Although I write the title as “in Indonesia”, I guess it can only be applied in around Java Island (especially West Java since I live here for over 20 years). In West Java where Sundanese are majority, we often don’t have family name. It either consists of first name or added-honorific-which-is-part-of-one’s-name such as Muhammad [first name] [second name]. There is also Javanese-noble-honorific-that-is-part-of-one’s-name such as Raden (male) / Sri (female) [first name] [second name].

It’s more complicated for Chinese Indonesian during Soeharto’s New Order regime where all Chinese Indonesian descents must convert their “three-words” name into “Indonesian-like”. Now these Chinese Indonesians have changing-name-certificates and two names. But these people still insert their family name into Indonesian-like. For example, “Tan” becomes “Tanuwidjaja” – “Chen” becomes “Chandra”. There are Chinese descents who don’t bother translating and take anything that sound-like Indonesian. But their nickname still contains their Chinese family name. The most notable example is “Ahok” (Jakartan vice govt) with his Indonesian name “Basuki Tjahja Purnama”. I can bet my penny that his Chinese name has “Hok” in it because a Chinese-descent people with nicknames start with “A-” are always followed by a character of their name, especially Hokkien/ Hakka descent.  Indonesian naming composition made me very confused myself.

tl;dr, let me summarize that one lengthy paragraph above:

  1. Don’t call people “Muhammad” or “Raden”. Those are not their given names, so call them by the name next to it.
  2. Don’t call them “Nur” or “Bin” or “Binti” either! Moreover, don’t call them by the name next to “Binti/Bin” since it is their father’s!
  3. If someone introduced himself as “[first name] Aja/Saja/Doang”, Those Aja/Saja/Doang is not part of their name!! …unless you want to joke around just like I am right now.

Let’s start with how to address very formally in Indonesian language.

How to address a person very formally in Indonesian Language

Addressing a person by Mr./Ms./Mrs. [surname] is pretty common in Europe/America and it’s polite to address a person by [family name]-xiao jie/-kun niang/-sensei/-san in East Asian. In formal Indonesian, we often  use honorifics Tuan (male) /Nona (female who is not yet married) /Nyonya (married female).

[to make it easier to understand]

Tuan _____ [first/full name] = Sir ; e.g. Tuan Will Smith, Tuan Aladdin (for both married/not yet married)
Nona _____ [first/full name] = Ms. ; e.g. Nona Elsa (not yet married)
Nyonya _____ [first/full name] = Mrs. /Madam ; e.g. Nyonya Victoria Beckham (is married)

note that it is acceptable to use full name after honorifics or just first name (although it indeed sounds more casual)

Also, commonly and formally we address people by calling one’s name with honorific Bapak/Ibu/Saudara/Saudari. These are more common than Tuan/Nyonya/Nona.

[to make it easier to understand]

Bapak _____ [first name] / Pak _____ [first name] = Mr. (literally translated as “Father”, but is used to both married/non-married older male or with higher status such as teacher, governor, president, etc.)
Ibu ______ [first name] / Bu _____ [first name] = Ms./Mrs. (literally translated as “Mother”, but is used to both married/non-married older female or with higher status such as teacher, governor, president, etc.)
Saudara = … (equals to “gentleman”, isn’t used as often as “Bapak”, except in very formal situation. Usually for addressing younger or people who is closer in age)
Saudari = … (equals to “ladies”, isn’t used as often as “Ibu”, except in very formal situation. Usually for addressing younger or people who is closer in age)

So the conclusion is: if you want to call for a police, please identity their gender first (since it is XX/XY and no other genders beside two) and call them “Pak” or “Bu”. If you don’t know their name, you can insert their occupation: e.g. police is “polisi” in Indonesian so “Pak Polisi” means “Mr. Police”, “Bu Gubernur” means “Mrs. Governor”, etc.

How to address a person rather politely in “Indonesian Language”.

I should use those quotation marks because it is not really Indonesian language. More casual than “Bu/Pak/Sdr./Sdri./Tuan/Nyonya/Nona” and commonly accepted as standard greeting is “Mbak _____( first name female)/ Mas ______ (first name male)”. It is derived from Javanese honorifics, but – well – people use it in their daily basis. People use it for addressing strangers, people whose age aren’t really different than the caller, or acquaintances.

Indonesian have tendency to call people with family-related honorifics such as Ibu/Bapak (Mother/Father literally). We also call people whose age closer to us as “Adik/Kakak” (little brother-sister/big brother-sister : note that Indonesian “Adik/Kakak” are GENDER NEUTRAL so you don’t have to identity someone’s gender first). We call our seniors “Kakak” and juniors by their first names (sorry, not “Adik/Dek” except for very polite person)

[to make it easier to understand]

Kakak / Kak ______ [first name] (Indonesian, gender neutral) = Akang / Kang _____ [first name] (Sundanese) = Abang / Bang ____ [first name] (Javanese) = Koko/ Ko ______ [first name/ nickname] (from word “哥哥” / “Gege” which means Brother in Chinese, usually spoken by Chinese-Indonesian descent to fellow Chinese-Indonesian descent) = … (literally “big brother”. Please note that “Kakak” in Indonesian is gender neutral and applied both to female/male who is older but closer in age to you. It is often given to seniors or spoken by teens and young men/women. When they are married, they switch honorific to “Bapak” or “Ibu”… or just stick with “Mas” or “Mbak”)

Neng ______ [first name] / Teh _____ [first name] / Teteh ______ [first name] = Cici/ Ci ______ [first name/ nickname] (from word “姐姐” / “Jiejie” which means Sister in Chinese, usually spoken by Chinese-Indonesian descent to fellow Chinese-Indonesian descent) = … (literally “big sister”. It is often given to seniors or spoken by teens and young men/women. When they are married, they switch honorific to “Bapak” or “Ibu”… or just stick with “Mas” or “Mbak”)

Adik / Dik ______ [first name] / Dek ______ [first name] (Indonesian) = … (literally “little brother/ sister” but calling a person by this honorific is regarded as extremely polite. People don’t use this to address stranger or acquaintances)

How to address a person casually in Indonesia

Just call them by their first name. If you are his/her besties, you may want to call them by strange nicknames or shortening their names when you call them. Most of the time, people have their own nicknames which is really far and not derived from their real names.

  • For example? In my high school year there’s a girl named Irine who is called “Bobby“. She’s not even a male!
  • and Engineering Physics 2007 Bachelors’ nicknames are all absurd that almost all of us forgot their real names even until now. When we see their real names in year-book, we wonder who they are.
  • Oh yeah, we call one of our prof by “Pak _____ [nickname]” a lot that we are ordered to revise thesis’s draft because of that silly reason (and we need to google for his real name… because we forgot it although it’s been 4 years we know him!).
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