Understanding Naming Conventions on the Malay Peninsula

Naming conventions on the Malay Peninsula are subject primarily to Malay, Arabic, and Chinese influences. Most people on the Malay Peninsula in Malaysia and Singapore follow Malay or Chinese naming conventions. However, usage of these naming conventions is not uniform.


Malay Naming Conventions

Names of ethnically Malay people typically comprise three parts:

  • Given name
  • Patronym
  • Surname

This construction is similar to the nasab frequently used by people in the Middle East. While most people with Malay names do not list a surname on public records, some do.

For men, the given name and the patronym often are separated by the word bin, derived from the Arabic word meaning “son of.” For women, the given name and patronym often are separated by the word binti, meaning “daughter of.” Binti is sometimes spelled binte and occasionally abbreviated as “bte.”

Rather than bin and binti, some individuals will use the Malay terms for “son of” (anak lelaki) and “daughter of” (anak perempuan). These are sometimes abbreviated to “A/L” and “A/P ”in public records.

It’s also common to abbreviate some given names in writing. For example, Mohammed could become “Mohd,” and Abdul could become “Abd.”


Titles in Malay Names

A number of titles can be written as part of an individual’s name. Some of these are common in other parts of the Islamic world—such as the titles Haji or Hajjah for men and women, respectively, who have made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Others are titles bestowed on individuals by the federal or state governments of Malaysia, such as Tan Sri and Datuk. These may appear either before or after a person’s name.


Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Name, in Many Forms

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s name provides a useful example of many of these naming conventions. His name appears a variety of ways on Malay corporate records:

– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak (Y.B. Dato’Sri)

– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak, Dato’ Sri

– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak, YAB Dato’ Sri

– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, Dato’ Sri

– Mohd Najib Bin Tun Hj Abd Razak, Dato’ Sri

– Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak

These names include various pieces of Najib’s full name: Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.

The key parts here are his given name (Mohammad Najib), his patronym following the marker bin (his father’s name was Abdul), and his surname (Razak). The other parts are titles:

– Yang Berhormat: Title meaning “the honorable,” generally reserved for members of the federal or state legislatures

– Dato’ Sri: Title conferred by the ruler of the state of Pahang

– Haji: Title indicating that Najib has completed the Hajj

– Tun: Title awarded by the federal government of Malaysia; Najib’s father, Abdul Razak, holds this title

– Haji: Title indicating that Najib’s father has completed the Hajj


Chinese Naming Conventions

One Word vs. Two Words

Chinese names comprise two parts:

  • Surname
  • Given names

As in China, Chinese surnames generally appear before given names. Unlike in China, people with Chinese names on the Malay Peninsula typically write their romanized given name as two separate words. For example, a person whose surname is Zhao and given name is Yuanren might write his name as Zhao Yuan Ren rather than Zhao Yuanren.


Romanization Systems

Chinese names written in Chinese characters have to be romanized—converted into Latin characters—in countries that use the Latin alphabet. Many Chinese people on the Malay Peninsula use different romanization systems from Hanyu Pinyin, China’s official system. This difference, combined with the large number of Chinese dialects spoken by Chinese diaspora communities, results in a variety of romanization systems of Chinese names on the Malay Peninsula. 

In some cases, public records may list more than one romanization for a single person’s name. For example, an individual named Ong Teck Chuan may also romanize his name as Wang Dequan. In some cases, a public record might list this alternative romanization as an alias.

In other cases, an alternative romanization used by an individual may not be very obvious. For example, the Chinese name 陳偉銘 could be romanized as Chen Weiming in China and Tan Wee Beng in Malaysia. The latter is a phonetic spelling of the Southern Min pronunciation of the same name. But unless both names are listed side-by-side on a public record, this may not be obvious.

Types of Corporate Structures in China

Under China’s 2013 Company Law, there are two primary types of corporations that comprise the vast majority of corporate entities in China:

Limited Liability Company

In China, the limited liability company (LLC; in Chinese, 有限责任公司 or 有限公司) structure is generally for smaller and less restricted companies. Chinese LLCs may not have more than 50 shareholders. Ownership share is determined by the amount of subscribed capital of each shareholder; in other words, the degree to which each shareholder has a say in company decisions and a right to the company’s profits is dependent on the capital he or she subscribed to at the time the company incorporated.

Chinese LLCs are only required to have a single director and a single supervisor, although shareholders can choose to appoint more than that. A transfer of a company shares between shareholders can be done without any restrictions. However, a transfer of company shares from one shareholder to an individual or entity that is not currently a shareholder requires approval by shareholders accounting for at least 50 percent of the company’s registered capital.

Company Limited by Shares

Unlike LLCs, the company limited by shares (股份有限公司 or 股份公司) structure is generally used by larger companies, including publicly traded companies (which must be companies limited by shares). The primary difference compared to an LLC is that shareholders’ ownership is determined by the number of shares of the company that they hold. Each share has an equal value.

Companies limited by shares must have a board of directors and a board of supervisors. Moreover, the shareholders must hold meetings on a regular basis. If a company limited by shares is publicly traded, it must also appoint independent directors. Shares of companies limited by shares can be transferred without any restrictions.

Other Corporate Structure Types Defined by the Company Law

In addition to the above common corporate structures, the Company Law also outlines the following corporate structures:



One-Person Limited Liability Company (一人有限责任公司)

This type of corporation has similar rights and responsibilities to a standard LLC, but may only be established by a natural person.

Wholly State-Owned Company (国有独资公司)

Wholly state-owned companies are established by the central government or a provincial government. The company’s directors are appointed by a State-owned Asset Supervision and Administration organ (国有资产监督管理机构), rather than by the board of shareholders, as is the case with other corporations.


The partnership (合伙) structure is primarily used in China as a vehicle for pooling investment funds from several individuals or companies. Partnerships are governed by the 2006 Partnership Enterprise Law (合伙企业法); an official English translation of the law can be found here.

Chinese partnerships provide more secrecy than other corporate structures, as partners are not required to disclose their stake in the partnership. Ownership share, and the associated rights and responsibilities, are determined by the amount of each partner’s stake, or as otherwise specified by the company’s articles of incorporation. Partners may not transfer their stake to an external party without the approval of all other partners.

There are two forms of partnership in China, general partnerships and limited partnerships. By Sayari’s assessment, limited partnerships are more than twice as common in China as general partnerships.

Sole Proprietorships

Sole proprietorships (个体工商户) were the first form of private corporate structure introduced as part of China’s “reform and opening” political reforms. Sole proprietorships have a sole shareholder who must be a natural person and a Chinese citizen. They are governed by the 2011 Sole Proprietorship Enterprise Regulations. While the law stipulates that sole proprietorships may be operated by a family, rather than by a single individual, in practice only a single individual is listed as the company’s operator on Chinese corporate records.

Chinese sole proprietorships are also sometimes referred to in English as “household enterprises” or “individual industrial and commercial units.” In Chinese corporate records, their name may be abbreviated to 个体 or 个体户.

Type Definition
Sole Proprietorships Sole proprietorships have a sole owner who must be a natural person who is a Chinese citizen.

Other Corporate Structure Types

The following corporate structures are much less common, but still appear in Chinese corporate records:

Type Definition
Branch Company (分公司) Branch companies are not considered distinct legal entities in China, but rather are a part of a legal entity that is registered in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the parent company is registered. Under Chinese law, branch companies must be named using the format [name of parent entity] [location of branch (optional)] [branch company (分公司)]. Because of this requirement, it’s always possible to determine the parent entity of a Chinese branch company by the name alone.
Representative Office (办事处 or 代表处) Representative offices are not considered distinct legal entities, but rather are a local office of a foreign legal entity. Similarly to branch companies, representative offices must be named using the format [country where parent entity is incorporated] [name of parent entity] [representative office (办事处 or 代表处)].
Chinese-Foreign Joint Venture (中外合资企业 or 合资经营) While not strictly a corporate structure, a company’s status as a joint venture will be listed in the same field on Chinese corporate records as the company’s corporate structure.
Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau Enterprise (台、港、澳企业) Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau enterprise (台、港、澳企业) – Like joint ventures, this is not a corporate structure, but rather an indication that one or more of a company’s shareholders are from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and/or Macau.
Cooperative (合作社) Cooperatives are a legal entity that can be incorporated by rural residents. They are governed by the Rural Specialized Cooperative Law (农民专业合作社法).


Other Corporate Structure Types

For more information on Chinese corporate structures, check out the Chinese legal code.

The most important law governing the vast majority of Chinese corporations is the 2013 Company Law (中华人民共和国公司法), as amended in 2018. An official English version of the 2013 law (without subsequent amendments) can be found here.

Further regulations are also provided by the 2016 version of the Company Registration Administrative Regulations (公司登记管理条例).

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