In any other place in the world a naming system using just four key names for everyone sounds crazy, however in Bali it seems to work. Seeing Balinese with their friendly smiles and carefree laughs reminds us daily of why this island of 4.5 million remains one of the worlds favourite tropical holiday destinations. Wayan, Made, Nyoman, and Ketut are everywhere and unlike other cultures, the Balinese do not share their family names. Linking groups from the same family isn’t so simple, but like many things in Bali there is method to what initially seems like madness. Family and society is the key to everything in the Balinese culture and understanding how the naming system works will help you to better understand the people and the culture of the magical island of Bali.

The Balinese name their children in the order they are born, with names being the same for both boys and girls, the first born child is a Wayan, Putu or Gede, the second a Made or Kadek, and the third is a Nyoman or Komang. Number four is named Ketut. If a family has more than four children, the names start again from the beginning again with Wayan who usually quickly picks up an extra nickname like Wayan “Balik” which means “another” Wayan.

If it were that simple then this story would be finished. However it’s not and there is more to learn. When your in Bali you will surely meet locals not using Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. Many Balinese use names which signify their caste status. The “Wesya” or Aristocratic caste are named Gusti, Dewa or Desak, while the “Ksatria” caste of Kings and Warriors name their children Ngurah, Anak Agung or Tjokorda.

The highest priestly caste, called the “Brahmana” name their children Ida Bagus for men and Ida Ayu for women. The name Jero usually a woman, signifies she has married into a higher caste.

Nicknames are very common in Bali as well as all over Indonesia, a vast sprawling country of nearly 300 million inhabitants on 16,000 islands speaking many different dialects. Most people in Indonesia tend to be known by a single name, be it a given name or an adopted nickname to help create a unique identity for themselves. Think of recent leaders including Soekarno, Soeharto, and Jokowi to name a few. Indonesia is the 4th largest country in the world by population so you could imagine finding a unique name is not always so easy.

Back to Bali, with so many Wayans, Nyomans and Ketuts, the Balinese tend to adopt nicknames to set themselves apart. Nicknames can be based on physical attributes like Made Gemuk (Fat Made), personality traits like Ketut Santi (Peaceful Ketut), or even names like Wayan Sopir (Wayan Driver) or Made Menari (Made Dancer).

Many Balinese give their children another Hindu name that has a positive meaning. Suardika, means “Guiding Light”, Setiawan means “Faithful” and Dewi means “Goddess” Often Balinese use this Hindu name or create a nickname. Budi might be short for Budiasa, Widi could be a nickname of Widiarta, and Nuriasih might be shortened to Nuri. When using their full names, the Balinese add a prefix to indicate gender. ‘I’ for men and ‘Ni’ for women. I Made Darma Putra would be a first born man, and Ni Anak Agung Rai would be a woman of the Ksatria caste. Understanding the names of the Balinese will help you understand the person, their caste and more. See one of those big smiles when you ask someone to tell you about their name.