• Anne McCormick

My Friends, Wayan, Wayan, and Wayan

Upon arriving in Bali, you’ll soon notice something peculiar… as people introduce themselves, you hear the same first names over and over!


This isn’t one of those instances where one name is just more popular, like Cathy or Steve was in my time. In Balinese culture, you receive one of four traditional names based on your order of arrival among your siblings. Both male and female children are given the same name, but boys have “I” before their name and girls have “Ni”.


The eldest child is most often called Wayan, which literally means “eldest”. The eldest child can also be called Putu or Gede.

Second-eldest children are most often called Made (“mah-DAY”), although they can also be called Kadek or Nengah. Made and Nengah mean “middle” and Kadek means “little brother or sister”.

The third child is called Komang or Nyoman.


Finally, the fourth child is called Ketut. This is the only option for the fourth child, so even though there are far fewer fourth children in families, you still meet a fair number of people named Ketut.


But what happens when a fifth child is born?


… You start all over again with Wayan! There are many Wayans in Bali, but they’re not necessarily the eldest child. I’ve met a few Wayans who have two older siblings also named Wayan, which means they’re the ninth child born in their family!


There are, of course, many exceptions to these rules for a great many reasons, and first names also vary based on the caste the child is born into.


However, as you might imagine, this makes things complicated to understand for a western traveller.


To add to my confusion when I learned about all of this, it turns out that Balinese do not have shared family names, but instead have second and even third Hindu names given to them by their parents. This means that if you are Balinese, it is likely that your last name is different than anyone else in your family! Most people don’t know each other’s last names.


On top of this, the birth trend in Bali has changed over the past generation and families are now smaller, often with one or two children. This means the most prevalent names are Wayan and Made.


So how does this system work?


Although most Balinese children have a traditional name, everyone uses their other names and nicknames to go by, or a combination of both. If you are Balinese, you have many nickname options! This means that although a woman may be named “Ni Wayan” she may simply go by her second Hindu name for instance, which becomes a nickname.

I will use my good friend Wayan above as an example. As in the case of most Balinese, people do not call him by his full name. His full name is Wayan Putu Ariana, but most people know him as Wayan Meroen.

During my time here, I met several Wayans but I didn't know their nicknames... so I created my own! Driver Wayan, Big Wayan, Little Wayan, Long-Hair Wayan and so on.


What is your traditional Balinese name? Don’t forget to add “Ni” to the front if you are a woman, and “I” if you are a man!

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