Often when you begin to teach a class or join a new group, you spend some time learning names, you make games and activities to learn new names. When you go to a new country, especially one on the other side of the world, you hear many names that you have never heard of before. Indonesia is no different. For me, almost all the names were names I had never heard before. I would like to share the simple beauty I found in the new names (please forgive that they are all just men’s names, but I am using the names of my students and brothers in Indonesia, all of whom are men.)
Anggalius, Albinus, Engelbertus, and Arkhidius, Yanuarius
Names in Indonesia tell you not just who someone is, but often the names will tell you what religion they are as well. From a name, you can tell if someone is Muslim, Hindu, or Catholic. The Muslim names are traditional Indonesian or Muslim names:
Ahmad, Amir, Muhammad, and Fajar.
The Balinese give names to their children by the order they are born. Son or daughters the first is Wayan (or Putuh), the second is Made (or Kadek), the third is Nyoman (or Komang or Ng Nga), and the fourth is Ketut (and always Ketut), though often girls get a “ni”(miss) in front of this name. And if the family has more than four children they just start over with the same four names!) Can you imagine everyone you know has one of four names? It could be confusing but most people, just as many Indonesians use a “call name” or nickname and then it is not as hard. My guide in Bali was a wonderful man named Made, pronounced “mah- dey.”
Catholics are immediately recognizeable because they are still named after saints or many times have clear Latin roots.
Antimus, Agripinus, Primus, Ciprianus, and Yulianus.
The American Catholic culture has moved away from this tradition and I think we are poorer because of it. When I hear the names of certain students, I cannot help but to think of the saint they are named after. At the same time, one cannot forget we are called to follow in the steps of our spiritual fathers and mothers.
Basilius, Walberga, Anselmus, Hiasinthus, Konstantinus, Wensislaus, Urbanus, and Marianus.
Some names that I hear are wonderful reminders of the Bible and turn my mind immediately to the stories of salvation. One name, Firman, is translated as “the Word” (of God).
Teofilus, Cephas, Ponsianus, Apolinarus, and Selestinus.
There is a beauty to their names that reflects this is a very artistic culture. Art is part of the fabric of their lives in a way it is not for us in the West. Many know that Indonesia is artistic because of the beautiful “batik” fabrics and designs that are so common here, but their artistic culture goes much deeper. In this culture, all children are trained to read music and sing in harmonies which allow them to make every event (from birthdays, holidays, and religious celebrations) more beautiful. This is not to say they are all gifted singers, but many are. I hear their sense of music even in their names.
Alfianus, Marselinus, Pankrasius, Yanuarius, and Wilibrodus.
This is the positive side of the names of Indonesia, but it also comes with a darker side. If your name identifies you are Catholic, and you live in a Muslim majority, you will find certain doors will be closed, like employment or educational opportunities, because you don’t have the right name.
Yohannes, Irenius, and Kuirinus, Hieronimus, Landolfus, or Damianus.
And yet there is beauty even behind this sad fact. To take a Catholic name in this culture is nothing less than being a witness to one’s faith. One proclaims the Christian message by the name one bears. Many Americans in the US are often surprised to hear a Latino called “Jesus”, as this name is never used in the Anglo culture except for the Son of God. Here in Indonesia, they go one step further and name their sons Kristianus, Krisostomus, and Kristoforus, Kristo (Christ) for short and Paskalis (Easter). It took me a while to get used to these names, but once I saw the beauty in the names, I have come to love them.
There is one more name that has taken me a while to adjust to and that is the Indonesian name for God. Here Catholics and Muslims use the same word, Allah. I remember the first time I heard Allah in one of our prayers and I thought it must be some mistake. But I learned that the strong Muslim history of the country shaped the Indonesian language and so to express the word God in Indonesian, you must use the word Allah, whether you are Muslim, Catholic, or Protestant.
Not all Muslims agree with this practice and our Muslim neighbors in Malaysia, who are not so moderate in their expressions of faith, have made it illegal for non-Muslims to use the word Allah to refer to God. But for us in Indonesia, it is accepted. One more beautiful thing that has come from this time in mission is that because I now pray to “Allah”, I am more open to my Muslim brothers and sisters.
Names are a simple place to find beauty, but more than just their names, I find my brothers here even more beautiful.