what it means to work in malaysia

my fellow american intern asked me somewhat sheepishly 15 minutes ago how i would abbreviate the names of a few important people that had given speeches during this forum he had to write a report on. aha, i thought, he has finally encountered the confusing world of malAySIAN names. the poor guy obviously doesn’t get all the nuances, like how the family name is sometimes before the first name for the chinese, yet less important than the first name for the malay. already he struggles with the pronunciation of our names, so the spelling must be an additional pain. what more with all those honorary federal and state titles we love so much in this country?  of course he needs some help – the skill of asian name-abbreviation is indispensible in the writing of reports.

feeling pleased to be consulted on our local culture, i went over to take a look at the names he was wrestling with. your resident malaysian blogger realised very quickly that she was as clueless as he was. a quick shortlist of our tongue-twisting bureaucratic monsters:

Dato’ Seri Utama Dr. Muhammad Yudin

monster no. 1 had six parts. clearly more parts than is desirable for a report in which you will repeat his name at least as frequently as the number of syllables in his name. the first three parts of the name are honorary state titles, the Dr. indicating he is holding a PhD. as this is a malay name, you do not discount the first name in favour of the last name, because the first name is inherited by the offspring of a malay family as their last name. the dilemmas we faced? (1) not being able to abbreviate Dato’ Seri Utama to DSU as it is not the norm, (2) not being able to discount the Dr. because it gave him academic authority in the report and (3) not being able to use his first name only as there is another muhammad lurking somewhere in the report. the solution to this dilemma? we used “the speaker”.

Tan Sri Dato’ Uhammed Haji Zainal Abdul Razak

monster no. 2 had nine parts in total –  two titles with the remaining six parts being his full name. intuitively it wants to send you running for cover, but is in fact a simpler conundrum to solve than monster no. 1. there is also no way to abbreviate Tan Sri Dato’, but we hazarded a guess as to where his last name begins and then eliminated it. a safe bet is that the first two parts after Tan Sri Dato’ are his first name, so we kept that and deleted the rest. monster no. 2 was thus abbreviated to five parts, a big discount of 44% off the original monster.

haha. of course these names are not the same ones as those in our report, but the numbers are factually accurate. more updates from work soon!

1 comment
  1. Andrea said:

    Haha but then the haji is a title he earned from the pilgrimage right? Indonesians have totally random strings of names. Luckily the better-known ones are conventionally only known by 1 or 2 of those

    Will be bookmarking this =)

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