Hindu Culture and Balinese Names

When I first moved to Bali I was determined to learn everything about the culture and the people as quickly as I could. I got about one month into my ‘quest’ and realised I could live here for fifty years and still not fully understand the complexities and rules of the culture, the Hindu practices, and the delicate balance between traditional Bali and modern Bali.

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So where do you even start? I think understanding names and recognising what they mean, and sometimes then the importance of this name, is a good idea. And it may help in remembering which Wayan has the shop, or which Kadek is a great electrician, or that Rhonda fell in love with fourth son Ketut (if you aren’t Australian and/or haven’t seen the ads about Rhonda and Ketut’s love story, that reference will mean nothing to you – sorry!) Family temple in Karangasem

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Traditionally first names were used to denote which order a child was born in, with subsequent names either denoting the place in society or having a special Hindu meaning. It can be argued whether a name denoting place in society is as important as it used to be in Bali, with family structures changing to welcome new cultures through marriage, and family members moving away from the traditional family home for work, and that the modern age also brings change to the traditional way of thinking about place in society. Having said this, certain ‘rules’ or definitions still apply and I do think are still observed in many families.

The first born children, whether male or female, are called Wayan, Putu or Gede. Luh is also a common name but only for females. Second born children are Made or Kadek, third born children are Nyoman or Komang, while the fourth born child is called Ketut. Then if more children are born, it starts all over again but with another word attached to show Wayan is actually Wayan number 2, Wayan number 5 child, or Wayan again.

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Names such as Gusti, Dewa or Desak can denote families with aristocrat heritage. Ngurah and Anak Agung are typical names of those with families whose heritage links to warriors or kings. The highest caste, or place in society, is that of the priest or higher religious status, with names such as Ida Bagus (male) and Ida Ayu (female).

Some parents then give their children another name that could be a personal name for example, Rai, or a name with a strong and good meaning in the Hindu culture. For example Seti (short for Setiawan) means faithful and Dewi is a goddess. To help with establishing whether a name is male or female (if the personal name doesn’t help), an I is added to the beginning of the male name and Ni is added to the female name.

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So think about the name of the airport here I Gusti Ngurah Rai – I meaning male, Gusti meaning from wealthy trader/land owner family, Ngurah meaning from kings or warriors, and Rai is the personal name. After you’ve read this, Google the actual person who the airport was named after – it’s a harrowing read about the Indonesian Revolution but explains a lot about the history and culture.

I have been blessed with amazing Balinese people in my life that have become my family here. I look at their names now and I see they match them perfectly!

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Ni Made Setiasih is a dear friend on Lembongan who helped me get settled, introduced me to lots of people on the island and introduced me to the deliciousness of deep-fried jackfruit! Ni meaning female, Made meaning she number two child and Setiasih meaning of good faith.

Eka was one of the first people I met when I got to Bali and he has become a dear friend. I often mention Eka on Facebook because he is an awesome tour guide and driver (click on the photo to get more info on this). Eka’s full name is I Wayan Eka Trijaya. I for male, Wayan meaning first born, Eka is another way to say first, and Trijaya comes from his mothers name Lotri and his fathers names Mujaya. One thing I can tell you about Eka, he is devoted to his family, his wife Putu and their sons. So his name coming from his parents names, makes absolute sense.

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I Wayan Eka Trijaya Wayan is my Balinese angel. She takes care of me, and the four crazy hounds, plus any friends or family that come stay. She is kind, has a big heart and is a truly good person. Her name Ni Wayan Suyani means female, first born and names with Su at the beginning mean good. Her parents picked a perfect name for her.

Makes you look at your name and wonder how it appears to the complex Hindu naming system – my name for example, Clare Srdarov – no idea what the first name means or how to say it and the second name looks as if the family couldn’t decide where they were from…and lost a few vowels along the way!

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