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What’s in a Name!


I did not realise the complexity of our naming system until I came across the extremely simple – and therefore confusing – naming system used for naming children in Bali, Indonesia.

It is the complexity of the structure that we use that allows for incisive clarity and lack of confusion. Whereas a structure that is seemingly simple has the potential to result in muddles.

We take the system of first name, middle name and last name for granted.

But in Bali there is ONLY a first name.

Now Bali is a Hindu state that has the Mahabharata – the battle of 5 Pandava and 100 Kaurava cousins – entrenched into the cultural consciousness. SO should we assume that they have planned for at least one hundred names?

Yes – we could assume. But we would be wrong.

Bali has ONLY 4 names that are fixed according to the birth order.

Therefore the first born child or child number 1 is named Wayan, child number 2 is named Made, child number 3 is named Nyoman  and child number 4 is named Ketut.

ONLY these four names are used for all of Bali’s children.

There is an assumption that parents will have only 4 children as there is no fifth name. In case a 5th child arrives, the naming cycle is repeated and the name given is Wayan! The 6th is Made … and so on.

Sure makes it easy for the mother to remember!

I wonder what the teacher does in school!  In a class of 40 students, if probabilities are equal there are at least 10 of each name in a class.

So is there a surname to suffix? NO.

The name is just one single word. Wayan or Made or Nyoman or Ketut.

So how? The answer lies in a nickname that is also used to address the child.

What about legal issues like property etc …

Since it is a thriving system, the answers are all probably there, even though I do not know them.


“Wonder” is so much more fun than “logic” and discoveries such as this one make life’s journey so much more interesting!


Dec 2015

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