Why There Are So Many Gede, Wayan and Putu Names In Bali?

If you have spent a couple months here in Bali, chances are, you already have a couple or more Gede, Wayan, Komang, Nyoman and Putus in your contact list; and if at first you did not save their full names (along with a description of where you met and what they do), you’re gonna have troubles finding out that one Wayan you need to call for a trip arrangement.

We get it, as unique as their names are, these Balinese names can give you a headache when you just got here and try to remember due to so many people using the same names. In this article, we will guide you to better understand the Balinese naming system -who knows, it might be useful one day.

A Balinese name is part of a system of identification used by the Balinese people and in the western parts of the neighboring island of Lombok, Indonesia. A Balinese name will have three parts: a title, a birth order name and a personal name.

Balinese people do not use a family name. Both boys and girls receive birth order name from a small typical group of names for each birth order position. These names may vary due to caste, regional customs and variations in the Balinese language between the north and the south of the island. Balinese people use the birth order name to refer to one another. As most Balinese are Hindus, many names will be of Sanskrit origin. Some people have traditional Balinese names.

A birth order name is chosen from a few typical names according to the position of the child in the birth order of siblings. The people of Bali use the birth order name to refer to one another. The first born are named Wayan, Putu, Gede or for a girl, Ni Luh. Wayan is a Balinese name meaning “eldest”. Second born children are named Made, Kadek, or Nengah. Made and Nengah mean madya or “middle”. Kadek means “little brother” or “little sister”. The third born is given the name Nyoman or Komang. These names may be shortened to “Man” and “Mang” respectively. Fourth born children are named Ketut. Ketut is often shortened to “Tut”. If there is a fifth child in the family, she is often called Wayan Balik (meaning “Wayan again”).

Balinese naming system also allows a person to recognise another’s caste. A person’s caste, unlike in India, is relatively unimportant to the Balinese people. The idea of caste flowed into Balinese culture as close links with Hindu-Buddhist Java evolved. The inclusion of the caste may also have been due to Airlangga (991 – 1049), a half Balinese raja of the Kediri Kingdom. The naming system of the peasant farmers of Bali may have preceded the idea of the caste. The farmers included indigenous Balinese and very early Hindu-Buddhist missionaries and their followers. The farmers represented a caste level that in India, would be called Sudra. This “farmer caste” also used birth order names, perhaps to indicate inheritance.

Sudra: Beyond the birth order name, there are no special names to denote people from the Sudra caste. Those of the Sudra caste add an “I” (male) and “Ni” (female) in front of their names. For example, I Made Mangku Pastika is the governor of Bali. The Wesya is the trader and farmer caste. The Wesya were known to add “Ngakan”, “Kompyang”, “Sang”, or “Si” before their name. However, most no longer do so due to assimilation into the Sudra. An example is Ngakan Gede Sugiarta Garjitha, a major general. The Ksatria caste are the ruling and military elite in Hindu society. Some typical names of people of the Ksatria caste include: I Gusti Ngurah (male), I Gusti Ayu (female), Anak Agung (male), Anak Agung Ayu or Anak Agung Istri (female), Tjokorda which is sometimes abbreviated as Tjok (male), Tjokorda Istri (female), Ida I Dewa, Dewa Agung or I Dewa (male), and I Dewa Ayu, and Desak (female).


Looking deeper into the meaning of these names, Gusti literally means “leader” as members of the Ksatria were often families promoted from the farmer caste. The Ksatria often use birth order names. Sometimes the Kastria borrow the whole order of the farmer caste names, so it is possible to find a name like I Gusti Ketut Rajendra, indicating a male of the Wesya caste, fourth born, whose personal name is Rajendra. The word Agung means “great”, or “prominent”. The word Tjokorda is a conjunction of the Sanskrit words Tjoka and Dewa. It literally means “the foot of the Gods”, and is awarded to the highest members of the aristocracy.

Another typical name might be Anak Agung Rai, meaning a Ksatria, whose personal name means “the great one”. It is more difficult to differentiate sexes by name alone among the Ksatria people, though personal names often tell, like Putra, or “prince”, for a boy, and Putri, or “princess”, for a girl. An example is Sri Aji Kresna Kepakisan (reign 1352 CE – 1380 CE}}. Other examples are I Gusti Ngurah Rai, military commander and national hero, Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung, former Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tjokorda Gde Raka Soekawati, president of the State of East Indonesia, Dewa Made Beratha, a former Governor of Bali.

The Brahmin caste are academics, intellectuals, economists, aristocrats and lawyers. Names for the Brahmana caste include Ida Bagus (male), Ida Ayu (female). A typical name might be Ida Ayu Ngurah, meaning “Brahman woman, Beautiful highness whose personal name is Ngurah,” (in English, “gift from heaven”). Other examples are Ida Ayu Oka Rusmini, novelist and Ida Bagus Oka, a former governor of Bali. When inter-caste marriages occur, those who marry someone from a higher caste will adopt the name Jero (“come in”) in front of their name.

Another thing that can be determined from Balinese names is the gender of the name it belongs to. A name may have a prefix to indicate gender, I for males and Ni for females. Typical names are, for example, I Wayan Pedjeng (first-born male whose personal name is “moon”) or Ni Ketut Sulastri (fourth-born female whose personal name is “fine light”). Unlike Javanese names, Balinese names of Sanskrit origin do not experience vowel change from a to o (as in Javanese Susilo, from Susila).

Speaking of Sanskrit, we all know where it came from; so it’s only natural if we then wonder whether there are similarities in the naming system between Balinese Hinduism and Indian Hinduism. if you are wondering the same thing, well, the answer is, no. Those names we listed above apparently did not come from the Hinduism, or at least not the one practiced in India. So, instead of having hundreds of Wayan, Gede, Komang and Putus in your phone’s contact list, here are the names you’re often going to hear if you visit India.

Bengali names: Bengali Brahmin surnames include Banerjee, Chatterjee, Ganguly, Ghoshal, Goswami, Mukherjee, Nath, Sanyal, Bhowmick, etc. A Brahmin name is often the name of the clan or gotra, but can be an honorific, such as Chakraborty or Bhattacharya. Common Baidya surnames are Sengupta, Dasgupta, Duttagupta, Gupta, Sen-Sharma, etc.

Bengali Kayastha surnames include Basu, Bose, Dutta, Ghosh, Choudhury, Guha, Gain, Mitra, Singh/Sinha, Sen, Pal, De/Dey/Deb/Dev, Palit, Chanda/Chandra, Das, Dam, Kar, Nandi, Sarkar,Nag, Som etc.

Karnataka names: North Karnataka surnames are drawn from the name of the place, food items, dresses, temples, type of people, platforms, cities and profession and so on. Surnames are drawn from many other sources. Katti as a suffix is used for soldiers while Karadis is related to local folk art. Surnames according to trade or what they traditionally farm include Vastrad (piece of cloth), Kubasad (blouse), Menasinkai (chili), Ullagaddi (onion), Limbekai, Ballolli (garlic), Tenginkai (coconut), Byali (pulse) and Akki (rice). Surnames based on house include Doddamani (big house), Hadimani (house next to the road), Kattimani (house with a platform in its front), Bevinmarad (person having a big neem tree near his house) and Hunasimarad (person having a big tamarind tree near his house). A carpenter will have Badigar as a surname while Mirjankar, Belagavi, Hublikar and Jamkhandi are surnames drawn from places. Angadi (shop), Amavasya (new moon day), Kage (crow), Bandi (bullock cart), Kuri (sheep), Kudari (horse), Toppige (cap), Beegadkai (key), Pyati (market), Hanagi (comb) and Rotti (bread) are some other surnames.

Kashmir names: Kashmiri names often have the following format: first name, middle name (optional), family name. (For example: Jawahar Lal Nehru.) Nicknames often replace family names. Hence, some family names like Razdan and Nehru may very well be derived originally from the Kaul family tree.

Goa names: Konkani people inhabiting Goa, and also Konkan regions of Karnataka and Maharashtra, are traditionally patriarchal. Many of the originally Hindu residents were converted to Catholicism by the Portuguese. Generally, the first name is followed by the father’s name, though this is now mostly observed by Hindus. Village names were used only after the arrival of the Portuguese, when the people migrated from their ancestral villages. A suffix kar or hailing from was attached to the village name. Almost all the Konkani Catholics have Portuguese surnames like Rodrigues, Fernandes, Pereira and D’Souza. Catholic families belonging to the Roman Catholic Brahmin (Bamonn) caste use lusophonised versions of Hindu surnames like Prabhu, Bhat, etc.

Tamil Nadu names: Usually, Tamil names follow this pattern: Initial (Village name), Initial (Father’s name), First Name, Caste name (Example: E.V. Ramasamy, where E stands for Erode, and V stands for the father’s name).There is a widespread usage of a patronym (use of the father’s first name as the second name). This means that the first name of one generation becomes the second name of the next. In many cases, the father’s name appear as an initial and thus the first name may be presented as a second name. When written in full (for example, on a passport), the initial is expanded as last name. For example, a name like “R. Ramesh” or “Ramesh R.”, will be written in full as “Ramesh Ramaiah”, and refers to “Ramesh son of Ramaiah”. If Ramesh then has a son named Ashwin, then his name would be “R. Ashwin” or “Ashwin Ramesh” as it would be in the West. There is also a general custom for Tamil women to adopt their husband’s first name as their second name. Saravanan Sunitha (Sunitha daughter of Saravanan) might change her name to Ram Kumar Sunitha (Sunitha wife of Ram Kumar) after marriage. However, these customs vary from family to family and are normally never carried on over successive generations. More common among women, making the patronym or husband name the last name is a custom adopted by people migrating to the West who want to be called by their first names without having to explain Indian naming conventions. In earlier times a caste name or village name was used by the Tamils as their last name, but the present day generation is wary to do so. However, people influenced by northern India or western civilization frequently adopt their father’s or husband’s name and take it for successive generations.

The various Tamil caste names include Paraiyar, Vishwakarma, Aachari, Konar, Idaiyar, Reddiar, Udayar, Yadhavar, Iyer, Iyengar, Pillai, Mudaliar, Thevar, Nadar, Chettiar, Gounder, Naicker etc. The naming is therefore done in the fashion: Sunitha Ram Kumar Iyer. Hindus in Tamil Nadu view the practice of adding the full family name to an individual’s name to be a heretic practice, as according to their beliefs, the individual’s heritage does not trump his or her own identity. And hence they are known to only use initials besides their name except for when caste names are given more preference by certain families rather than the family name itself.

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