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There are only 4 names in Bali — for girls and boys alike.

There are only 4 names in Bali — for girls and boys alike.

Wouldn’t it be confusing in a classroom if there were six boys and girls named Peter, five boys and girls named Carol, and another five children named Tom? In Bali, this can easily be the situation.

Bali has a naming system like nowhere else in the world. Balinese babies, boys and girls, are named one of four names: Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. The names are given by their birth order. The first child is Wayan, the second is Made, the third is Nyoman, and the fourth child is Ketut. What happens if a family has more than four children? They just start over with Wayan, or Wayan Balik, which means something like Another Wayan. 

Families in certain professions do give other names to indicate that they are from a higher status, and they may have their own naming rules. The first child can then be Putu instead of Wayan. The second might be Kadek instead of Made. The third born might be named Komang or NgNga instead of Nyoman. However, the fourth child will always be Ketut, which means little banana, the bonus child.

Since these names are the same for both boys and girls, the girls get a Ni (pronounced “nee”) before the name, as in Ni Wayan, and boys get an I (pronounced “ee”), as in I Wayan. They roughly mean the same as “Mr” and “Ms” in English.

Nicknames are necessary
As you can imagine, by having only four names in a country, things can get very confusing. People are easily given nicknames to distinguish them, and these nicknames are then their last names. Widya, for example, means knowledge, so I Ketut Widya would be the name of an educated, fourth-born man. Therefore, Balinese surnames are not official family names, but personal names. The nicknames are often given according to looks or birth events. It can also be chosen according to a good wish for the child, like Dharma for goodness, or Santi for calmness.

If you were Balinese, what would your first name have been?

By Eloise Kruger (Whyzz writer)

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