Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sans Surnom

"Can you send me your first name/last name?"

That was the question I heard when I had to attend a fellowship abroad. I hate to disappoint people, but here is the truth: I don't have last name. I have two names, but both are mine, not my father's or mother's name. For an easy reply, I usually tell them to use the second name (although it's not a family name).

Most foreigners are shocked to know about this fact. But let me tell you another surprising fact: most Indonesians go with only one name. The proof? Our first and second presidents only have one name, Soekarno and Soeharto. Even D only has one name.

So how do we differentiate one Soekarno or Soeharto from another? Well, we just don't, that's why there are so many Indonesians having the same names. But having a last name doesn't guarantee that your name is unique. For example, there are so many Mr. Smiths out there (oops, a fan of Matrix movies just pops out:)).

As a Muslim, I know that I should use my father's name, by adding "binti my father's name" behind my name. Binti means daughter of, while bin means son of, so if I'm a man it should be "bin (my father's name). But all my certificates and official identification letters already use my name, and adding "binti ..." will be too much of a hassle.

There are ethnic groups in Indonesia that apply the family names, though. For example, Batak people, Manado people or Maluku people. And through their last names, we can tell which region they come from.

Some interesting facts I learn about last names:
- Europeans and Africans put their last name behind the first name. Quite easy.
- Chinese, Koreans and Japanese usually put their last name first. For example: Mao Tse Tung, means we should call him Mr. Mao, not Mr. Tung. But due to the Western influence, many people start to put their last names behind. It's a bit tricky. Makes sure you get the right last name. Trust me, you don't want to make mistake in calling their names.
- Latinos use both their parents' last names, usually their fathers' name first, then followed with their mothers' name. So their last names are usually in the middle. Remember the Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Don't call him Mr. Marquez, but call him Mr. Garcia, or perhaps Mr. Garcia Marquez. But again, it won't hurt to ask how we should call them. Who knows, perhaps they prefer to go on first name basis.
- Updated: I recently met a woman from Myanmar. She said that in Myanmar, people don't have last name either. On the case of Nobel Peace winner Aung San Suu Kyi, she said that the Western media created that name because Suu Kyi is the daughter of former general Aung San. In Myanmar, people call her Daw Suu. Daw is an honorific for women, similar to Miss, Sister or Aunt. Aww, so glad to know that Indonesians are not alone on this no-last-name policy:) 

In a world where last names are required, I'm proud with the naming system we have in Indonesia. It's just so unique and unlike the rest of the world. And if anyone wonder how to call me, well, my first name is Tifa. You can call me Tifa:).

Have a pleasant day!


  1. ribet gak ribet....wkwkwk... ternyata namaku tuh pasarn.. dengan beragam kombinasi ada yang dengan H, tanpa H, kadang huruf a di 2 terakhir ngilang...

  2. kalau begitu, mari kita pikirkan nama yang bagus dan unik untuk anak kita kelak:)

  3. gimana kalo kita mulai dengan mencari nama calon suami yang bagus??? wkwkwkwkwkw

  4. wahahaha, ide yang bagus:) tapi kayaknya aku sudah di tahap di mana nama, usia dan pekerjaan tak lagi masalah. yang penting siap mental:)

  5. Thanks for the great explanation!!!!