• Anna Genders

Why does everyone in Bali have the same names?

Have you ever wondered why so many people in Bali seem to have the same name? 'How the heck is this supposed to work..?'


For anyone that has spent time in Bali....there are a few standout things you will notice. The Balinese love to smile, they are super friendly and.....they all seem to have the same names. The most popular that you will likely hear most being Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut. We are used to calling someone by their first name, and then their surname to differentiate them from someone else. This is where it gets tricky in Bali. The Balinese people do not have surnames, so it can be quite difficult trying to determine one Wayan from another.


Ok, so they share the same first names......and they dont have a surname.....this can't be right. Although this may seem confusing at first, the Balinese naming system does actually have an order that helps you place people in their family and society. Balinese people name their children depending on the order they are born, and the names are the same for both males and females as follows;

The firstborn child is named Wayan, Putu or Gede

The second is named Made or Kadek

The third child goes by Nyoman or Komang

The fourth is named Ketut.


If a family has more than four children, the cycle repeats itself, and the next ‘Wayan’ may be called Wayan Balik, which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’.


Ok, you'll need to stay with me from here....So you ask 'What about the people you meet who don’t have one of these names?' Some Balinese people have names that denote their caste or clan.


For example, people from the following Castes may have the following names;

Wesya (aristocratic) caste might be named Gusti, Dewa or Desak.

Ksatria (kings and warriors) caste are often called Ngurah, Anak Agung aka 'the great one' or Tjokorda. It is more difficult to differentiate sexes by name alone among the Ksatria people, though personal names often tell, like Putra, or “prince”, for a boy, and Putri, or 'princess', for a girl.

Brahmana(the highest caste)are often named Ida Bagus for men or Ida Ayu for women.


Jero indicates that a person, usually a woman, has married into a higher caste. When inter-caste marriages occur, those who marry someone from a higher caste will adopt the name 'Jero' in front of their name.


Just to throw a spanner into the works, you also might run into people with names that don’t fit into any of these categories. This is probably because they go by their nickname. With so many Wayans and Mades around, many Balinese create often western nicknames to set themselves apart from the rest? Nicknames in Bali can be based on physical attributes used to describe the person, ie Boss Wayan, Fat Made, Tall Wayan.


Most Balinese people also give their children a second or third Hindu name that has a positive meaning. Some examples include;

Suardika means ‘guiding light’

Setiawan means 'faithful'

Dewi means 'goddess'


Sometimes Balinese people use this Hindu name or shorten it to create a nickname. For example, Budi might be short for Budiasa, Widi could be a shortening of Widiarta, and Nuri might be short for Nuriasih.


Finally, when using their full names, Balinese people also add a prefix to indicate gender. ‘I’ is for men and ‘Ni’ is for women, so I Wayan Darma Putra would be a first-born man, while Ni Anak Agung Rai would be a woman of the Ksatria caste.


So have I confused you? Just within the Saudara Team alone we have the following;

Wayan(female)

Wayan(male)

Ketut(female)

Ketut(male)

Putu(female)

Putu(male)

Made(male)

Arik(female)


It takes some time for outsiders to understand the system, but once you do, it’s easy to determine where a person stands in his or her family and in the caste system. Next time you're in Bali, take some time to thinking about the name of the person you are engaging with and where they are positioned in their family.


I hope you have found this interesting and hope it gives you some insight into the Balinese naming system! Anna


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