Naming conventions pt. 3

One last thing about names here is the “bin”. Bin is Arabic for “son of”. Binti is “daughter of”. Although it does not appear on the birth cert itself, it is inserted between the first and last names of muslims, or more accurately, between the child’s name and the father’s name. (So in case you hadn’t put it together yet, my name is not Bin. I am the son of Gregory.) That part is straightforward. What is curious though, is that non-muslims don’t get a “bin”. Instead, they get “anak” inserted between their and their father’s name, as in Jefferson Anak Tutong. Anak means “child” or “child of” in that context. Then, it seems only with Hindus, it is changed to a/l or a/p, short for “anak lelaki” or “anak perempuan”, meaning son of or daughter of, respectively. What could be the reason for this? Why not just “bin” and “binti” for everybody? There’s nothing particularly islamic about it, aside from the Arabic origin of the word. There is a ton of Arabic in Bahasa Malaysia (and Bahasa Iban for that matter. See Bup Kudus) that doesn’t have any overt islamic significance, so that’s not a good reason. I don’t know, but I think it is a bit of chauvanism on the part of the Malays, to distinguish between the muslims and non-muslims that way. It’s not as though anybody would be confused between Muhammad Abdul Latif and Sivabakti Mahalingam. It’s not uniform anyway. Some tribes here in Sarawak use bin even though they are not muslim, specifically the Melanau, who are very close to the Malays in culture but are mixed christian and muslim. Maybe it’s a non-issue… Still, from time to time, some wiseacre in my class will put “bin” on his attendance sheet.


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