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Keeping Names Straight in Bali

An Introduction to Naming Codes in Bali: Counting on Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut

(5/3/2013) Even a visitor coming to Bali for the briefest period of time can’t help but notice how many people have similar sounding names such as Wayan, Made, Nyoman, Ketut, Ida Bagus and alike.

Also frequently encountered are the prefixes of “I” and “Ni”. The letter “I” preceding Wayan, for instance, signifies a male, while “Ni” would precede a woman’s name.

A person named “I Wayan” or “Ni Wayan” would typically hail from the largest and lowest Sudra Caste of Balinese society.

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Tradition Caste Roles No Longer Apply in Bali

Balinese names can also provide clues to ancestral trades. For instance, a blacksmith or metal workers might be know by the family name of “Pande,” while in traditional Balinese society a person making steel weapons or metal implements is know as a "Pande Besi."

“Ida Bagus” is a sign of respect for someone who is indeed “bagus” or handsome, with “Ida Bagus” considered a title of honor. “Anak Agung,” often represented by A.A. when seen in a printed form, is the prefix reserved for Balinese royalty.

But let’s get back to “Wayan." “The name “Wayan” (sometimes shortened to “Yan”) is derived from “Wokalayan” a word that means “the most mature” and reserved for the first-born. The second-born is called “Made” and is derived form the word Madia for middle. The third-born is designated by “Nyoman” (“Man” or “Mang” for short), taken from the Balinese word “uman” that suggests “the last” or “remainder” - reflecting a Balinese view that an ideal family size should be limited to three children.

In ancient times before the advent of modern birth control appliances and pills, traditional healers, herbalists and other measures - birth control sometimes failed resulting in a fourth child, who would be given the prefix of “Ketut.”

Ketut is presumed to come from the ancient term “Kitut” - a name given to the smallest banana on the stem. Seen a “bonus” and much loved for its sweetness - a Ketut may represent the sweetest and most  loved addition to a Balinese family.

As recently explained by Beritbali.com, Balinese attention to names and labeling also extends to the rats that populate rice fields. Balinese farmers superstitiously avoid calling rats by their Balinese name of “bikul,” preferring, instead, to call the rodents “Jero Ketut” signifying a lesser or smaller (Jero) gentleman. Although despised for the damage they can cause to crops, the clan of Jero Ketut is still seen as playing an integral part in nature’s well-balanced scheme of things. Accordingly, when rats become so populous that farmers have no choice but to eradicate “Jero Ketut” en masse, funereal rites and ritualized cremations are held in their honor.

Child Number Five?

For particularly fecund Balinese couples or people who simply want a large family with lots of children, the naming cycle resumes all over againwith the fifth-born named Wayan, the sixth Made, and so on

Just when you feel certain that you have the cycle of Balinese names well in hand, you’ll encounter a “Wayan” who is called “Putu,” “Kompiang,” or “Gede” – all alternative prefixes for the first-born. Variations on a 2nd child named “Made” might be “Kadek” or “Nengah.” The third-child is not always called “Nyoman,” with “Komang” sometimes used instead. Meanwhile, “Ketut” stands alone with generally no synonym used for the fourth-born.

Like their neighboring Javanese, Balinese do not typically have a family name. However, some Balinese have adopted a clan identifier that could be, for example,  “Dusak” or “Pendit” and could result in a name such as “Wayan Dujana Pendit.

In recent times, some Balinese modify their names to include the name of a famous ancestor.

Some Balinese are also now busily adopting Western monikers resulting in a “Ni Luh Ayu Cindy” or “I Ketut Bobby.”

Sudra Caste

The Sudra, Bali’s largest and lowest cast, has no special naming ritual beyond the use of “I” before a boy’s name or “Ni” before a girl’s name.

Comprising about 90% of all Balinese, the Sudra (peasants and craftsmen) are not isolated or deemed untouchable, as might be the case in India. Sudra members of Bali often seek counsel from upper caste members on religious matters, such as the selection of propitious days for ceremonies and for the commencement of major projects.

Wesya Caste

The Wesya Caste has specific names such as “I Dewa” for a man or “I Dewa Ayu” for a female. “Desak” is also a name found among the Wesya Caste traditionally reserved for vassals of a Raja and merchants.

K’satria Caste

Also known as Satria, this caste of warriors and kings will be distinguished with names such as “I Gusti Ngurah” (male) or “I Gusti Ayu” (female). Other names of the Satria caste are “Anak Agung “(male), “Anak Agung Ayu” or “Anak Agung Istri” (female).

Look also for “Tjokorda” (shortened to “Tjok”) for a male or “Tjokorda Istri (female).

Brahmana Caste

The religiously elite caste of the priests and the teachers – the Brahmana caste are designated by names such as “Ida Bagus” (male) and “Ida Ayu” female.