Personal names in Malaysia strictly define a person's cultural background as Malaysia comprises many cultures and races, and each has a distinctive system of naming. Personal names are somewhat restricted by government administration, especially since the introduction of the MyKad identity card. Malaysian Chinese are the only major ethnic group in Malaysiato use family names. Most other groups, including the dominant Malays, use a personal name followed by a patronym.
Malay names are often drawn from Arabic and follow some Arabic naming customs, although some names have Malay, Javanese or Sanskrit origin. A Malay's name consists of a personal name, which is used to address him or her in all circumstances, followed by a patronym. Most Malays do not use family names. For men, the patronym consists of the word bin (from Arabic بن, meaning 'son of') followed by his father's personal name. Thus, if Osman has a son called Musa, Musa will be known as Musa bin Osman. For women, the patronym consists of the word binti (from 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 some cultures.
Sometimes the first part of the patronym, bin or binti, is reduced to B. for men, or to Bt., Bte. or Bint. for women. This sometimes leads to it being taken as a middle initial in Western cultures. In general practice, however, most Malays omit the word bin or bint from their names. Thus, the two examples from the paragraph above would be known as Musa Osman and Aisyah Musa. When presented in this way, the second part of the name is often mistaken for a family name. However, when someone is referred to using only one name, the first name is always used, never the second (because you would be calling someone by his or her father's name). Thus, Musa Osman is Mr Musa (or Encik Musa in Malay), and Aisyah Musa is Mrs/Ms/Miss Aisyah (or Puan/Cik Aisyah in Malay).
A few Malay families do use surnames, such as Merican, which are passed down patrilineally, and usually indicate an Arab or Indian Muslim ancestor. Hence, if Musa's full name is Musa Merican, his daughter would be Aisyah Merican or Aisyah Musa Merican. The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi (or, more simply, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi), has the Arab surname Badawi.
Addenda to names
Often the straightforward system of naming among Malays is complicated by addenda. This is where a double name is used in place of one. The addendum is always the first part of such double names. Addenda are easily spotted as they are drawn from a restricted pool of possible names. These addenda rarely form a complete name on their own, but are almost always followed by another personal name.
The popular addenda in the Malay male names are:
- Muhammad / Mohammad / Mohammed (often abbreviated to Mohd., Muhd., 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.)
- Abdul (as in Arabic, Abdul is not a complete name in itself, but, meaning 'servant of', must be followed by one of the Names of God in the Qur'an; for example, Abdul Haqq — 'servant of the Truth')
The most common addenda in the Malay female names are:
- Nor / Noor / Nur / Nurul
Thus, Osman may have another son called Abdul Haqq, who is known as Abdul Haqq bin Osman, or Abdul Haqq Osman. Then he, in turn, may have a daughter called Nor Mawar, who is known as Nor Mawar binti Abdul Haqq, or Nor Mawar Abdul Haqq.
If someone has been on the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, they may be called Haji. Thus, if Musa bin Osman went on the Hajj, he could be called Haji Musa bin Osman, and his daughter Aisyah might be called Aisyah binti Haji Musa.
Some addenda are inherited Malay titles (from the paternal side of the family). These exclusively involve the aristocrats, or even the royals, and their descendants. However, some families have these addenda even though they may not be royals or aristocrats.
The examples of inherited addenda are:
- Syed / Sharifah (for male and female, respectively)
- Megat / Puteri (for male and female, respectively)
- Awang (Abang) / Dayang (popular in Sarawak, for male and female, respectively)
For example, the current Prime Minister of Malaysia has the full name Dato' Seri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, where 'Dato' Seri' is a Malay title of honour, 'Mohd Najib' is his personal name (often further abbreviated to 'Najib'), 'bin' introduces his father's titles and names, 'Tun' is a higher honour, 'Haji' denotes his father as a pilgrim to Mecca, and 'Abdul Razak' is his father's personal name (often abbreviated to 'Razak'). The entire name has various shorter forms, like 'Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak', 'Najib Tun Razak' and 'Najib Razak').
Arguments to definition
It has been argued[where?] before that although many Malaysians categorize the naming conventions in Malaysia, particularly among Peninsular Malaysians, by their 3 major ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian), it is false to consider Arabic names as being Malay names. The Malay moslem majority takes on Arabic names in the spirit of their religion.
It has been reported[where?] that true malay names do exist but has largely been forgotten. Examples of them however are evident in old films depicting pre-modern civilisation and old literature from those times.[dubious ]
Some that may be considered as true malay names are Kasturi, Melor, Kemboja, Cempaka, Bawang, Pandir, Tuah, Jebat, Lekir, Badang and perhaps even Puteri. Many of these names do come from Malay language vocabulary like the names of flowers but some however, may not be represented in the language.
Proponents[who?] argue that if Arabic names continue to be confused as Malay names and no further historical research is done, true Malay names would become extinct and forgotten by future generations.
Traditional Chinese names are used among Malaysian Chinese. These names are usually represented as three words, for example Foo Li Leen or Tan Ai Lin. The first name is the Chinese family name, which is passed down from a father to all his children. The two other parts of the name form an indivisible Chinese given name, which may contain a generation name. In Western settings, the family name is sometimes shifted to the end of the name (for example, Li Leen Foo).
Some Chinese also take a Western personal name (for example, Denise Foo), and some use this in preference to a Chinese given name and most of these are used by Chinese Malaysian Christians. On official documents, this name is either written in the order Western name - Surname - Chinese given name (e.g. Denise Foo Li Leen), or Surname - Chinese name - Western name (e.g. Foo Li Leen Denise), or Western name - Chinese name - Surname (e.g. Denise Li Leen Foo). In general practice, only either the Western name or the Chinese name will be used. For the Chinese Malaysian Muslims, they even use Arabic given names while some use Arabic-derived Chinese names.
Officially, Malaysian Indians use a patronymic naming system combining their traditional Indian names with some Malay words, while others use Sanskrit names. A man's name would consist of his personal name followed by the Malay phrase anak lelaki, meaning 'son of', and then his father's name. A woman's name would consist of her personal name followed by the Malay phrase anak perempuan, meaning 'daughter of', and then her father's name. The Malay patronymic phrase is often abbreviated to a/l ('son of') or a/p ('daughter of') and then their father's name. In many circumstances, the intervening Malay is omitted, and the father's name follows immediately after a person's given name. Following traditional practice from South India, the father's name is sometimes abbreviated to an initial and placed before the personal name. Thus, a man called Anbuselvan whose father is called Ramanan may be called Anbuselvan anak lelaki Ramanan (formal), Anbuselvan a/l Ramanan (as on his government identification card), Anbuselvan Ramanan or R. Anbuselvan. Whereas, his daughter Mathuram would be called Mathuram anak perempuan Anbuselvan (formal), Mathuram a/p Anbuselvan (as on her government identification card), Mathuram Anbuselvan or A. Mathuram. Although not recorded officially, an Indian woman may use her husband's personal name instead of her father's name after marriage.
For the Indian Malaysian Muslims, like ethnic Malays, they use Arabic names or names of their own languages, while Arabic-derived Christian names for the Indian Malaysian Christians
Names of members of other groups
Orang Asli and other non-Malay bumiputra use the Malay word anak ('child of') to form their patronymics regardless of an individual's sex. For example, Aziz anak Ramlan.
Kristang people usually have Portuguese, or, at least, more European-sounding names, including inherited family names. In fact, Arabs and Portuguese have common denominator in influence in names: Fatima, Omar, and Soraya. These names are common in Portugal given by Arab influence.