by Adrian (he/him/his)
Most Indonesians only have one name. That’s right, their first name is also their official name. Depending on their ethnicity, they may also go by their nickname—usually given by parents or grandparents based on their personality or physical build. Such a name does not appear on government-issued documents.
My birth name has only one name and it contains 10 letters. But of course, there are other people in Indonesia that have both first names, sometimes with middle names and surnames. The surname can be the family name or patronym (like that in Icelandic name, minus the -son and -dottir addition) For example, all of my nephews’ surnames happen to be their dad’s first name (my big brother).
For those who are lucky enough to have only one name, you’re saved from the threat of identity theft as confirmed by Rob Braxman (I forgot which video he mentioned this in! But please do check him out). I get why he said this. Indonesians are difficult to find because of the nature of their names.
Those 10 letters have given me the meaning of existence since it was finalized by the civil registry after 30 days of my birth in October 1994. Everyone knows it’s a girl’s name. I mean, after all, unisex names were uncommon and even unheard of among Indonesians in the past. But those 10 letters can be a boy’s name, right? I managed to pass sometimes. They’d look at me and my name and say, “very well, sir”. The husband of my little brother’s friend who just recently got married is called Sandra. And he’s a manly man by Indonesian standards.
I like the meaning of my name. It’s based on the Ancient Javanese language that means someone with a big and bright heart. The first five letters can also make up a personal name as well which means high mount. Overall, it has the element of grandeur and grace in it. Why I hate it is because I was supposed to be named after someone from the immediate circle of the second Indonesian president. The reason being: with that name, I could have a better opportunity in later life because it sounded Javanese and it’s a famous person’s name! My parents spent their savings to go to Hajj pilgrimage in the summer of 1992 just to ask God for another child (me). My mother, who became an orphan in her teenage years, was desperate for her mother-in-law’s validation. By God’s grace and all of their resources, it’s imperative to not let this miracle baby suffer. In order to do that, this baby had to have a Javanese name with no surname because it’s a sinful luxury to have more than one name. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents, great-grandparents had one name in their lifetime. My paternal great-grandpa who was probably born in the 19th-century backwater Celebes had only three letters for his name!
So, what’s with the Javanese name? Dr Stefani Nugroho summarized this phenomenon well in her book The Divergent Nation of Indonesia (page 37-38). I personally find Dr Nugroho’s outlook regarding the norm of Java-centrism in the public sphere of the lives of many Indonesians in the second half of the 20th-century to be interesting. It’s essentially the tool to reimagine a stable and united Indonesia by flattening (or rather, reducing) the identity of the minority (my parents’ ethnicity only make up less than 2% of Indonesia’s total population). And Indonesia is an archipelago. We have lots of seas and straits, a sparse population, and more. The most realistic thing the regime could do is to at least have full control in its proximity—Java Island where the capital is located. The militaristic mode of governance of the New Order basically pressured people to play along or else be jailed and sent to some remote penal colony and literally branded as Eks-tapol (Eks Tahanan Politik—political prisoner) on their ID card upon release. The more apolitical you were, the better your life would be. My parents were an apolitical bunch, and they just didn’t want to make matters worse as newlyweds and away from home (my parents are not from Java Island, and they moved out from their home province in the mid-80s to a new province even farther from Java). So, they hopped on the wagon and rode along because they didn’t want to miss out on the Javanization trend.
My official name is the by-product of make-believe. It doesn’t really reflect what my parents really wanted. It happened because the circumstances demanded it. So, what difference does it make if I go by the name Adrian now? It’s make-believe, too. I wish I was Adrian from the get-go. I wish I was not born female. Otherwise, I’d probably be married to someone’s daughter and give our parents dozens of more grandchildren. At age 27, I should be married by now.
I can’t imagine if I was really my dad’s son. I’m showered by incessant affection and unconditional love from him. What could be more than that? I feel like he’s given me the world. I’m basically his little prince(ss).
But if I make the excuse that the name has “cursed” me, it has given me nothing but bad luck and instability in life, after the claim of a shaman and they “advised” me to change my name, the court will likely consider it. And of course, strong testimonies from selected witnesses to corroborate the claim. Considerations or advice based on Customary Law is admissible according to the Indonesian constitution. Whatever name I choose and wish to live with, with or without the shaman’s advice, as long as it won’t cause suffering to our dearest civil servants or the people in the service industry, the court must honour that based on Article 28A of the Indonesian Constitution.
Namanya terlalu berat (his/her name is too heavy). Why, yes, it’s too heavy for me, indeed. I’ve been living as a trans man since I started undergraduate in 2012! I have always thought that the heavy burden will be lifted once I change my name and my sex marker (this one is a little bit complicated though). But I don’t plan on becoming famous. So, I’m not rushing it and instead enjoy the process. A friend (who happens to be a trans man as well), someone that I greatly admire and highly regard did exactly that—testifying based on some sort of metaphysical advice.
Quoting Shakespeare’s Hamlet this time—”to be or not to be”. I really hate to kill that 10-letter name for my dad but at the same time, I want to make my new name official, preferably with my dad’s blessing, not a shaman’s. Sometimes, I want to have a firm and absolute belief in God and the Afterlife because that way, I won’t have to think about this worldly and difficult modern administrative affair to be myself. I’d just have to be me (a trans man in this life), someone who strives to live a dignified and virtuous life and bearing in mind that God has willed as such to prepare me for my next role as a biological man in the next life.
I don’t know what the future holds but whatever it is, I won’t just sit down lamenting what’s it going to be. Yes, as a transman being called by your birthname by your family or friends hurt so much. The fact that you have not formally petitioned for a name change feels like renewing a contract of perpetual torment that you’re already stuck with since birth. For the time being, I’m a work in progress. I don’t know who comes up with this idea that “people won’t forget how you make them feel”, but it is very much empowering for someone like me.
About the Author:
Adrian (he/him/his) is like any other nondescript and average Joe out there. He’s a morning person who starts his day by fixing his bed, a tall glass of water, a shower, getting dressed up, black coffee, and breakfast. Literally in that order. His mother either finds him working a gig, reading a book (physical book/e-book), doing house chores, playing video games, writing, listening to podcasts, or napping like a baby after his 3pm cookies and milk. He finished his bachelor and master’s degree in English literature and Philosophy, respectively, and mostly works part-time now as a language tutor, translator, and editor.