A scanned image of a Singaporean identity card has been making the rounds online, recently turning up on the widely read techie blog Gizmodo. The card belongs to a young fellow, born May 13, 1990 in Singapore to Javanese parents, with the regrettable name of Batman bin Suparman. Two superheroes in one name? Well, one superhero and one Javanese name that's coincidentally similar to another superhero. Let's take a look.
First, Suparman. This is, in fact, a very common name among the Javanese who inhabit central and eastern thirds of the island of Java, as well as nearby ethnolinguistic groups, particularly the Sundanese in the western third of Java. The Su- prefix, derived from a Sanskritic root (सु in Devanagari) meaning 'good, fortunate', shows up frequently in Javanese names, such as the first two presidents of Indonesia, Sukarno and Suharto, as well as the current president Susilo (Bambang Yudhoyono). A top Indonesian military commander is named Djadja Suparman. A Sundanese traditional musician who has toured the United States is named Ade Suparman. And showing the Sundanese penchant for reduplication, the regional secretary for the city of Bandung, West Java is named Maman Suparman. So there's no connection to Superman, though the similarity is obvious enough in Indonesia to generate occasional puns on the name. A recently published comic book is entitled Suparman Pulang Kampung ("Suparman Goes Home to the Village"), a self-deprecating localization of the Superman mythos complete with the familiar "S" logo.
Batman, on the other hand, has no false friends in local languages (as far as I'm aware). And the character of Batman is almost as well known in the region as Superman, so it's hard to imagine any source other than the DC Comics superhero. One indication of Batman's fame is yet another Indonesian fusion of the global and the local: the Bandung-based rapper Iwa K released a song in the mid-90's called "Batman Kasarung", melding the Batman story with the Sundanese folk character Lutung Kasarung, a prince disguised as a monkey. So it appears that the Javanese parents of young Batman really were inspired by the comic book creation.
The full name, Batman bin Suparman, features an Arabic patronymic construction occasionally used by Muslims in the region. Bin means 'son', so the name is literally "Batman, son of Suparman". Could Suparman and his wife have named their son Batman as a wry joke, playing on the similarity of Suparman to Superman? Perhaps, but it would be unfortunate for the young man to be saddled for life with his parents' one-time attempt at humor.
One final possibility to consider: could the image of the identity card be a fake? Doesn't seem that way. First, the line of Jawi script (Arabic script used for writing Malay) is a perfect transliteration of the Romanized name. Furthermore, one Singaporean blogger recalled in 2005 that he was childhood friends with Batman bin Suparman. And a commenter on another Singapore-based blog remembered the name from working at a call center. The commenter was responding to a post about another comical Singaporean name… Ninja Turtle. Cruel, cruel parents.