Are you Curious to Know How Names Work in Bali? Ceremony in Ubud, Bali.

Are you Curious to Know How Names Work in Bali? 

Have you ever wondered why there are a lot of local people in Bali named Ketut, Wayan and so on? 

I was once hanging out with an Indonesian guy and he introduced me to his friends. Two of them were both called Wayan (a girl and a boy). I looked at my friend with a question-mark expression. Once we left his friends he then told me everything about Balinese names and now you have it! In this blog post, I will tell you everything about Names in Bali, so that you will be more prepared than I was!

Structure of Names in Bali

Are you Curious to Know How Names Work in Bali? Silvia with a local Balinese girl.

In Bali, the naming system is unique—you’ll often find children named Wayan, Made, Nyoman, or Ketut. These aren’t just charming local monikers, but a clever code that reveals a lot about one’s place in the family and society. The firstborn is almost always named Wayan, Made is the second child, Nyoman the third, and Ketut usually follows as the fourth.

Caste plays a substantial role. For instance, names beginning with I or Ni are often given to those of the Brahmana caste, while names starting with Gusti or Anak Agung hold significance in the Ksatria caste. It’s a naming custom that dances along the lines of respect and history.

Balinese names aren’t just labels; they are stories in themselves, laced with tradition and meaning. The structure of Balinese names is a beautiful reflection of the island’s cultural tapestry. Rooted in a complex system, names are intrinsically woven with social hierarchy and personal identity.

Cultural Significance

Statue at a temple in Bali

Now, what’s in a name, you might ask? In Bali, a name tells tales of ancestry and is a significant thread in the fabric of the community. It’s not just about individual identity but about connecting to a broader narrative that binds families and villages together.

Each name has spiritual significance—many are derived from empowering words or even gods, bestowing good fortune and protection upon the bearer. A Balinese name is like a verbal amulet, carrying the hopes and prayers of a family’s legacy.

Balinese names also serve as an eternal connection with the afterlife. There’s a belief that by calling the deceased by their proper names and performing specific rituals, their spirits are respected and their essences continue to influence the family’s lives.

Common Names in Bali and Their Meanings

Let’s dig into some popular Balinese names and their translations. They’re not just everyday monikers; they’re symbols encapsulating stories and aspirations.

  • Wayan: Often associated with the eldest child and symbolises common origins or beginnings. It’s a name that paves the way for a clan’s narrative.
  • Made: Typically, Made is the second child and signifies the middle position. It’s a name that acknowledges a place within the family’s dynamic of birth order.
  • Ni Made: This is often used for girls. The prefix “Ni” is a polite reference for unmarried women.
  • Ketut: This name embodies completion, typically given to the fourth child and symbolises the end, which in the circular notion of life, also implies a new beginning.

Naming Ceremonies and Traditions

Are you Curious to Know How Names Work in Bali? Balinese ceremony in Ubud.

The Balinese take naming ceremonies seriously, and they are splendid occasions filled with tradition and reverence. A child’s name is no arbitrary choice but a momentous event linked to the divine and the human cycle.

The Odalan ceremony, often taking place every 210 days in accordance with the Balinese Pawukon calendar, is when families welcome distant members and friends to celebrate. It’s during these times that a child’s name—often only provisionally chosen at birth—is formally declared, and the customs and traditions associated with the name are established. It’s a joyous celebration of life and the promise each new name carries.

Names are not only honoured for their beginnings but remembered with respect at their ends. The Ngaben ceremony is a deeply spiritual cremation rite where the soul is released from the body. Calling out the deceased’s name during this ceremony is believed to ensure a peaceful passage to the next life.

Addressing People in Bali

When attending a local conference in Bali, you might notice speakers addressing each other as “Pak” or “Ibu”. This form of respectful address is also commonly used within the name of local restaurants known as warungs. For example, you may come across a warung named “Warung Ibu Wayan”. Embracing these cultural norms adds a touch of authenticity to your experience in Bali. So, when in doubt, just use “pak” (for men) or “ibu” (for women) to address someone. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way in showing your respect and appreciation for the Balinese culture. They generally mean “father” and “mother” but they could also be used for mature men and women.


So, what’s the big takeaway from all this talk about Balinese names? It’s a reminder that every culture has its way of celebrating the most fundamental aspects of life. Balinese names are more than a label; they are a love letter to the past and future, a connection to the spiritual, and a testament to the community’s unyielding bond.

And for all you solo travellers, understanding the culture around you is more than just a tip for fitting in— it’s a key to truly experiencing the magic of your destination. Embrace the names, ask about their stories, and let this be the beginning of your journey into the soul of Bali. Keep wandering, keep learning, and always respect the local traditions—starting with something as simple, yet significant, as a name.

If you are intrigued about Balinese culture you should check out this blog post about Balinese farmers and social stratification on the island of Gods.

Ciao for now,

Silvia x