Naming conventions on the Malay Peninsula are subject primarily to Malay, Arabic, and Chinese influences. Most people on the Malay Peninsula in Malaysia and Singapore follow Malay or Chinese naming conventions. However, usage of these naming conventions is not uniform.
Malay Naming Conventions
Names of ethnically Malay people typically comprise three parts:
- Given name
This construction is similar to the nasab frequently used by people in the Middle East. While most people with Malay names do not list a surname on public records, some do.
For men, the given name and the patronym often are separated by the word bin, derived from the Arabic word meaning “son of.” For women, the given name and patronym often are separated by the word binti, meaning “daughter of.” Binti is sometimes spelled binte and occasionally abbreviated as “bte.”
Rather than bin and binti, some individuals will use the Malay terms for “son of” (anak lelaki) and “daughter of” (anak perempuan). These are sometimes abbreviated to “A/L” and “A/P ”in public records.
It’s also common to abbreviate some given names in writing. For example, Mohammed could become “Mohd,” and Abdul could become “Abd.”
Titles in Malay Names
A number of titles can be written as part of an individual’s name. Some of these are common in other parts of the Islamic world—such as the titles Haji or Hajjah for men and women, respectively, who have made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Others are titles bestowed on individuals by the federal or state governments of Malaysia, such as Tan Sri and Datuk. These may appear either before or after a person’s name.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Name, in Many Forms
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s name provides a useful example of many of these naming conventions. His name appears a variety of ways on Malay corporate records:
– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak (Y.B. Dato’Sri)
– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak, Dato’ Sri
– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak, YAB Dato’ Sri
– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, Dato’ Sri
– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Hj Abd Razak, Dato’ Sri
– Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak
These names include various pieces of Najib’s full name: Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.
The key parts here are his given name (Mohammad Najib), his patronym following the marker bin (his father’s name was Abdul), and his surname (Razak). The other parts are titles:
– Yang Berhormat: Title meaning “the honorable,” generally reserved for members of the federal or state legislatures
– Dato’ Sri: Title conferred by the ruler of the state of Pahang
– Haji: Title indicating that Najib has completed the Hajj
– Tun: Title awarded by the federal government of Malaysia; Najib’s father, Abdul Razak, holds this title
– Haji: Title indicating that Najib’s father has completed the Hajj
Chinese Naming Conventions
One Word vs. Two Words
Chinese names comprise two parts:
- Given names
As in China, Chinese surnames generally appear before given names. Unlike in China, people with Chinese names on the Malay Peninsula typically write their romanized given name as two separate words. For example, a person whose surname is Zhao and given name is Yuanren might write his name as Zhao Yuan Ren rather than Zhao Yuanren.
Chinese names written in Chinese characters have to be romanized—converted into Latin characters—in countries that use the Latin alphabet. Many Chinese people on the Malay Peninsula use different romanization systems from Hanyu Pinyin, China’s official system. This difference, combined with the large number of Chinese dialects spoken by Chinese diaspora communities, results in a variety of romanization systems of Chinese names on the Malay Peninsula.
In some cases, public records may list more than one romanization for a single person’s name. For example, an individual named Ong Teck Chuan may also romanize his name as Wang Dequan. In some cases, a public record might list this alternative romanization as an alias.
In other cases, an alternative romanization used by an individual may not be very obvious. For example, the Chinese name 陳偉銘 could be romanized as Chen Weiming in China and Tan Wee Beng in Malaysia. The latter is a phonetic spelling of the Southern Min pronunciation of the same name. But unless both names are listed side-by-side on a public record, this may not be obvious.