What’s in A Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

(Romeo & Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I‘ve been confused with my own name for my entire life. It started when I was born and continues until today. Unlike Westerners, most of Indonesians don’t have family name except several ethnic groups like Batak and Manado, so instead of having forename, middle name, and surname, most of Indonesians have only two names (sometimes even one. Remember our former presidents Soeharto and Soekarno?). But my dad does have surname, so he wanted to put it on my birth certificate. The smart registration officer refused his plea, arguing that it wasn’t my own name, and since the father’s name would be stated anyway, it means I would automatically take my father’s surname.

Right. If only that was the case.

The first problem started when I went to primary school. The school put my first and middle name but dropped my surname on the certificate. Why? They said that’s what it stated on my birth certificate, and all documents should have exactly the same name. This continued up until my master’s degree certification. My father’s name, somehow was only recognized de facto. Along with all of my graduation certificates, my bank cards and passport also state only my first and middle name. But in my KTP and driving license I have my father’s name showing.

This is a confusing concept, even to me. Every time I had to fill in a visa form I have to always fill ‘Anita‘ in forename box and my middle name in the surname box because that’s what I have in my passport, while actually Carmencita is not my surname. Mr.mck couldn’t grab the concept at all, there was one time he ordered a plane ticket online and put my first and my last name in the ticket, which is different from my passport! Luckily the ticketing officer was nice, she asked if I have an ID showing my first and last name, so I showed her my KTP and driving license and I was allowed to pass.

Because even I can’t tell what my really name is, I make other people confuse as well. When I registered to the GP (General Practitioner), I submitted my passport which has my first and middle name. But then I become a McKay and re-register again, which resulted in several phone calls from the GP office to confirm that Anita Carmencita is the same person as Anita McKay. The marriage officer took a long time to understand that I have the third name which is a surname, which is not stated in the passport, and Carmencita is my middle name, which looks like my surname in the passport. She got even more confused to find out that my mother (because she is a Javanese) doesn’t have a surname before adopting my father’s. I had to patiently explain to her that this in fact is normal in Indonesia, and after a lot of frowns and head shaking she finally gave in.

To a person who is a bit obsessive about orders, having different names on different IDs is painful. So the first thing I would do when I’m back to Indonesia is to update all of my IDs so all of them will have the same name. Now, do I need to put my father’s name before my husband’s? Certainly 4 names are not too many….?



  1. Anita, blame it to the bureaucracy here. My story is not any better than you. As a Chinese descent I just don’t get it why I must have a Chinese name and Indonesian name altogether. Both my parents were born in Indonesia, they can’t speak Chinese except simple things like kamsia, cepek, gopek, ceban, etc. Our daily language is Bahasa Indonesia, we love Indonesian foods more than Chinese foods…so why do I have to keep that cang-cing-cung name when I never used it at all?
    When my older sister applied for passport many years ago, the immigration put her name Eliana Thio. As for mine it is Elyani Gunadi.

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