Naming Conventions; Or, Why TP's Bibliography Will Be Confusing

In Malaysia, there are at least four different naming conventions.  Then there is Indonesia, which has a whole different system.  Needless to say, this can get confusing when it comes time to do things like bibliographies.  Furthermore, I use a couple of different software packages (BibTex, Endnote, etc.) to keep track of my references, and neither of them has any idea how to handle Malay names.

To start out with, there is the regular English type.  This type of naming convention is normally followed by either Eurasians or Indian Christians.  So, you get people like the Malaysian political scientist Edmund Terence Gomez.  No problem here.

Then you get the Chinese style.  It’s not really that hard, just different.  Last names come first, then first name, then "middle" name.  So you get someone like Wong Cheng Ming, whom I interviewed today.  I won’t be citing him, but if I were to cite him, he would go under Wong.  This is made a bit more confusing because many Chinese Malaysians have an Anglicized first name.  So he would really go in my bibliography as Wong Cheng Ming, Steven.

The next hardest is Indians who do not follow English conventions.  Some people follow the Indian convention of taking the father’s first name as the first initial, and then having their given name as their last name.  For example, the head of the Secretariat of the National Economic Action Council is K. Govindan.  By convention, his name goes under Govindan.  Sometimes, though, you can get someone like the leader of the Malaysian Indian Congress, S. Samy Vellu.  Is his last name Samy Vellu or just Vellu?  Not sure.  Still others use a half-Indian half-Malay system, where you are something like Linggapan a/l Cheralathan or
Poomaalai a/p Cheralathan.  The father’s name is Cherathan, and a/p here stands for anak perempuan, or daughter, while a/l stands for anak lelaki, or son.  These go, like the other Indian names, under the first name.  When it comes to Sikhs, of which there are many, you go by the name before Singh (for men) and Kaur (for women) when addressing them, but by Singh or Kaur in a bibliography.

Finally we get to Malays.  In theory, this isn’t a problem.  The first name is your name, the second name is your father’s name, and that’s that.  In most cases, people alphabetize in bibliographies by the individual’s first name, but not all the time.  For example, I have seen Mahani Zainal Abidin alphabetized under both Mahani and Zainal.  When it comes to legal documents here, like for American visas, you are supposed to use your father’s name as your "last name", which is contradictory to bibliographic procedures.  That continues to confuse me.

But the real issues are the optional parts.  Some people add in a bin, for "son of", or binte, for "daughter of", in formal settings.  Some people who have been on the hajj like to use haji or hajjah in their names in formal settings.  Note that your name technically changes when you’ve been on the hajj, so Mohammad Yusoff, after the hajj, is Haji Mohammad Yusof.  But you would leave off the Haji for bibliographic purposes, unless it’s your father who went to Mecca.  My most confusing case is a professor name Zakaria Ahmad.  When Zakaria wrote his dissertation at MIT, that was his name.  Then when he came back to Malaysia, he started to use the name Zakaria bin Ahmad for his publications.  Of course, then his father went to Mecca, so he then changed his name to Zakaria bin Haji Ahmad.  Lately he’s been going by Zakaria Haji Ahmad.

When addressing people, it is important to remember that sometimes the names Abdul and Mohammad (or Mohd) don’t really count for first name.  You would address Abdul Rahman Embong as Abdul Rahman, not Abdul or Rahman.

Of course, none of this beats Indonesia.  Indonesians sometimes change their names as their lives go on.  Other Indonesians have only one name, like Soeharto, although even Soeharto decided in 1990 that his name was going to be Muhammad Soeharto.  (The dictator gets to do that.)  Chinese Indonesians often have both a Chinese name and an Indonesian name, like Liem Sioe Liong a.k.a. Sudono Salim or Ciputra a.k.a. Tjie Tjin Hoan.  But really, you just have to know.  Abdurrahman Wahid gets filed under Abdurrahman but is referred to as Wahid (or "Gus Dur"); Amien Rais is always referred to as Amien Rais, the whole name; Munir Said Thalib went by Munir; and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono goes by SBY, or Susilo, but Yudhoyono to the foreign media.

Comments 3

  1. James Fichter June 15, 2005

    Next time, study England. “Richard, Marquess Wellesley” or “Arthur Wellesley, created Duke of Wellington” is as hard as it gets.
    Except the field research with blow all your money.

  2. Tom June 16, 2005

    Damn it, that’s true. Britain is indeed superior in the naming conventions department. Of course, go to a local pub and there goes your research budget. (Although the sin taxes against alcohol here do make it hard.)

  3. butterflower May 13, 2008

    arghh… i still can’t find info on malay naming convention like when you need to fill a form (first, middle/middle initial, last name) i get the first and last name but i still don’t know where to put bin, binti, a/l, a/p, a/k thingy. middle name? last name? and to make things worse, my friend just warned me about putting bin, binti in last name or else you won’t be able to cash a cheque without that bin, binti thing. so if that goes to last name problem is solved, right? his example is “bin laden”. but we know that is not the correct last name and we can drop it if we want to so that makes it go to middle name column, right? i’m getting confused here

Comments are closed.