top of page
  • Writer's pictureBeccy Fox

Your Name: all fields required. Cultural differences in naming conventions.


My husband only has one given name. No family name, just one name. This is quite common in Indonesia. It does, however, cause problems when filling out forms for visas, bank cards and other official documents. These forms always assume that the person completing it has a given name and a family name. There is no option for just one name and so we have to fill his name in twice. Sometimes this works, sometimes the form is rejected and we have to get creative trying other options, for example putting a space before his name so it is not rejected by the computer as a repeat. This got me thinking about how mono-cultural all these forms are. At least they no longer ask for a “Christian name” and a “Surname,” but they do assume a Western naming convention.

My husband is from Java. Had he been from Bali he would have more than one name to fill in on the form, but he would still have had a problem. Balinese names are very long. Balinese names have a title, a birth order name, a caste name a personal name and a family name. For example my friend, who is known as Gina, has a full name of Ida Bagus Ketut Gina Adnyana. Another name that will not fit onto a form with the Western convention of first name and family name.

We have recently moved to Thailand where I am learning about yet another culture of names. Thai names are also very long, but apparently do follow the convention of a given name followed by a family name, and so would not have the same form-filling issues as the names from Indonesia. What is interesting to the newcomer is the nicknames. All Thai people have a nickname that they use in daily life. The nickname could be in Thai, but can also be an English word and often have meaning behind them. Some of these are obvious, some sound quite odd, even funny. In my son’s class he has friends called Peace, Army, Pancake and Cream. According to an article on the Thai Language App Ling, some of the more unflattering names are chosen deliberately to ward off demons and ghouls.

Whatever we choose to be called, our name is so important. It represents our identity, our culture. The actress Thandiwe Newton (previously Thandie) recently reverted back to the original Zimbabwean spelling of her name. "That's my name. It's always been my name. I'm taking back what's mine."

In international schools we work with students and teachers from around the world. Let's take the time to make sure we are saying someone's name correctly, respecting the diversity of the community. The campaign My Name My Identity sums this up well:

To be an effective member of this global world, we can model respect for each other in the school community by learning about each other’s stories, our unique names, and their proper pronunciations.”

Let's take that one step further and recognise the many cultural differences in naming conventions, and adjust our school admissions and application forms accordingly.


bottom of page