never learn their name !

Kinship terms have a multitude of local variants (basically the translation of father, aunt, sister … in each local languages or dialects).

For instance in Java it is common to use mas / mbak (brother / sister) to call someone from your age or younger. It is actually a common mistake among non-native speakers : if you call someone like that you are implying that he/she is Javanese, calling someone from Pontianak or Medan mas would be improper unless he is from Javanese origin.

People often call me mas in Indonesia but it makes sense because I learnt most of my Indonesian in Jakarta and it is obvious in the way I speak. After that I often ask “Do I really look Javanese ?” (I’m French) and everyone have a good laugh.

It is very common for a married couple to call each others father (bapak) and mother (emak is more common in this case) after the birth of their first child.

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