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Balinese Names

Small balinese family

When I set out to write about Balinese given names I thought I would just have to explain the four most common names that locals seem to use everywhere. But the Balinese Naming system is somewhat more complex than that.

The most common names are Wayan, Made, Nyoman, and Ketut but that is not the complete list. There are alternatives to these names. Nor do Balinese have distinct family names used by all members of the same family. However the Balinese naming system has an order that helps you identify people in different families and social groups.

The Balinese naming system is used by up to 90% of the Balinese population in Bali and the adjacent islands of Lembongan, Ceningan and Penides. together with western parts of Lombok.This system is thought to have been followed by all Balinese until the Majapahits invaded from Java in the Fourteenth Century and brought the Hindu caste system, Catur Warna, with them.

Ordinary Balinese people were then considered to be part of the lowest Hindu caste, known as the Sudra while the Majapahits considered themselves to be in the “higher” Hindu castes: the Triwarna (meaning 3 colours ) namely Wasya, Ksatria and Brahmana. Before that the Balinese, had no caste system, even though they were Hindu.

The Sudra caste system then incorporated the Balinese naming system while the higher classes had separate naming systems that are described further on in this article.Balinese people in the Sudra caste name their children depending on the order they are born as seen below, the same names apply to both males and females.

First born names: Wayan, Putu (traditionally for higher caste families), Gede, Ni Luh (female only)

Second born names: Made, Kadek, Nengah

Third born names: Nyoman, Komang, or NgNga (in very rural areas)

Fourth born names: Ketut – no other names. The name means little banana, the last banana in the bunch, thought to be derived from times when advisable family size was 3 children

If a family has more than four children, the cycle repeats itself, and the next ‘Wayan’ may be called Wayan Balik, which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’.

Family names are not really used in Bali, but it is common that a personal name is added.

Giving children their names is very important because it is believed that naming a child can affect a child's life. Often the name is symbolic or carries a special meaning. In Bali, after a baby is 12 days old, a special name-giving ceremony is held called ‘ngerorasin’ . There are several factors considered in name giving, including the child’s sex, caste, clan, birth order and the parents’ choice. Additional "Given" names may be chosen due, for a variety of reasons including influence of popular culture or politics. These names may be a second or third Hindu name that is personal to the child usually with a positive meaning. An example could be Dewi (goddess). Sometimes Balinese people use this Hindu name or shorten it to create a nickname. For example, Nuri might be short for Nuriasih.

However, when people introduce each other, they usually do not use their personal names, and simply call themselves Wayan, Ketut, etc.

From left - right. Nyoman (female),Komang (female), Ida Ayu (dayu), Komang (female), Komang (male), Wayan (male)


The Triwarna, the three higher castes, Brahmana, Ksatria and Wasya use caste identifiers as the first part of a name.Although it is widely acknowledged that the caste system is no longer very important as it was in the past caste members are given names and titles which denote caste and position within a complex and patrilineal hierarchy. How they are named lets others know about the position/hierarchy of the other person. These days Balinese understand the meaning and even though, the caste system is no longer active, they do sometimes communicate, act and react differently based on the information they have extracted from the name of others.

Wasya is a caste of merchants, administration officials, soldiers and landowners.

Wasya people might be named as Gusti, Dewa or Desak

More commonly a Wasya man tends to be called Gusti Bagus (followed by a personal name) and a Wasya woman Gusti Ayu (followed by a personal name). Gusti literally means "leader" as members of this caste were often families promoted from the Sudra caste. They often use positional names for the birth order of their children. Sometimes they borrow the whole order of the Sudra caste names, so it is possible to find a name like I Gusti Ketut Rajendra, male of the Wesya caste, fourth born, whose personal name is Rajendra.

In the past Wasya caste people would add Ngakan, Kompyang, Sang, or Si in front of their name,though nowadays most Wesya descendants do not use these names much anymore.

Ksatria is a caste of nobles, kings and warriors caste

Ksatria are the aristocracy. All of Bali’s kings are Ksatria.

Typical names will often begin with the names below and be followed by other given names as diescribed above.

Anak Agung (male), Anak Agung Ayu or Anak Agung Istri (female)The word Agung means "great", or "prominent".

I Gusti Ngurah (male), I Gusti Ayu (female)

Tjokorda, sometimes abbreviated as Tjok (male), Tjokorda Istri (female) The word Tjokord literally means "the foot of the Gods", and is awarded to the highest members of the aristocracy.

Ida I Dewa, Dewa Agung, I Dewa (male), Ni Dewa Ayu, Desak (female)

Brahmana the highest caste that includes teachers, priests, judges, writers and philosophers

This Hindu priestly caste is not to be confused with native Hindu priests that have been in Bali before the Majapahits invaded. These native priests are actually from the Sudra caste and still look after the temples, bless Gamelan players before concerts, make and provide holy water etc.

Brahmana caste officiate at larger ceremonies and festivals and have the titles Ida Bagus (for a man) and Ida Ayu (for a woman), and a given personal name. Brahmin people often shorten these names, for example the businesswoman Ida Ayu Ramayanti is usually known as “Dayu Rama”

When using their full names, Balinese people also add a prefix to indicate gender. ‘I’ is for men and ‘Ni’ is for women, so I Wayan Darma Putra would be a first-born man of the Sudra caste, while Ni Anak Agung Rai would be a woman of the Ksatria caste.


Pak (short for “Bapak”, father) and Bu (short for “Ibu”, mother) are honorifics you would use as a form of respect with people older than you, or officials or people you don't know well. You could use “Kakak” with someone of a similar age to yourself. It literally means older brother or sister.

People who change their caste

It is not unusual for someone in Bali to “change” caste, usually by marrying someone of a higher caste. A name often used by Sudra women who marry Wasya men is “Ibu Jero”. If a lady introduces herself as Ibu Jero she has literally changed her name to indicate she has been “admitted” (jero) to another caste.

The Pande – people outside the caste system.

A Balinese clan that is outside the caste system is the Pande. . They claim descent from a single famous armourer that came to Bali with the Majapahit invaders. They enjoy certain privileges, such as a temple at the Besakih Mother Temple complex that they regard as equal in status to the Brahman temple. Some Pande still use the name Pande before their birth order name that identifies them as members of the Pande clan.


Some Balinese use “Western names”, although they are rarely given to them at birth. Nicknames in Bali can be based on anything including physical attributes such as Made Gemuk (fat Wayan), character traits like Ketut Santi (peaceful Ketut), or something for no particular reason such as Wayan John .

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