Batman bin Suparman: behind the name

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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.

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31 Comments »

  1. anomalous4 said,

    July 11, 2008 @ 11:52 pm

    it would be unfortunate for the young man to be saddled for life with his parents' one-time attempt at humor.

    I'm not sure there's anything worse than what a high-school friend of my brother's had to put up with for having been named Donald Duck……..

    …….wait for it……..

    …….wait for it……..

    …….wait for it……..

    ……….Junior.

  2. Mobylene said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 9:49 pm

    Batman is actually pronounced as "Baht-mahn" and not our conventional "Batman". It's there in the Arabic script.

    If anyone is wondering though, the numbers are blacked out and removed for the boy's security. Many things can be done with a number, here in Singapore.

  3. jerren said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 3:54 am

    AIRPORT SECURITY: What's your name?

    PASSENGER: Batman.

    AS: Your real name, please.

    P: My name IS Batman.

    AS: Are you trying to be funny?! What's your surname?

    P: Superman.

    Airport security handcuffs him & puts him in a locked security facility.

  4. Techie said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

    You can change your name quite easily if you want to. In the UK, you don't even need to go through any legal process, you simply announce that you wish to be known as (New Name). There is a common misunderstanding that 'Deed Poll' is required, but it isn't. That is just one way of marking the point at which your name has changed. The UK Passport Office will issue a passport in your new name if you request it – subject to the references you name confirming this to be accurate.

  5. Bas - Serial Expat said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

    Actually, there's a town in Turkey called Batman.

  6. Jameel said,

    May 20, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    As Mobylene stated above, the Jawi (Javenese in Arabic script) transliteration of 'Batman' has no long vowels, the a's in this name are short. "Buttmunn" would be closer to the phonetic meaning of the Jawi Arabic script on the ID.

  7. shahira binte shari said,

    September 27, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    his real name is actually Baiman, not batman.
    the upper stroke on the T is photo shopped

    [(bgz) The proportional spacing would suggest otherwise. Also, the Jawi (Arabic script) would need to be photoshopped too, replacing a "ya" (two dots below) with a "ta" (two dots above). What's more, "Baiman" is no more likely of a Javanese name.]

  8. Chandra said,

    March 29, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    Actually, it's ok, Batman can mean Batma in Sanskrit, or pathma, seems alright in sanskrit, indonesian or Indian does not matter, his name is nice and fits well into history, comic or no comic it's purely incidental and many english latin words also derived from sanskrit, no worries about that, come on, move on, there are worst names….
    It's a blessing to have this name, stardom is assured.

    cheers to you boy…

  9. brandon said,

    April 22, 2010 @ 2:49 am

    haha its real, in singapore, we all have to serve in the military for a mandatory period of 2 years.
    during my time in camp, i saw this this guy whose name tag read BATMAN, and i was like "whhhhaaaat?! did you see that?? is he playing some prank, how could his superiors allow it?"
    asking around, i was told his name was real, pronounced 'bhat-mahn bin su-par-mahn' as a previous post mentioned.
    all this was before the hype online. that was in 2007

  10. Neil said,

    April 25, 2010 @ 9:59 am

    yeah one of my friends had this dude as a storeman in the army… (this was in 2008 I think)

    can't believe this guys taking over the web though… seriously there are a million things you can do with a name like that! I am vengence! I am the night! I am.. Batman!

    imagine what his pick up lines would be like…"Hi, I don't mean to bother you but has anybody told you that i'm actually… (whispers).. Batman!"

    the "bin Suparman" – son of Suparman- part just makes this the best name ever.

  11. Tundern said,

    May 13, 2010 @ 7:37 pm

    Batman is also a family name prominent in Australian history. John Batman is regarded as the founder of the settlement which became Melbourne, capital of the State of Victoria. Daniel Batman, a sprinting athlete, claims direct descent. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Batman.

  12. Xenobiologista said,

    May 17, 2010 @ 9:33 am

    I saw this photo on someone else's blog and had to Google it. Poor kid! Well, at least his National Serviceman days should be over now, but now that means he has to struggle through university or finding a job with that name.

    Weird language trivia about Singapore: while the medium of instruction in schools is English, children also have to take their "mother tongue" as a second language in school. As you can see from the ID card above, everyone here has an official race, which means that even if you're, say, ethnic Chinese and would like your kid to study Italian, you're stuck. And if you're Chinese, your assigned "mother tongue" is Mandarin, regardless of the fact that most Chinese Southeast Asians have ancestors who were southerners and spoke languages like Hokkien, Teochew, and Cantonese.

    I'm thinking of making a T-shirt that says "My mother's tongues are Hokkien and English".

  13. jet said,

    July 22, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    what is the funniest name you've heard?
    I had a childhood friend whose sister was named Ima Fleagle.
    I've heard of a man named Wonderful Jones.
    A cartoonist I know goes by Iff E. Mummbles.

  14. Readadiction said,

    July 22, 2010 @ 11:11 pm

    In Mexico is common to name your child according to the calendar. Some poor fellows born in the 20 of november(Day of the commemoration of Mexican revolution that in spanish in the calendar is put Aniv. de la rev.) Are named Aniv de la rev

  15. troper said,

    August 10, 2010 @ 7:37 am

    There's a politician named Betmen Sebayang in Central Java:
    http://dprd.bantulkab.go.id/profil_anggota_dprd.php?halaman=5

  16. Benny Lava said,

    August 12, 2010 @ 12:51 am

    I think his name is a lot better than poor White Nation Power and her brother Adolf Hitler who were recently removed from their parent's custody.

  17. pedro said,

    October 21, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    It's weird though that it has no actual ID number, just an "S"

    other singapore ID's have a number there.
    see this one for reference:
    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3202/2833500448_131190152e_o.jpg

  18. Gregg E. said,

    October 25, 2010 @ 1:53 am

    My mother went to school with a girl named Osha Hitt.

  19. George said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

    My Marine friend went through SERE training along with a woman in the Navy whose last name was Guzzler. Sad thing is that the second rank you attain in the Navy is Seaman. You would think her recruitment officer would have suggested the Army if only out of kindness…

  20. FurryPedestrian said,

    December 25, 2010 @ 11:21 pm

    I have a cousin named Mary Jane Hash

  21. Bruce said,

    January 3, 2011 @ 5:28 pm

    Actually the transliteration of SUPARMAN in Jawi/Arabic does not read the same. In Jawi the last name as written is SUFARMAN – an F instead of a P. The Jawi script is slightly different in how it denotes a P but the link in the article clearly shows one dot for FA and three for PA. In Arabic the P sound is not a standard letter but a letter borrowed from Persian (and Urdu) is used where required (pay). It is denoted by three dots below. As written the Jawi reads (phonetically): (BTMN) (BN) (SO FR MN).

  22. Mongeeses said,

    March 11, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    This guy isn't saddled with a terrible name, he has the coolest name evar! All of my children are going to be named batman now!

  23. John said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    Just discovered this site, searched "Sundanese", and saw Ade Suparman named in this post. I was a dilettante on the Sundanese music scene in Bandung early 1990s. He played suling degung at my wedding, and my (actual) musiclogist friend, a quite accomplished English fellow, used to make the joking reference to the native of Krypton. Ade would smile politely, the most characteristic Indonesian (outward) response to such.

    Probably felt the same tired reponse I was feeling by age 8 or so to "Cookie" & "Hey, Cook, cook me something."

  24. Edgar Mendoza said,

    May 17, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

    Actually BATMAN is the name of a town or state in Turkey. You just have to google it.

  25. Oom Yahya said,

    July 19, 2011 @ 12:01 am

    I too have a friend named Batman. His parents actually name him Ratman (this is a very common name in Java). But when his Birth Certificate was issued, his name mistyped from Ratman into Batman :D

  26. Faith said,

    September 29, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

    I went to school with a kid named Ping Pong Wong.

  27. Harveen said,

    November 1, 2012 @ 2:20 am

    I've met the guy!!!!

  28. Herocks said,

    November 11, 2013 @ 1:35 am

    http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/batman-jailed-for/882272.html?cid=FBSG in an ironic twist of events he has apparently been arrested for burglary.

  29. Bob said,

    November 11, 2013 @ 2:26 am

    Batman's in jail: http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/batman-suparman-jailed-multiple-offences

  30. F.D.R. said,

    November 14, 2013 @ 10:18 am

    A childhood schoolmate of mine is called Qiu Ji Er (邱吉爾) in Chinese.

    His full name is the surname for Winston Churchill.

  31. llxllRelentlessllxll said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

    Well, Batman Bin Suparman has been arrested. How ironic considering his superheroes from his name fight AGAINST theft and drugs.

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