How to Pronounce Indonesian Names Correctly

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Anyone would agree that pronouncing someone’s name correctly is a form of courtesy. Yes of course, when a mistake is not deliberate, it’s totally understandable and easily forgiven. However, wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly how to pronounce Indonesian names correctly right of the bat? Afterall you’ve been learning Indonesian, so why can’t you pronounce Indonesian names correctly. Well, let us break it to you. Perhaps it’s because you haven’t figured out the trick yet. And in this article that is exactly our objective: to get you pronounce Indonesian names correctly the next time you meet an Indonesian.

Master Indonesian Alphabets 

This is something so fundamental yet many Indonesian language learners often overlook. Just because Indonesian alphabets are written in Roman scripts does not undermine the importance of you, being a language learner, to know exactly how to pronounce each letter. When pronouncing words in Indonesian, pay special attention to the vowels. Vowels can be challenging if you are an English speaker, because when you spell “e” in Indonesian, it sounds a whole lot like an “a” in English. Same goes with letter “i” in Indonesian, it sounds very similar like an “e” in English. This only shows that if you are an English speaker, the more reason for you to work on mastering Indonesian alphabets A-Z.

When you met someone named EKO, you’d know that you’d pronounce the E like how you would when saying “e” in eliminate.

Watch this video below to refresh your memory on how to spell A-Z in Indonesian:

If you are a visual learner, meaning: you retain information better when you “see” it instead of “hear” the letter, then this printable pronunciation guide is perfect for you. You can print this Indonesian language pronunciation guide as your reference. Click the link below to download.

Indonesian alphabet pronounciation guide

Indonesian Old Spelling System

The Indonesian alphabets and language have gone through some changes int he alst few years. Back in the olden days (before 1970s), “oe” is how you’d spell “u” in Indonesian. So instead of writing the name “Sukarno” – back in the olden days, the name would be written in this style “Soekarno.” Some Indonesian names still retain the old spelling system. But now that you know “oe” is pronounced the same way as “u,” you don’t need to get confused. You will pronounce “Soeharto” and “Suharto” the same way. Same goes with pronouncing “Soerabaya” and “Surabaya.”

This old spelling system is known as Ejaan van Ophuysen (Ejaan Lama), in this modern day (after the 70s) Indonesian is adopting Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (EYD) system.

Another important one you may encounter is “tj” spelling that is now revised with “c.” So if you see someone’s name is written “Tjokrowisnu,” you know that it is pronounced the same way as you would with “Cokrowisnu.” Another example: “Tjikini” and “Cikini.”

Side Note: Terms of Address

Important Terms of Address to Know:

Mbak: used to refer to girls / women younger than you (by age)

Mas: used to refer to boys / men younger than you (by age)

Ibu or Bu: used to refer to older women

Bapak or Pak: used to refer to older men

When in doubt – when you’re not really sure about the other person’s age, it’s best to remain formal, using the term Ibu / Bu to address a lady, and Bapak or Pak to address a gentleman. While in the workplaces/offices setting, it is more common to use Ibu and Bapak rather than Mas and Mbak, regardless of age.

When addressing someone in English, you’d go “Mr” followed by the person’s family name, for instance if the person’s name is Jared Trump, you’d call him: “Mr. Trump” – not “Mr. Jared.” However in Indonesia, when you use the term of address, it’s followed by the person’s first name, not last name. Huge part of this is because culturally many Indonesians don’t have a “family name,” another side note we’ll explain later on.

So in the case for Jared Trump, in Indonesia, Indonesians would call him: Bapak Jared or Pak Jared. Not Bapak Trump or Pak Trump.

Side Note: No Family Names

In Western countries, most people have at least two names with the last name being the family name. While in Indonesia, it is not uncommon to find Indonesian with no family names. So their names are just: “Hartono,” or “Subadiya” and no family name. This is common for older generations, but now more and more younger people in Indonesia have both first name and last name, i.e. “Hartono Sutikno” or “Subadiya Cokro.”

Last Resort

So let’s say when you got caught in a situation where you are really clueless on how to say the other person’s name in Indonesian, you can utilize this tactic: ask the person directly on how to say his or her name. This is what you can say to him or her:

Bagaimana cara saya menyebut nama bapak / ibu dengan benar?

(How can I say your name correctly?)

There you go. A few simple strategies to pronounce someone’s name correctly in Bahasa Indonesia.

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