Teknonymy in Bali: 
Parenthood, Age-grading and Genealogical Amnesia




TEKNONYMY, the practice of designating adults according to the names of their children, is not often examined for its functional significance, but more frequently assumed to be a mere ethnological detail, or a minor nomenclatural usage. When social consequences are attributed to it, they tend to be confined to the most personal and domestic spheres of life.1 Bali, however, provides material for the contrary thesis: there teknonymy becomes a vital social mechanism with important structural impact both on village organization and on the process of corporate kin-group formation. On the one hand, the systematic application of teknonymous names serves to mark out explicit age-grades within each Balinese village. These age-cohorts are unnamed and informal in operation, but they are, nevertheless, highly influential components of the community structure. On the other hand, the custom of teknonymy plays an equally significant role within the Balinese kinship system. It creates, through its progressive suppression of personal names and its regular substitution of what are essentially impersonal status terms, a curtain of genealogical amnesia which steadily descends over each generation in turn. Recognition of common descent becomes a most flexible matter, so that corporate descent groups among Balinese commoners are free to expand or contract their memberships readily in response to changing circumstances, such as shifts in the relative wealth, political power or prestige of their members. Teknonymy thus serves as a potent if indirect agent for creating the elasticity, the adaptability which is one of the most distinctive and fundamental peculiarities of the Balinese kinship system, and in fact, which enables the system to work at all.2


Further, there is an interesting countercase which adds support to these assertions regarding the social function of teknonymy in Bali, namely, that one segment of the Balinese population-the gentry-does not employ teknonymy extensively, and correspondingly, their place in village society and the structure of their descent groups as well is different from those of the commoners. Gentry families, who comprise about ten per cent of the total population, are almost identical culturally and economically (with some exceptions) with commoners, and they live scattered among the commoners in nearly every village. The two social groups are closely intermeshed and interdependent in most areas of life. Yet the gentry are often excluded in a legal, civil sense from the local community governing body, and it is in precisely this sphere that age-grading is prominent. Further, the absence of teknonymy is linked with differences in the gentry kinship system: their kin-groups are more strongly corporate, larger, more enduring, and are buttressed by lengthy genealogical traditions, traditions which are absent among the commoners.


In its general outline, the system of teknonymic nomenclature is quite simple. At birth each person is given a proper name, by which he is called until he marries and has a child. Soon after this event people begin addressing and referring to him as 'Fatherof-So-and-So', employing his child's personal name. The wife, likewise, becomes 'Mother-of-So-and-So', with the result that man and wife now have essentially the same name. It becomes extremely discourteous to use a person's childhood name instead of his teknonymous name, for to do so is to imply that he is still immature, and as a result his original name gradually fades from view. There is, in most cases, a second change of name some years later when the couple have become grandparents. Their children now lose their childhood names in turn, and are referred to as 'Father-of ...' or 'Mother-of ...' their own child, while the grandparents' names shift to 'Grandfather-of ...' and 'Grandmother-of ...', the inserted name being that of the new grandchild. And finally, when they become great-grandparents, all the names again shift upwards, with the older couple now being called 'Great-grandparent-of .. .' the most recent offspring.3


It is immaterial whether the child after whom all these adults are named is male or female. Since adoption ofa teknonym occurs not overnight by means ofa ceremony, but gradually through the building up of a habit, the name is not firmly acquired until after the child has survived the perilous Balinese infancy. If the eponymous child dies after the name is firmly attached to his parents, they will usually continue to be called by it.


From the point of view of the individual, therefore, his name may shift as many as four times during the course of his life. Since not only a personal name is employed, but also always a status term-'Father-of', 'Grandfather-of', 'Great-grandparent-of'-the name indicates each person's current familial status. From the point of view of the local community, everyone is categorized by his teknonym into a set of generational classes, i.e., children, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.





The settlement pattern of Bali is determined in large part by its topography and by the cultivation of irrigated rice. Dwellings are clustered tightly together on ridges of higher land with rice paddies descending in terraces round the residential areas. Population densities are very high, and many settlements contain several thousand or more inhabitants. Balinese social organization is intricate, and there is no unitary, multifunctional 'village' community of the type usually found in peasant societies.4 Instead there is a variety of groupings of different sizes and functions: modern governmental units; spheres of influence offormer kings, princes, and lordlings; temple congregations of many kinds; irrigation societies with scattered members from diverse localities; Bali-wide 'caste' organizations; and various others. All these types of affiliation interpenetrate and overlap, so that anyone settlement cluster is socially and territorially segmented in a number of non-eo-ordinate ways.


One kind of Balinese association does correspond somewhat to a local village community, however, the 'hamlet' or bandJar. Although it is not always exclusively territorial in membership, the hamlet council has jurisdiction over most civil and domestic matters, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and minor criminal acts. While individual hamlet members generally have many social allegj.ances and responsibilities outside of the hamlet itself-to temples elsewhere, to various political groupings, to agricultural societies, etc.-the hamlet frequently is the extra-domestic primary group with greatest personal significance for its citizens. It is the group within which each person has the most daily interaction, and since it tends to be strongly endogamous most of his kinsmen are also members and he spends his life span within its confines. Many hamlet associations own all the houseland in the vicinity, and have full power to evict members for anti-social behaviour. Since eviction means, essentially, social death, this is a powerful lever for conformity. Small crimes are punished by fines, levied by unanimous judgment of the hamlet council. Most hamlets are also religious congregations, being responsible for the upkeep and observances at one or two local temples.


The hamlet is kept small, generally below five hundred in all; and in these days of marked population growth, the splitting of oversize hamlets is frequent. Through much of the lowlands of Bali the settlements are quite extensive and those which are subdivided into as many as ten hamlets are not uncommon; in the mountain areas hamlet and settlement may coincide. Each hamlet is entirely separate both from all other forms of association and from all other hamlets. Each one has its own distinctive set of rules and regulations, concerning membership qualifications, responsibilities, sanctions, etc., so that precise ethnographic generalization is very difficult.


Teknonymy makes its contribution to hamlet organization by providing a classificatory frame, a set of categories of like-named people. In the first place, it clearly identifies man and wife, since they both carry the name of the same child. Membership in the hamlet council, the governing body of the hamlet which meets once a month, is open only to men who have a female co-partner. Every male head of a household is automatically a member, but only if he has a woman as his co-member, for she is needed to perform the many hamlet ritual duties and other obligations traditionally carried out by women. While it is permissible under certain circumstances to substitute a sister, mother, or daughter, the normal pattern is that of man and wife. Other Balinese associations, too, such as the temple affiliations and the traditional allegiances to feudal lords, have the same rule of dual man-and-woman membership. The common appellation by a teknonym serves to underline this social identification of man and wife as a single unit.


In the second place, teknonymy distinguishes the main generational strata, the children, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, strata which in turn are significant components of village society. Practices vary considerably, but generally a young man joins the hamlet council at the time of his marriage. In some hamlets he must -wait until he has a child, at which point his parents retire from the council, relinquishing their seat to their son. In such cases the parallel between the acquisition of a teknonym and of adult citizenship in the hamlet is a formal one. Generally, however, the connexion is much looser, and the name-shifts are often delayed or accelerated to fit the actual social status of the individual. Thus a very young man may continue to be called by his childhood name for some time after he has become a parent, ifhe is clearly still a dependent and insignificant youth. Likewise, a man ofvigour and political weight often continues to be addressed by his 'Father-of .. .' title, long after the birth of a grandchild. In many hamlets, in fact, it is customary for older sons to leave the parental homestead after marriage, with only the youngest son staying with their parents, and in these cases the older parents are not called 'grandparent-of .. .' their first grandchild, but of the child of their youngest son, who may come into the world many years later, when the older parents have in actuality begun to lose their active place in the community. Those called 'Grandfather-of ...' tend to take more passive advisory roles which can be quite high in prestige and influence. A very old person who is senile or physically weak may more rapidly come to be addressed by a teknonym as 'Greatgrandparent-of-So-and-So'.


There is, further, a strong element of relativity in the confevring of a teknonym. A man's peers tend to call him by his 'Father-of' name long after he is a grandfather or even a great-grandfather. The first ones to make the shift are always the children. Thus, for example, in one village studied, there was a very aged man who was a great-grandfather. One of his age-mates, another old man, always referred to him as 'Father-of-Membah'. The majority of the middle-aged villagers called him 'Grandfather-of-Sukana'. But the children called him 'Great-grandfather-of-Puri', for little Puri was their playmate, and the point ofreference from which they saw him. It was obvious that the number of those who might call him 'Father-of' was rapidly diminishing, and the centre of political balance in the village had long ago moved from his age-group to the next below, so that his actual status was most nearly specified by the title 'Grandfatherof', and that was indeed the name he most often went by.


In this way the teknonymic generational strata are verbal categories which are adjusted in everyday interaction to coincide roughly with the community's real (but un-named) social organizational layers of minors, active citizens, elders, and senile dependants. From another point of view these are age-grades, for civic activity, power, and influence are closely correlated with age.


The Balinese gentry exhibit in reverse the relationship between teknonymy and community social position. Most nobles are addressed not by teknonyms but by a single honorific title which persists throughout their lives, a title which is unaffected by either age or generation. There are, however, some instructive exceptions to the rule that gentry do not use teknonymy. Some low-ranking, impoverished nobles are, in fact, customarily addressed by teknonyms in place of their titles. These variations in mode of address appear to parallel the kinds of status the gentry may have vis-a-vis the commoner hamlet community. Those of very high rank who also have considerable wealth or regional political position often live in the same settlement with commoners, but they are completely excluded from the hamlet government, or if they are accepted as citizens they have a very special status and certain specified privileges. These are the ones who are never addressed by teknonyms. On the other hand, the gentry of inferior rank who do use teknonymy also generally are accepted as nearly full and equal hamlet citizens. In such cases, the teknonyms employed are specially modified forms, terms which are more elegant than those employed by commoners, and which vary quite precisely with their rank within the gentry group.


This parallel between teknonymous usage and hamlet role is by no means regular. In so far as it holds, however, the co-variation must be related to the importance that Balinese place on titles of address. In general, in Bali, the external forms of social intercourse, the manners of speech and modes of etiquette, are highly valued. In fact their system of social stratification as a whole is best understood neither as an arrangement of bounded social groups (e.g., a 'caste' system) nor as a fluid ordering of persons according to their economic resources (a 'class' system), but rather as several overlapping series ofranked honorific titles. The pivotal distinction between gentry and commoners in Bali is that the former must always be addressed by their title, and the latter, while they do actually have inherited titles, may never be addressed by them. Teknonymy comes, for the commoners, to be a means of addressing one's equals respectfully, and of avoiding the use of either personal names or honorific titles.


The members of the hamlet council are all absolutely equal citizens; decisions are always reached unanimously in full meeting, and their leaders are never more than representatives of the common will. Thus, to be a member of the hamlet council places the gentry in a situation of chronic conflict, for their noble blood is a claim, however weak, to political and social superiority, a claim to membership in an exalted and nonlocalized aristocratic community above and outside of the hamlet. Mode of address in this situation becomes the weather-vane for their social situation, summing up the various vectors of prestige, and correspondingly, shifting with changes in their social position.





It is in the area of kinship that teknonymy in Bali plays its most interesting functional role. Here again the contrast between gentry and commoner proves suggestive. The kinship system for both is about the same at the domestic level; it is only in the formation oflarger, socially significant corporate kin-groups that the two strata differ.


Descent is patrilineal, residence is virilocal, but in contrast to most lineal systems, marriage is preferentially endogamous. The most favoured marital partner is the father's brother's daughter, and contracts of this nature are in fact quite frequent. The dwelling unit is the house-yard, a walled-in complex of open pavilions, kitchen sheds, and closed one-roomed houses, together with a small house-yard temple. Within this compound reside one or more nuclear families, most often those of a father and some of his sons, although house-yards containing but a single nuclear family are common, as are also ones with large extended patri-families of brothers, cousins, and uncles. The main symbol for expression of their social unity is their collective worship at the same house-yard temple, and internal sub-division ofthe family is always followed by a shift to a separate house-yard temple.


While the house-yard group is largely a domestic unit, the various sorts of larger corporate kin-groups are not domestic in function, but rather political, economic, and ceremonial. Most important of all, they act to establish, confirm and celebrate the social rank of their members. They are associations of house-yards, or more precisely, of their component family head-couples. The house-yards may be contiguous as is the case for high gentry families, or scattered in various parts of the hamlet as is the case for most commoner kin-groups. The key feature distinguishing a corporate kin-group in Bali from an unincorporated, simple network of related families is the presence of a large, separate temple, built outside of any of the member house-yards, on public land, which stands for the group as a whole. While terms vary, the most usual word for a commoner kin-group temple is the dadia temple, and the group itself is often referred to as a dadia. Gentry use more elevated terms, but we shall use dadia here for gentry and commoners alike, to refer to those corporate kin-groups which possess a s~parate temple and a conviction that they are all descended from one ancestor.


Common descent of dadia members is largely presumptive for commoners, since, in contrast to the gentry, they keep no genealogies. For gentry and commoners alike, however, the important cultural concept is not the notion of a descent-line stemming from a personalized ancestral figure, but rather the idea of a single and impersonal genetic source, an origin point symbolized sometimes by a deity, or more often simply by a geographical spot, a certain temple. However, since most of the gentry preserve written genealogical histories, their dadias are generally both much larger and more internally differentiated into a main core line and numerous intricately ranked branch and sub-branch cadet lines. Every noble family knows exactly its genealogical position and relative rank in regard to all the others in its dadia.


In nineteenth-century Bali, the gentry dadia were the units in the supra-local political system. Each one represented a potential or actual small autonomous state, competing with all the others for primacy within its region. There was no all-Bali kingdom, but rather' a number of major and minor ones, shifting in numbers and position. At the time of the imposition of Dutch direct rule in 1906-8, there were six major kings and dozens of minor ones, plus scores of lesser gentry dadia subordinate to them. The king's immediate kinsmen, especially his brothers and half-brothers, were his ministers and representatives. He would place them, or the heads of allied dadia, in various villages strategically located round his realm, and each of these would then establish a branch dadia of his own. In consequence, the gentry dadia to-day have branches dispersed all over the entire island. Family visits, endogamous marriages, adoption of kinsmen, and yearly worship at the original dadia temple serve to keep these sprawling kin-groups together.


Commoner dadia on the other hand never extend beyond the boundaries of a single hamlet. This is not because of their smaller membership, but because of the political relationship between hamlet and dadia. For commoners, the hamlet is the fundamental political unit; it makes many demands on its citizens-in labour, attendance at rituals and meetings, and in dues. These hamlet demands conflict, often quite directly, with the demands of other associational groupings, most especially the dadia. So, for instance, if a man, or even several families move away from their hamlet to a new one, their dadia membership gradually dissolves. They find, for instance, that workdays on hamlet projects in their new place of residence conflict with workdays of their old dadia, and they are forced to choose between them. There are attempts to maintain the ties to the old dadia, especially if it was an influential one, but after two generations at the most, and usually very much sooner, the connexion is lost. Pressure on commoners to keep their marriages within the hamlet are intense. In a situation of choice between a woman of the same hamlet and one from, say the dadia of one's mother in another hamlet, the first one is strongly preferred. Likewise, when a hamlet swells beyond a manageable size and decides to split in two, the dadias are also forced to split, even though for many dadias such segmentation means loss of viability and eventual dissolution.


Thus commoner dadia are politically subordinate to the hamlet; they are parts or components of the hamlet first, and kin-groups second. Their very existence as corporate groups is in each case contingent on the relative social prestige and power of the members, rather than, as in many other societies with organized kin-groups, an automatic fun ction of kinship principles alone.


The contingent, variable quality of corporate kin-groups is one of the most fundamen tal structural features of the Balinese kinship system. Not all commoners need belong to dadia and such groupings do not include all members of the community. Many commoner families have no further associations than the bilaterally extending network of relatives, the usual ego-centred kindred. When they exist, however, commoner dadia are highly organized, with elected leadership, treasuries, temples, and strong corporate identities. They may have as many as a hundred adult members. Very few hamlets are found in which the entire population is divided into dadia; but at the other extreme, there are few hamlets with no dadia at all. Most general, probably, is the kind of hamlet in which about half the people are members of from one to six .dadia, while the remaining portion remain unorganized. For a group of kinsmen to have and maintain a dadia requires continued prestige, influence, and wealth. Socially rising families try to join existing dadia or to establish one of their own; socially falling families cling to their dadia temple for as long as they can, but in the end, through deaths and outmarriages, the dadia group itself disintegrates, and its temple passes into the hands of others.


This high degree of elasticity in commoner dadia formation is directly related to their attitudes toward descent as a criterion for membership in the dadia. While gent'ry dadia are clearly patrilineal in structure, it is more accurate to say of the commoner dadia that they are patrifiliative. It is only one's father's dadia affiliation which is relevant to a commoner; further generations in the past are unimportant. Actually it is one's father's honorific title that is the significant element. As mentioned previously, almost all commoners have titles which, however, are not employed in ordinary intercourse, either in address or reference; they are merely taken for granted. The title carries with it a mythical history of an illustrious ancestor who, in most of the stories, was once of gentry birth but for some misbehaviour or treachery lost his right to high title. All persons with the same title are considered to be ultimately related, and are usually referred to as 'cousins'. Those who have no dadia rarely mention their title to anyone, but any knowledgeable community member knows the title of everyone.5 If a man's father had no dadia affiliation, if for instance he has moved from his original hamlet, or if, through changing circumstances he has become relatively affluent and personally powerful, he can join or establish a new dadia simply on the strength of common title ownership. Thus the title-system provides an alternative, non-historical means for establishing the fact of collateral kinship in a group.


However, this odd phenomenon of kin-groups without descent lines is not merely a matter of the absence of genealogical records and the substitution of patrifiliatively inherited titles as a charter. Balinese commoners have always before them the exemplary model of the gentry dadia, consciously based on an explicit trunk-and-branch framework of known descent lines. Something remains to be eXplained: why the commoners neglect genealogies. Causal questions such as this, of course, can lead to a morass of ever-receding explanatory factors; all we presume to suggest here is the mechanism by which the preservation of family history becomes impossible for Balinese commoners. This mechanism is their system of teknonymy.


The striking thing about Balinese commoner families is the almost complete ignorance each generation has about its predecessors. The average man knows virtually nothing about any of his forbears whose lives did not happen to overlap with his. He does not know the personal names of most of those living kinsmen who are older than he, and none of those deceased. And he knows very little about his collateral kinship ties; 'men living in the same village with a third cousin and at times even a second, are often ignorant of their precise relationship. This absence of information is greater for Balinese than for persons of other societies, societies like ours for instance where the tending of ancestral trees is merely neglected from lack of concern. In Bali, the process is an active one, a regularly enforced amnesia, one which starts cutting off kinship information even at the parental generation.


Teknonymy brings about systematic genealogical amnesia through its regular replacement of each man's personal name with a series of teknonymous ones.6 It is extremely bad form for a son to ask anyone what his father's personal name is, unthinkable for him to use it, if by some accident he learns what it is. Each man's living ascendants are, or should be, viewed as having progressed half-way toward a nonindividualized divinity. After death, the taboo on personal names is even more stringent, for by that time the ascendants are either potentially malicious spirits or completely nameless but benevolent deities. In any case, the names by which a man knows his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather are all actually the names of his contemporaries and juniors. Since a man does know the personal names of those of his own generation and below, it is theoretically possible for the oldest men in the neighbourhood to identifY every living person by an individual, absolute,. and fixed designation, but even the oldest men are likely to have forgotten many people's personal names after years of addressing them as 'Father-of' or 'Grandfather-of' someone else. After a man dies he is in a sense inevitably lost to his descendants as a particular individual because none of them know his proper name. Thus a man cannot say to his son 'your greatgreat-grandfather' was So-and-so and was the brother of Such-and-such, because he doesn't know 'who', in a personal sense, he was even though he may vaguely remember him as an actual living great-grandfather of himself. All he can tell his son is that 'your great-great-grandfather was my great-grandfather', a simple and generalized tautology which contains information about kin-term usage but nothing about people. There is in fact no way older people can communicate to younger people about a dead individual whom the older knew as a man but the younger did not in more than general terms so far as social identity is concerned. Of course, other characteristics about the man can be communicated-that he was wise, handsome, or came from North Bali-but the general loss of personal identity enforced by kin term usages tends to be part ofa general cultural veil which falls over him in all aspects. One should not expect to know much in detail about one's progenitors, living or dead, and to ask too many or too particular questions is to show a lack of breeding and piety.


In terms of kinship reckoning this means that any tie which is based on a collateral relationship between two individuals both of whom were dead when the oldest living member of the kin-group was born is in principle untraceable. Or, to put it the other way round, any tie is intrinsically untraceable which is based on a common ancestor more than four generations ascendant from the oldest living member of the kin-group, assuming the life of a man and his great-great-grandchild rarely if ever overlap.


Chart I depicts in an idealized graphic form how teknonymy operates to erase knowledge of previous generations, and why four ascendant generations is the logically maximal time depth of commoner kinship knowledge. Actually, four generations represents an absolute maximum range under ideal conditions in which the life of every individual overlaps with that of his great-grandchild, and the memory of sibling ties among the kinsmen one has known is perfect. Not only will most Balinese never know their great-grandfathers, and sometimes not even their grandfathers, as living men, but during the course of a long lifetime with many name-changes, they can easily forget facts ofrelationships they once knew. Thus, for instance, two men who are third or even second cousins could easily forget that their great-grandfathers were brothers, even if they once knew it. Indeed, their own fathers may have forgotten this fact themselves. Consequently the dissolution of traced kin ties typically occurs much more rapidly than the model. Second cousins are often completely unaware how they are related, so that ben their fathers die the specific nature of the tie can no longer be stated.


When one takes genealogies in a Balinese village, one can actually see the curtain of amnesia descending, for informants of older generations know the kinship links of younger men, who when they report their own genealogies, regard themselves as related only in a vague and untraceable way. Thus a man's father may know who his son's second cousin is without the son himself being aware that this individual is his second cousin; and in most cases the father will never feel called upon to impart this information to the son. For older men, the neighbourhood contains a much wider range of specific kin ties than for younger ones, and their knowledge is not, by and large, transferable. When the younger men grow older they will know the ties which have been generated in their time, but not those of their fathers' and grandfathers' times.


The Balinese place a ritual seal on the two ends of the four-generation genealogical span. When an individual dies all his living descendants, including nephews and nieces and cousins younger than he, are obliged, at the funeral ceremony, to make obeisance and pray to him as to a god. However, this obligation extends only to the generation of a man's grandchildren and not to his great-grandchildren. In fact, the members of the third descending generation, and any lower ones if they exist, are expressly forbidden to pray to the deceased, on the grounds that they are of equal status. A great-grandparent and a great-grandchild call each other by the same reciprocal term (kumpi), emphasizing their identity. For the Balinese, the very old and the very young are near to the world of Gods. When a man has reached the status of great-grand parenthood, he has fulfilled his generational obligations and socially (and, according to some, mystically) reincarnated himself. A set of four generations is thus a complete unit, with a beginning, an end, and a new beginning, with the status of kumpi (great-grandparent; greatgrandchild) marking the point of juncture between units, the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.


In this way the Balinese version of teknonymy creates an ever-repeating sequence of four impersonal statuses-child, parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent-and systematically erases the knowledge of collateral kinship ties. It is this function of teknonymy which may be unique to Bali. But, unique or not, it is crucial to Balinese social structure. The contrast between the many branched, powerful gentry dadia, and the inhibited, weak commoner ones, is in direct response to their differing political positions in the larger society. The gentry derived its strength, in large part, from the cohesiveness and extensiveness of its kin-groups, which enabled the rulers of Bali to spread their influence over wide regions. Among the commoners on the other hand, it is the hamlet association which is the nearest equivalent to an effective polity. In an ecological setting of compact, nucleated setdements, the hamlet council most often represents a territorially identified, largely endogamous community, and the dominant Balinese sentiment is that hamlet interests should override those of any component groups in certain crucially important local matters. The hamlet is conceived of by them as a collegium in which all members are fully equal, and no internal segments or factions are legally recognized. The members of a commoner dadia are considered to be casting their votes stricdy as individual members. 'The hamlet knows no kinship', says a Balinese proverb. In this context, strongly cohesive kin-groups which extend over the bounds of the local community would be disruptive rather than integrative in effect.





Any internally coherent arrangement for naming, such as the Balinese system of teknonyms, is a fragment of culture. We consider' culture' to refer to those ordered systems of symbols, those accepted patterns of meaningful conceptions, in terms of which social interaction takes place. It embraces all those beliefs, theories, expressive images and values which are held in common by a group of people and by means of which they orient themselves toward each other and their world.


'Social structure', in this view, is not a mere 'reflex', 'part', or 'aspect' of culture, but a partially independent system of another sort. It is the enduring form of social interaction within a particular group, the stable system of regular social relationships. The culture of the actors is only one element among several contributing to the persistence and systematic organization of their social structure. Others include ecological and demographic conditions, the motivational dynamics of the actors, the presence and actions of neighbouring social groups, and, perhaps, certain regularities intrinsic to social interaction as such. The analysis of the functions to teknonymy provides an opportunity to investigate further the manner in which culture and social structure are related in one, particularly instructive, instance.7


In these terms, we must think of Balinese teknonymy not merely as an odd social practice, yet one more miscellaneous custom to add to the ethnographic record, but as a set ofinterconnected concepts which provides the Balinese with a meaningful framework for the perception, and in fact the actualization, of certain aspects of their own social structure. Teknonymy functions in Bali as a 'cultural paradigm' of social roles and relationships which serves the Balinese as an interpretive guide for understanding and manoeuvering within their own institutional system and as a set of instructions, a programme in the computer-theory sense, for maintaining that system. It is cultural because it is, at base, a coherent system of ideas, a consistent set of beliefs, a theory even, about the way in which social life is, and ought to be, organized. It is a paradigm because it is not just a set of beliefs, a mere theory, but is actually used as a template or blueprint in terms of which Balinese may pattern their concrete behaviour. Teknonymy does not merely reflect Balinese institutional structure, nor does it merely 'rationalize' it. By providing a general conception of social order which men are committed to realize, it actively shapes it.


In certain other societies it is kinship terminology in the conventional sense which serves most prominently as such a cultural paradigm. These are the societies where, unlike Bali, kinship is the central organizing force for virtually the whole of the social structure. A classic case in point is the Hopi pueblo, where Crow terminology classifies certain kinsmen together and distinguishes certain others in such a way as to single out the corporate lineage blocks which form the core of Hopi community life, and at the same time indicates the structural relationships of these blocks to one another (Eggan 1950).8 Here the kinship terminology becomes a kind of cognitive map of the society in terms of which individuals scattered variously through the system can form a reasonably veridical image of the whole.


In a more limited way teknonymy also can be a map of certain social locations, a set of culturally agreed-upon indicators of social status.9 As with kinship terminology, teknonymy has certain formal structural elements which can be analytically compared from culture to culture, and their functions assessed within each society. It need not-in fact, rarely does-have the full elaboration of its systematic possibilities that it exhibits in Bali.


Teknonymy's most rudimentary form is probably its most common.10 For example, the Penan of central Borneo give teknonyms only to couples with living offspring. They have no grandparental or great-grandparental teknonymic levels, while childless couples, or those who have lost the child after whom they were named, retain their personal names. For the Penan, teknonymy has the function of focusing attention on the marital couple as joint procreators by classifying them together socially under the single name of their child, and setting them apart from the immature, the childless, and the aged, but lacks the two other implications we have traced for Bali (Needham 1954).11


Among the Land Dayak, also of central Borneo, teknonymous usage is somewhat more developed. Here teknonyms are applied to nearly every adult member of the society, and the same principle of 'graduation' to grandparental status as is found in Bali appears. Since, however, the Dayak confer teknonyms irrespective of actual parental status (a childless couple may take the name of anyone in the next lower generation, or even the name of a favourite cat or dog), the Dayak system does not draw attention to conjugal fertility (though it does to the marriage bond as such), but rather to the generational levels which cut across the entire community. Also, unlike Bali, the names do not serve to mark off family lines, because one's teknonym need not be that of one's own child. Similarly, on graduation to grandparenthood, the new teknonym need have no relationship to that of one's adult son, but may again be chosen at random from any small child (or pet) in the community. (There is no mention of a Dayak 'great-grandparent' teknonym.) Thus the Land Dayak system of teknonymy has as its main functional consequence the layering of the society into three levels: children, parents, and grandparents (Geddes 1954).12


Even so cursory and geographically limited a comparative analysis of teknonymy as this brings out somewhat more clearly the formal features implicit in it as a cultural paradigm. First, there is the identification of man and wife as joint procreators. Second, there is the generational or age-stratification of the community. And third, there is the feature we find only in Bali: the delineation of a four-position chain of filiation, a truncated 'descent'-line with all members bearing the same name.


These could be called 'descent' lines, but only in a partial and somewhat Pickwickian sense, for the focus of the naming system falls not on the progenitor of the line, but on its most recent addition. The patriline is defined in terms of its lowest (generationally speaking) rather than its highest member, in terms of the present rather than the past. It is not who one's ancestor is, or was, which is stressed, but who one's descendant is, whom one is ancestor to. It is a 'downward looking' rather than an 'upward looking' system, and a man sees himself, so to speak, producing structure below him rather than emerging from it above him. Probably there are other formal directions in which teknonymy can be developed with consequently different implications for social organization, though how many of these are in fact realized in one or another of the world's societies is not known, systematic attention to teknonymous usage being very rare in the literature.


Such a cross-cultural comparison of the possible variations implicit in the idea of teknonymy suggests that there are several analytically distinct aspects of any cultural paradigm. First, there is the paradigm as a cultural object, a more or less integrated set of ideas and images which can be examined by the outsider, and its formal qualities and their logical implications studied irrespective of their social and psychological contexts. Second, there is the paradigm as an internalized guide to behaviour, as an actual part of the cognitive equipment of individual culture-bearers. The degree to which any specific cultural paradigm genuinely governs perception, cognition, and motivation is obviously a variable matter, ranging from near irrelevance to central concern. Thirdly, there is the range of different social structural contexts to which it is relevant, that is the degree of specificity or generality of social behaviour that the paradigm is assumed to embrace, the amount offunctional significance it has for the society as a whole.


In addition to such positive factors as these, any cultural paradigm has, however, also an obverse aspect: in the very process of suggesting certain modes of social relationship to the culture-bearers, it also, and equally crucially, blocks other possibilities from sight. The acceptance of any particular set of verbal categories and of the concepts embedded in them tends to preclude the awareness of alternative classifications; a way of seeing is also a way of not seeing. Since teknonymy is more than just a system of status-terms, however, but also a system of name-changing, it can go even further in this direction. It can, by the regular discouraging of remembrance of personal names and identities, actively prevent other modes of relationship-in the Balinese case, translocal descent ties-from developing at all.


In many societies with corporate, unilineal kin-groups, characteristic cultural paradigms are found which stress a river-like image of ever-branching lines with explicitly specified personal links between the living and the ancestors. The substance of the kin-group, so to speak, flows through time, braiding out as it goes, each crucial point of separation being marked and to an extent eXplained by a bit of genealogical knowledge, real or invented, of some sort. But Balinese teknonymy cuts off the present from the past by erasing the genealogical ties which connect them, and in so doing leaves the Balinese free to develop very strong local patrilineal descent groups while at the same time inhibiting the natural tendency for such groups to link up with one another in terms of a many-branched family tree, a development which would be disruptive not only to hamlet political organization but to a wide range of local social groups-irrigation societies, temple congregations, etc. A good deal of attention has been paid in the literature to the forces making for the development and maintenance of various forms of social structure. Perhaps it will prove equally useful to develop methods of analysis~of the forces, especially cultural forces, which inhibit the development of structures which would, in all likelihood, prove disfunctional to the established system. What is absent may be as significant as what is present in a social system; some things which do not happen, do not happen for a reason.


The phenomenon under consideration, the regular disappearance of the knowledge of antecedent kinship ties, is by no means uncommon. P. H. Gulliver, confronting a somewhat similar situation in his study of Jie kinship, uses the term 'structural amnesia', to refer the systematic forgetting of certain genealogical connexions and the simultaneous substitution of fictitious ones (Gulliver 1955, pp. 113 seq. See also Barnes 1947). Jie genealogical information, as the Balinese, stops above the level of the grandparents of the oldest living men. Despite the fact that the Jie assume that the kin-group which Gulliver terms the 'Family' must segment into several independent Families each generation, in actuality most of the existing Families appear not to have actually segmented in the past. To account: for this he proposes that there must be a simultaneous process of merging going on, by which second cousins gradually come to consider themselves first cousins and thus to be descended from one single grandfather, consequently preserving the integrity of their family from segmentation. He then suggests that there must be a process of constant forgetting and cognitive re-organization of the actual kinship connexions at the great-grandparental level. However, other than suggesting a psychological process in which the personalities of weak grandparents tend to become confused with those of strong ones until the assertion is made that there had in fact historically been only one grandfather, Gulliver sees no institutional or cultural mechanism which could bring about this structural amnesia.


For the Balinese the structure-inhibiting mechanism is the cultural paradigm inherent in the regular and systematic use of teknonymy. The Jie, and many other such societies with shallow genealogical recall, do not have teknonymy. And there are countless societies, China for one, which have both teknonymy and lengthy genealogies (Feng 1936). No claim is being made for simple, direct, or uni-factoral causation. The concepts and symbols to which men are attached are only one element among many which can and do influence their concrete actions, and consequently there can never be a one-to-one relationship between cultural paradigms and social structure. Nevertheless, if our data and analysis are correct, the presence of teknonymy in the cultural equipment of the Balinese has far-reaching reverberations, both positive and negative, in their domestic and political life.







This is an idealized model of teknonymic name shifts from generation to generation, demonstrating the loss of personal identity within a logically maximal span of four generations. The generations or time periods are indicated by the hypothetical years, Igoo to Ig80. The triangles indicate individuals. The capital letters represent their personal childhood names. Inside quotations, under each triangle, are their teknonymic names. 'Fa ofD' signifies 'Father ofD'; 'GFa ofD' is 'Grandfather ofD'; 'GGFa ofD' is 'Great-grandfather of Do' Read diagonally, a row of triangles indicates a single individual and the various teknonyms he bears through his life. Read vertically, each line of triangles indicates a single family line at one point in time.


The chart presents the hypothetical history of two patemallines, one composed of individuals with the personal names of 'A' through 'H', the other of individuals with the personal names of'S' through 'Z'. The founders of the two lines, 'A' and'S', are brothers. At time-point Igoo they are already great-grandfathers, and are called teknonymously by their great-gtandchildren's names, respectively 'D' and 'V'. Since 'A' and'S' were still alive during the childhood of'D' and 'V', it is theoretically possible that'D' and 'V' knew that their great-grandfathers were brothers, and that therefore they themselves were third cousins. However, when 'D' and 'V' finally die, in I g80, after having had successively three different teknonyms, no one living could have any way of knowing that the 'Great-grandfather of D' and 'Great-grandfather of V' had been brothers, for their names and even their teknonyms would have long since vanished. Thus, by Ig80, at the outside, the descendants of 'A' and'S' cannot possibly trace their kin-ties to one another.





1   Two of the more extended treatments of the functions of teknonymy are Tylor (1889) and Lowie (1925). Tylor suggested an association between teknonymy, matrilocal residence, and son-in-law avoidance. Lowie rejected this theory, and took the view that any explanation of teknonymy should be limited to the particular case.

2   The field work upon which this analysis is based was conducted in the principalities of Tab an an and Klungkung, Bali, in 1957-8. It was supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, administered by the Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. We are indebted for financial assistance in the writing of this paper to the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California, and to the Committee for South Asian Studies of the University of Chicago. We are also grateful for probing critical readings by Fred Eggan, Lloyd A. Fallers, Paul W. Friedrich, and David M. Schneider. A monograph is in preparation giving full description of the Balinese kinship system. Since the main focus of the present paper is on teknonymy, it is possible only to give the briefest, unsubstantiated sketch of the system as a whole. Published material on the Balinese kinship is scarce; some data are found in Belo (1936) and Korn (1936).

3   The terms current in Klungkung area were: Father-of: Nang, or Pan (derived from Nanang, or Bapa, 'Father'). Mother-of: Men (derived from Mimi, 'Mother'). Grandfather-of: Kaki, or Pekak, or Ki, or Kak. Grandmother-of: Tjuijun, or Tjun (derived from Tjuiju, 'Grandmother'). Great-grandparent-of: Kumpi

4   Cf. Geertz, C. 1959.

5   In some regions, most especially in south-west Bali, many family groups are found who claim to have 'forgotten' their titles through disuse. They continue to accept the title system, and feel that they 'should have' one. They may even maintain a dadia temple for their group.

6   Balinese never name children after other persons, and in fact, among commoners, there is a conscious effort not to duplicate any names of members of the hamlet. The number of different names is very large, and considerable innovation is permissible. Actually, even children's personal names are seldom employed in direct address. Instead of calling them by their personal names, a system of sibling-position terms or titles are employed. The first child is usually called Wajan, the second Njoman, the third Made, and the fourth Ktut. In most areas the fifth child is named Wajan again, and the series reiterated. These four titles are actually the everyday 'names' of everyone who does not have a teknonym, with the result confusing apparently only to the ethnologist, that everyone seems to have the same name. Personal names are employed only when exact reference is needed. For instance, one will speak of two boys named Wajan Regreg and Wajan Tantra, but will usually address both of them as Wajan.

7   For a more extended discussion of this theoretical standpoint, see Geertz, C. 1957.

8   Leach has dealt with]inghpaw kinship terminology more explicitly in these terms, speaking of it as giving an 'ideal frame of reference' or 'basic ideology', as a system of 'categories into which the speaker divides the individuals with whom he has social contact' (Leach 1961).

9   Balinese kinship terminology as such is cognatic and generational, with Hawaian cousin terms. That is, all cousins are called by the same terms as siblings, and uncles and aunts by the same terms as parents, with no distinction being made between paternal and maternal kin lines. What the significance of such a bilateral and non-lineal, 'generational' paradigm might have for Balinese social relationships would have to be the subject of another complete paper. Here we can only remark that the kin terms themselves are rarely employed outside the nuclear family, and in their place are found teknonyms wherever possible, and sibling-position titles plus personal names for the remainder.

10 Teknonymy even appears, evanescently, in the United States, where its only users are children of pre-school age for whom the dominant feature of all adult roles is that of parenthood (Schneider & Homans 1955, p. 1206).

11 The Penan are nomadic hunters and gatherers, with bands of thirty to forty people, bilateral kinship, and no descent groups of any importance. Teknonymy, for the Penan, is an aspect of a larger system of address-titles. Persons who do not have teknonyms, i.e. who are not at the peak of their childbearing period, are generally addressed by death-terms, titles preceding the proper name which indicate which of one's nearest of kin has most recently died. Thus for the Penan, teknonymy is part of a wider cultural paradigm concerned with the ultimate human facts of procreation and death.

12 The Land Dayak are shifting cultivators, with settled communities of several hundred inhabitants, bilateral kinship, no supra-village political structure. The community has no internal class structure, no formal political leadership. Geddes interprets the function of teknonymy not as organizing the community into generational or age strata, as we should, but as creating a network which performs a much needed integrative function.





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Teknonymy in Bali: parenthood, age-grading and genealogical amnesia, in: Man. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 94, No. 2 (Jul.-Dec., 1964), 94-108


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