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Why are there so many Wayans? Balinese names explained

Visitors are often surprised that when they meet local people in Bali, they hear the same five or six names again and again. ‘Why is everyone called the same?’ is a recurrent question.

Balinese names are given based on two things: the bearer’s place in the sibling birth order and their cast.

The farmer cast, generally referred to as Sundra, is the most common cast in Bali and has come to include the Wesya or trader cast as well. People from these casts have names that identify them as such. Most Balinese belong to these two casts.

Thus, the great majority of Balinese are called by the following names:

If you are the first born you are a Wayan, Putu, a Gede, or a Ni Luh (only for girls). Wayan means eldest.

If you are the second born, chances are you are a Made, a Kadek, or a Nengah. Kadek means little brother or sister whilst Made and Nengah mean madya or middle. 

If you are the third born, you are a Nyoman or a Komang (often changed to Mang or sometimes Koming)

If you were born fourth, your only option is Ketut.

If you are born fifth, it goes back to Wayan.

The official name would have an ‘I’ infront of it for a man and a ‘Ni’ in front of it for a woman.

To avoid confusion most Balinese have nicknames that can be pretty random. My ex-boss is nicknamed Khucit, which means piglet. He is a powerful man with a lot of influence so he’s mostly called Pak Khucit (Mr Piglet), even by his employees. Another friend got very randomly nicknamed ‘Loyank’ which means coffee tray…Still trying to figure out where that came from. Since his name is Wayan though, it’s a lot less confusing to call him ‘Coffee tray’…

The other casts have different names. The Ksatria, the ruling and military elite have names such as I Gusti Ngurah (male), I Gusti Ayu (female), Anak Agung (male), Anak Agung Ayu or Anak Agung Istri (female), Tjokorda, Ida I Dewa, Dewa Agung or I Dewa (male), and I Dewa Ayu, and Desak (female).

Sometimes the Ksatria like to mix it up a bit in order to show the birth order so you could have a name like this: I Gusti Ketut Rajendra. This would denote the person is a Ksatria (Gusti), that they are fourth born (Ketut) and are actually called Rajendra (personal name).

One famous Ksatria names is I Gusti Ngurah Rai, one of the great heroes of the war of independence against the Dutch who gave his name to Bali’s airport.

The Brahmana are the priests, academics, aristocrats, intellectuals/artists 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"). Ida Ayu Oka Rusmini is an example of this name. She is a famous Balinese author who wrote ‘Tarian Bumi’ (Earth Dance) which describes the lives of Balinese women behind the scenes (and it's been translated into English!).

Next time you meet a Balinese person , you’ll know just a little of their story through their name and don’t forget to ask what their nickname is, it makes life so much less confusing!


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