Understanding the Malaysian Naming System

Understanding the Malaysian Naming System

Wondering how Malaysian names work? Malaysian naming conventions are quite different from the typical naming conventions that involve a first name, middle name, and last name.

How does naming work for Malaysians?

Malaysians write their names using their given name and then their father’s name. Writing Malaysian names usually starts by putting down the given name followed by the title of “bin/binti” (son of/daughter of) and then their father’s name.

Malaysians also do not have family names like with other nationalities. The usual Malaysian name follows this format: person’s given name, patronym, and given name of the person’s father. 

We’ve only scratched the surface of Malaysian naming conventions so read ahead to find out more about how Malaysian names work!

How does naming work for Malaysians

How do parents name their children in Malaysia?

Malaysian parents like to give their children meaningful names. Since most of the people living in Malaysia are Muslim Malays, many names are taken from the Arabic language. 

As we mentioned above, most Malaysians don’t have surnames like other nationalities. Instead of surnames, many Malays attach their father’s given name to their own given name.

It used to be common for Malays to only have one personal name. However, that has changed in modern times, with many Malaysians having two to three personal names. 

A fun fact: the longest name for a Malaysian is “Princess Aura Nurr Ermily Amara Auliya Bidadari Nawal El-Zendra”. This is actually only the personal name of the woman; we haven’t even included her father’s name. 

Talk about a mouthful! But speaking of princesses and titles, another fascinating thing about Malaysian names is how it works with honorifics.

How do parents name their children in Malaysia

How do honorifics work with Malaysian names?

Malaysians commonly use “Encik/Puan/Cik” (Mr./Mrs./Ms.) as a form of respect when making someone’s acquaintance or in professional settings. These honorifics are used followed by the person’s given or full name.

Aside from the usual honorifics, there are also honorary titles that a Malaysian can receive or earn. Some titles like “Datuk”, “Datin” (for women), or “Dato’” are conferred by the Sultan of their State or even by the King of Malaysia.

There is also a special title for someone who has accomplished the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. For men and women, this title can be “Haji” or “Hajjah”, respectively.

Here’s a table we made to show how honorifics and honorary titles are used for names in Malaysia. The names we used aren’t based on a real person but they do feature common Malaysian names.

Ismail bin OsmanFatimah binti Rashid
Formal with Given NameEncik IsmailPuan/Cik Fatimah
Formal with Full NameEncik Ismail bin OsmanPuan/Cik Fatimah binti Rashid
Full Name with Honorary TitlesTan Sri Haji Ismail bin OsmanDatin Hajjah Fatimah binti Rashid

How do you address Malaysians when speaking to them?

There are different ways of addressing Malaysians when you’re directly speaking to them. How you address them verbally can depend on factors like your closeness to each other and the context of the situation.

You can address a Malaysian with honorifics like “Encik/Puan/Cik” (Mr./Mrs./Ms.) if you have just met or are in a formal setting. If the person has honorary titles like “Dato’” or “Datin”, include before their name  when speaking to them.

When in a casual and friendly setting, you can address Malaysians by their given name. Most Malaysians consider it rude if you call them by their father’s given name instead of their actual given name.

Let’s use the sample names we mentioned in the previous table to see how we’re supposed to address Malaysians when speaking to them.

Ismail bin OsmanFatimah binti Rashid
When Meeting Someone or When in a Formal SettingEncik Ismail

Tan Sri Ismail

Puan/Cik Fatimah

Datin Fatimah

When in a Casual or Informal SettingIsmailFatimah
How do you address Malaysians when speaking to them

How do Malaysian Chinese names work?

We’ve talked about the Malaysian naming convention and how Malaysian names work. Now, let’s discuss one of the largest ethnic Malaysian subgroups: the Malaysian Chinese.

Malaysian Chinese make up about 22.4% of the entire Malaysian population, making them the second-largest ethnic subgroup in the country. Many Malaysian Chinese have strengths in the business field, with most running hotels or shops.

Malaysian Chinese names are written by putting the surname first and then the given names second. A Malaysian Chinese person usually has two given names at birth. 

When a Malaysian Chinese name is written in Chinese characters, it is done so without any spaces in between the characters. If someone has two given names, both names are written with two separate characters.

When romanizing a Malaysian Chinese name, the surname always comes first. It is followed by the person’s given names. Given names can be hyphenated, written together, or divided into two.

Let’s take a look at how Malaysian Chinese names are usually written. We’ll be showing how to write with Chinese characters and in the romanized version. 

Chinese Characters陈偉傑黃欣怡
Romanized (hyphenated)Chen Wěi-JiéHuang Xīn-Yí
Romanized (written together)Chen WěijiéHuang Xīnyí
Romanized (divided into two)Chen Wěi JiéHuang Xīn Yí

How Malaysian Chinese names are written differ quite a lot from how Malaysian Malay names are usually written. The obvious difference is the presence of surnames in the former, and the usual lack of surnames in the latter.

Aside from surnames, the format of writing the names is also different.

Malaysian Malay names contain the given name, a patronym, and the father’s given name, all in that order. Meanwhile, Malaysian Chinese names begin with the surname followed by the given name.

FAQs about How Malaysian Names Work