Where’s Wayan?

I went to Warung Sopa yesterday for a mixed plate of fresh veggie salads. I asked for Wayan (pronounced why-UN), but he hadn’t arrived yet. As I knelt on the cushions to await my meal, I checked the contact list on my cellphone to see if I had his number.

IMG_2204When I skimmed through my cell-phone contact list, I noticed that I have no less than a dozen Wayans listed: There’s Wayan Ojek, one of my drivers. Wayan JoniBro, Joni’s older brother and a driver too. Wayan Toro is a fluently English-speaking Balinese sushi restaurateur. Wayan Mich assists Michele in whipping up amazing tropical fruit jams – yum! Wayan Jaclins is Jaclins’ Wayan – whom I’m likely to have no further reason to call.

Wayan Manis is Cat’s housekeeper and the best Balinese dosa + dai maker this side of India. Wayan Alchemy is N’s friend who works at the all-organic hangout, aka Alchemy. Wayan SujHous, regrettably, is someone I no longer remember – but probably had to do with rIMG_2215enting a house some time ago. Wayan Tita tried to convince me to rent his house. Wayan KadTshirt owns a handpainted t-shirt store. And so on…

As you can see, mnemonics come in handy.

But wait, I know SO many others: Wayan who one of the staff here at the guesthouse. She replaced a previous Wayan who was fired because (apparently) someone believed that she was tainted with black magic. Another Wayan – proprietor of the eponymous Café in central Ubud – is a well-known entity in this town; turns out that she grew up in this, her birth family’s compound.

I’ve met at least a dozen taxi drivers with the name Wayan; same with waiters and waitresses, friends’ household staff, women at the markeIMG_4257t, friends of my Balinese friends, wives and husbands of my friends. Neighbors. Teachers. Massage therapists. Spa owners. You name it. There’s a Wayan just around the corner. One couple I know employ two Wayans in their jewelry business; they simplified matters by calling them Wayan Empat (Wayan #4) and Wayan Lima (Wayan #5; I suppose others preceded them!)

If you haven’t yet noticed, Bali is Wayan Central. Why so many Wayans?!IMG_2261

Wayan is derived from the old word “wayahan” which means the oldest. So the first child in the family will be given the name Wayan. Besides Wayan, first borns may also be named Putu or Gede. The second child in the family uses Made or Kadek, the third uses Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth is named Ketut. These names apply equally to boys and girls. If parents have more than four kids, the fifth child will be named Wayan – and the order repeats itself.

Imagine entering a classroom and asking students their names; how many hands do you imagine might go up if you asked for Wayan?!

There’s something rather quirky, almost surreal, about this unique naming phenomenon… In fact, to tease them a little (and how the Balinese love to laugh), I’m tempted, the next time I return to Bali, to head out of the airport and into the frenzied crowd (comprised mostly of Bali’s tourist-hungry taxi drivers), wearing a t-shirt that simply reads: Dimana Wayan? Where’s Wayan?



  1. I think it is one of the most unique “naming traditions” in the world.
    Reading this post makes me realize that we, Chinese folks, also have our own unique names. I think I should try to find some spare time to write a post about it! 😀

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