Malaysia Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Personal Names[edit | edit source]

Personal names in Malaysia vary greatly according to ethno-cultural group. Personal names are, to a certain degree, regulated by the national registration department, especially since the introduction of the National Registration Identity Card (NRIC).

Surnames[edit | edit source]

The Malaysian Chinese are the only major ethnic group in Malaysia to use family names. Most other groups, including the ethnic Malays, Orang Asli and the Bumiputera of Sabah and Sarawak, share a naming custom that includes the use of a personal name followed by a patronym name.

Patronyms[edit | edit source]

A Malay's name consists of a personal name, which is used to address them in all circumstances, almost always followed by a patronym. Thus, most Malays do not use family names or surnames. For men, the patronym consists of the title bin (from the Arabic بن, meaning 'son of') followed by his father's personal name. If Osman has a son called Musa, Musa will be known as Musa bin Osman. For women, the patronym consists of the title binti (from the Arabic بنت, meaning 'daughter of') followed by her father's name. Thus, if Musa has a daughter called Aisyah, Aisyah will be known as Aisyah binti Musa.

  • Upon marriage, a woman does not change her name, as is done in many cultures.

Some Surnames[edit | edit source]

A few Malay families do use surnames, such as Tengku, Megat, Nik, Wan, Raja and Che, which are passed down patrilineally, while others such as Merican, Khan and Munsi indicate an Indian Muslim ancestry (since these names are Indian Muslim in origin). Other common surnames includes Sayid or Syed (of Arab ancestry), Teuku (of Aceh), Daeng (of Bugis origin), etc.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • Traditional Malay names were taken from one of a number of languages, or even a combination of two or more elements from these languages:
  • Malay such as Intan, Kiambang or Tuah
  • Khmer, Siamese or Cham such as Tam, Som or Lai
  • Javanese such as Ratnasari, Joyo or Kesuma
  • Sanskrit or Pali such as Wira, Darma or Wati
  • Arabic names were introduced later along with Islam names but did not become dominant among commoners until the colonial era. In pre-modern times, words and names of Arabic derivation were adapted to suit the Classical Malay language. This is still reflected in the rural pronunciation of certain Middle Eastern names. Thus, Sharif would be Sarip and Aziz would become Ajis.
  • Although traditional Malay names were still widely used for centuries afterward, they are now primarily confined to rural areas.
  • Malaysia's National Registration Department doesn't allow names which they deem to have negative or obscene meanings, such as Pendek which means short. The Department additionally bans names with the meaning of colors, animals and natural phenomena. This effectively renders many traditional names illegal including Puteh or Putih (white), Bulan (moon), Suria (sun), Rimau (tiger) and Awan (cloud). Because of these restrictions, the vast majority of Malays today tend to favour Arabic names. However, names from the following languages are common as well:
  • Persian such as Jihan, Mirza or Shah
  • Greek or Latin such as Maria, Marina or Johana
  • English, such as Tiara, Orked (from the English "orchid") or Ros (from "rose")
  • Names of Arabo-Hebrew origins are also common, for example Adam, Yaakob, Ishak, Bunyamin and Danial and Sarah. In addition, names of Arabo-Hebrew origins that seldom used by Muslim Arabs are widespread among Malays, such as the female names of Saloma and Rohana.

Double Names[edit | edit source]

  • Another feature in Malay names, which is very common, is the existence of second personal names or double names. This seems to have been developed in response to the use of very popular Muslim names, like Muhammad and Ahmad for men, and Nur and Siti for women. Bearers of these names, and their variants, often add a more distinctive second name, like Muhammad Osman or Nur Mawar. The patronym is then added after these.
  • The popular first elements in double Malay male names are:
Muhammad/ Mohammad/ Mohammed (often abbreviated to Muhd., Mohd., Md. or simply M.)
Mat – the Malay variant of Muhammad. Mat is also the casual spoken form of names ending with -mad or -mat such as Ahmad, Rahmat, Samad, etc.
Mamat - another variety of Muhammad
Awang (Commonly used in Brunei and Sabah)
  • The most common first elements in double Malay female names are:
Dayang (Commonly used in Brunei and Sabah)
  • A special case of double names for men is the use of Abdul. Following Arabic naming practices, Abdul simply means 'servant of' and must be followed by one of the names of God in the Qur'an; for example Abdul Haqq means 'servant of the Truth'.

References[edit | edit source]