Indonesia: First Name or Title? – Part 1


Addressing others with respect

In Indonesia, names are considered sacred and must be treated with respect. Make every effort not to mispronounce the names of the Indonesians you encounter.

Westerners often have difficulties understanding and pronouncing Indonesian names, so always take your time over an introduction. Repeat the title and name of the person and ask if you are pronouncing them correctly. If possible, write the name down phonetically.

No matter how difficult or unusual sounding a name, do not laugh at it.

Every variation of personal naming patterns can be found among Indonesia’s ethnic groups. People may have one name or two, short names or long, a given name followed by a family name or vice versa, or one name and one initial.

With so many complexities, it is best to ask an Indonesian what you should call him or her. Repeat the sequence of names and make sure you have them correct. Specify what they should call you [they may be unsure as to which is your surname], but choose the same degree of formality.

As a general rule, among ethnic Indonesians, the average citizen will have only one name while the middle class will tend to have two. Typically, the higher a person’s social standing, the longer his or her name. Long names, however, are often shortened for everyday use. A person with two names often uses one name plus the initial of the other name.

Businesspeople you meet must be addressed with at least a title and perhaps their name. If a person does not have a professional title [such as ‘Doctor’ or ‘Vice-President’], a Westerner should use ‘Bapak’ for ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ibu’ for ‘Madam’, ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss.’

Note that ‘Bapak’ literally means ‘father’ and ‘Ibu’ is mother.

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