Celebrating "Kromowidjojo"

« previous post | next post »

The winner of the women's 100-meter freestyle swimming event at the London Olympics is the wonderfully named Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. Her last name (pronounced /'kromowɪ'ʤojo/) has naturally attracted some attention, so I thought I'd offer an explainer for those interested in its origins.

The name Kromowidjojo is from Javanese, with elements borrowed from Sanskrit. Ranomi's paternal grandfather was among the thousands of contract laborers from Java who migrated to Suriname when both were colonial outposts of the Netherlands. Around the time that Suriname gained its independence in 1975, a large number of Suriname Javanese ended up immigrating to the Netherlands, though enough stayed behind to make up about a third of the current population of Suriname. Ranomi's father, Rudi Kromowidjojo, was one of the immigrants, and he married a Dutch woman named Netty Deemter, Ranomi's mother.

Kromowidjojo is a distinctly Javanese name, reflecting the historical impact that Sanskritic culture has had on what is now Indonesia's dominant ethnic group. It is a compound of kromo + widjojo. Kromo is from Sanskrit krama (क्रम), which means "in order." The o's in the spelling of kromo reflect a phonological feature of Javanese in which the vowel /a/ is realized as [ɔ] in a word-final open syllable and in any preceding open syllables. Krama/kromo, in the sense of "properly ordered speech," came to be used for the "refined" or polite register in the system of Javanese speech levels.

The widjojo element is derived from Sanskrit vijaya (विजय), meaning "victory" or "excellence." Once again the o's reflect the pronunciation of open-syllable /a/ as [ɔ]. The consonants require some explanation, too. The initial /w/ is a typical nativization of /v/ in languages such as Javanese that lack that phoneme. [Ian Preston points out via Twitter that the initial Sanskrit consonant would actually be the labiodental approximant /ʋ/ rather than the voiced labiodental fricative /v/, but either way it's not in the Javanese phonemic inventory.]

The other consonants are pronounced like their Sanskrit equivalents, but the spelling may seem peculiar to those unfamiliar with Dutch colonial orthography. When Javanese, Malay, and other languages of the Indies were first romanized, they followed Dutch spelling conventions, including rendering /ʤ/ as dj, /ʧ/ as tj, and /j/ as j. Later, after Indonesian independence, many Dutch conventions were changed, culminating in the 1972 orthographic reform dictating that /ʤ/ be spelled as j, /ʧ/ as c, and /j/ as y. The use of the older spelling still lingers in some contexts: as I described in the 2008 post "Maya Soetoro-Ng: what's in a name?," it can betray a kind of colonial nostalgia. In the case of Kromowidjojo, members of the Suriname Javanese ethnic group with no ties to their ancestral land would not have taken part in the spelling reforms of independent Indonesia, so the old dj and j remain.

The Dutch National Archive has a database of the names of Javanese immigrants to colonial Suriname, and a search there shows a sizable number of Kromowidjojos, one of whom is presumably Ranomi's grandfather. I can imagine he would be pleased about his descendant's orderly victory at the Olympics.


  1. Antariksh Bothale said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 4:50 am

    It is interesting to see that the phonetic change /a/ as [ɔ] and the [j] to [ʤ] which takes place b/w Sanskrit and Javanese is almost exactly the same as what happens between Sanskrit and Bengali.

  2. Rosalind Hengeveld said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 5:50 am

    According to the Dutch family names registry at http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/nfb/, there are 42 people in the Netherlands whose name is Kromowidjojo. Likewise, there are only ten Ranomis.

  3. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    @Antariksh Bothale: I don't see any [j] to [ʤ]; it looks like [ɟ͡ʝ] (voiced unaspirated palatal stop) to [ʤ] and [j] to [j]. No?

  4. Antariksh Bothale said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 7:58 am

    What I meant was that a word like yadi (=if) would become jodi in Bengali.

  5. Hans van den Broek said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 8:36 am

    Rosalind mentions (above) that there are several Kromowidjojos in the Netherlands. The Javanese don't use family names, with the exception of (high) nobility. So I wonder if the name is an indication of "blue blood", or that it became a surname in either Surinam or Holland. But that's more a sociolinguistic matter, I'm afraid.

  6. Hans van den Broek said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 9:18 am

    [another try, messages seem to disappear here…]
    "The name Kromowidjojo is from Sanskrit-derived Javanese."
    Javanese is an Austronesian language, and as such not derived from Sanskrit, it's not even related to it. Quite a few loanwords from Sanskrit in Indonesian languages though.

    Salam dari Jawa


    [(bgz) Didn't mean to imply that the Javanese language was derived from Sanskrit. I'm well aware of the Austronesian origins of Javanese. Only meant that the name, like many other Javanese items, is borrowed from Sanskrit — I've rephrased that part for clarification.]

  7. Ellen K. said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 9:38 am

    Hans, Ben Zimmer wasn't suggesting that Javanese comes from Sanskrit. He was saying the name comes from words that comes from Sanskrit.

    It's like if I wrote Latin-derived English to indicate the subset of English words that come from Latin.

  8. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 10:16 am

    Hoping not to sound too cranky in the morning; but why is she "wonderfully" named? Is it because her name's not familiar to Americans?

    I wonder if this is some subtle exoticisation of "foreign" sounds.

  9. richard said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 11:15 am

    @Sridharanarayanan, no, because it can be translated as "orderly victory" which is, in fact, what she achieved. See Ben's last sentence.

  10. Theodore said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 11:37 am

    @Ambarish Sridharanarayanan I took "wonderfully named" to mean that a name meaning "orderly victory" is wonderfully appropriate for a winning olympic athlete.

  11. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    @Antariksh Bothale: But not in Javanese.

  12. Hans van den Broek said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

    I looked up "krama/kromo" in several dictionaries, and they all mention another meaning of the word: peasant, common man.
    Historically, that seems to be very plausible. The Dutch probably didn't send Javanese nobility to work Surinam land (they needed them to suppress the people, the "wong cilik"…). Sending peasants is much more likely. I readily admit that "victorious peasant" is a less attractive alternative in this situation than "orderly victory" though.

  13. sholi said,

    August 4, 2012 @ 11:28 am

    Ben Zimmer,
    Hello there, I am a Javanese, same as Ranomi's great great grandparents came from. Krama is usually spelled as Kromo, having similar meaning. In Javanese language, it's to say the order, the rule. Widjojo could be taking as victorious. I think Ranomi's great great grandparents used the name of their parents as the last name. I am sure, when Ranomi great grandparents come to Suriname, they were young man with single name. Kromowidjojo is a common name. Usually this kind of name is being used for married men and women. Javanese will have "old style name" given to them beside their real name when they got married. The name like Kromowidjojo, Kromowidodo, Kromorejo and many other names are common "old" name. But, my generations usually not taking the new name after married in their real name. We still have the "old name", but we are not using it formally.

    Salam dari Jawa untuk Hans van den Broek.
    And great posting from you, Ben Zimmer

  14. Ben Fishkill said,

    August 4, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

    Hi, the correct spelling is indeed krama, not kromo. It is similar to lara (sick) and not loro (two). The issue is with the Indonesian language spelling and pronunciation where the "o" in kromo is pronounced as "a" in "ball" while in Javanese language, krama is pronounced as "a" in "ball" and kromo is pronounced as a regular "o".

  15. Géza Jakab said,

    August 4, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

    I can speak only Indonesian, not Javanese, but I met this problem of spelling "a" and "o". Actually these are not 2 but 3 vocals: "a" like German "a" ([ʌ]), "o" like German "o" ([o]) and a third one, sounds in between "a" and "o" ([ɔ]) and resembles to the Italian "o" or Hungarian "a". Also the Javanese people cannot decide how to put in writing these 3 different vocals using only 2 different latin letters. (NB: Javanese language has its own alphabet!) For example: 'Surabaya' (a city in East Jawa) often written as 'Suroboyo'; 'Suharto' (a common Javanese name) as 'Suharta'. In this form: 'Suharta' look 2 "a", but the first is pronounced as [ʌ], the last as [ɔ]. The name of an old cultural centre of Middle Jawa is 'Surakarta', pronounced as 'Sur[ɔ]k[ʌ]rt[ɔ]'. (The name of this city came from an other city name 'Kartosuro', which is pronounced the same way: 'K[ʌ]rt[ɔ]sur[ɔ]', but written with "o".) So, it's not so easy.

    Another question: Javanese people usually have only one name, but it's NOT a family name! The child gets a name which is inconsequential to the parents' name. This name is often a goodwish, for determining his/her life, fate and fortune. So if a Javanese has the name of Kromowidjojo, his/her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents most likely don't have this name. Only an immigration to a foreign country may cause, that this name became a family name.

    The most important is: no doubt, Ranomi is an amazing beautiful young girl and a great champion! She richly deserves her wonderful name. Selamat kepada dia!

    Salam kepada semuanya yang bercinta Jawa!

  16. kusumakusumo said,

    August 5, 2012 @ 5:34 am

    In Central Java we mostly use 'O' in our names and not 'A'. In West Java they use 'A' in their names and not 'O'

  17. kusumakusumo said,

    August 5, 2012 @ 5:47 am

    Yes, kromo or krama is usually a name of common man from a village

  18. Ben Fishkill said,

    August 5, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    Yes that is correct. West Java speak Sundanese and very different from Javanese. Also congratulations to Ranomi. What a huge achievement from her. I hope she will visit Indonesia one day.

  19. Jacques Willemen said,

    August 5, 2012 @ 11:04 am

    Elaborating on Géza Jakab's remarks: ("Javanese people usually have only one name, but it's NOT a family name! ")
    Most of the migrants from Java to Suriname were children aged 12 to 15 picked from the streets and embarked without much consideration for their parents opinion…to say the least.
    Conditions on board were slightly better than on the ships transporting labourers from Africa to the plantations in the West-Indies.
    The names of the children were not recorded by the colonial authorities, they arrived in Suriname with only a number.
    Only later, in the 1950's, the Javanese in Suriname were entitled to "choose" a family name.
    Those that remembered enough of their early childhood before the abduction, and had not repressed that memory out of shame, may have chosen the name given to them long ago in Java; most, however, got "help" from the public servant on duty…
    So if there are people named Kromowidjojo (or Kramawijaya ?) currently in Indonesia, there is only a little chance they are remotely related to Olympic Ranomi..

  20. sholi said,

    August 5, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

    Jacques, Indeed, Javanese (long time ago) tend to have one name only. And, I am pretty much sure that the name Kromowidjojo chosen by Ranomi's great great grandparents based on their parents name. As I mentioned above, Kromowidjojo is "old name", name for the elderly.

  21. Ben Fishkill said,

    August 5, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    Wow I did not know that they were abducted. So they were sent there as slaves?

  22. Jacques Willemen said,

    August 6, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

    Well Ben, slavery was abolished by then (after 1863 in the Dutch colonies), and the black slaves, free now, no longer wanted to work on the plantations.
    But: business had to go on!
    So the Dutch plantation owners first hired immigrants from (then British) India.
    After a number of years the British no longer wanted to cooperate in this deal, after hearing how badly the Hindustan contract laborers were treated in Suriname.
    That's when the Dutch began looking for replacement for the plantation workers in their own back yard.
    No, the new Javanese immigrants were not slaves.
    After terminating the 5 years "contract", they were entitled to choose between staying and getting a little piece of land for their own, or returning to Java.
    But I guess you know enough about the human rights situation and interracial relations in the European colonies in the 19th and (first half of) 20th century: on the side of the (indeed, very young) immigrants (and their parents) very little "free will" was involved.
    The last Javanese were shipped West just before the second world war.
    After the war, the plantation system collapsed. Very soon, Suriname was no longer economically interesting for the "owners".
    The country is independent from 1975 and one of its most attractive features now is the composition of its population, litterally from all corners of the world.

  23. Ben Fishkill said,

    August 7, 2012 @ 9:29 pm

    Thank you my dear Jacques for the explanation. Appreciate it.

  24. Esseline Djodikromo said,

    August 11, 2012 @ 4:24 am

    There are also other names like Kromowidjojo in Suriname, for example my own name Djodikromo or Djojodikromo or Djojowikromo.
    Those names are spelled in a other following order like Kromowidjojo.

    Please, is there someone who can give me any explanation about this matter?.


  25. Chris said,

    August 14, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    @Esseline Djodikromo
    The word 'Kromo' can be matched with other word and can be place in first or later part of the whole word.
    There is Indonesian website listing ancient/old Javanese names derived from Sankrit, in this pdf, kromo is spelled as krama http://www.prayasa.me/kamus-bahasa-sansekerta.pdf
    Ancient/old Javanese name has sankrit element because Indian religion is being adopted by Javanese and they create their own religion namely 'kejawen' or Shiva-Budha mixed with animism. Javanese society in this ancient time is layered according to ancient Shiva-Budha Kingdom structure (Read Denys Lombard's book, 3rd series) from the King itself, to its relatives (priyayi), the priest, the knights, and its people who are mostly farmers because Java island is the most fertile island within the Indonesian archipelago so it is always become the source of food (especially rice) even until now.

    Indeed, Javanese don't recognize family name, but some people just independently use their father's name as their family name to show respect of his father's legacy or romanticism of their father. There is no rule for that.
    And Kromowidjojo is a common name for common Javanese people at old time. Newer generation of Javanese still use sankrit-like javanese name but it is based on the 'sound' of it. Usually if it sound 'timeless' or 'romantically heroic' or 'God's/King's name'. eg Putri (means princess), Dewi (Goddess), Aditya (means sun) and then mixed/followed with a longer sankrit meaning, can be for rhymed reason eg. Pratama, Indradewa, Prabukusuma. Or, it is mixed with 'moslem-sound' name. In Christian/Chatolic Javanese, they mix first name of Bible/Santo's name eg Albertus followed by a romantic sankrit name eg Albertus Wijaya.
    Chinese Indonesian also like to use this mix of Christian/Western name with sanskrit name eg Franky Widjaya (entrepreneur of Sinar Mas Group).

    To all Surinamese with Javanese descent, it will be interesting if you read and learn Javanese culture which has its long history and orderly civilization even centuries before Colonial times. It reached its golden age in the time of MAJAPAHIT Kingdom.
    The older Kingdom (Mataram Hindu) is the one that build the largest ancient Budhist temple BOROBUDUR and Hindust temple PRAMBANAN.


  26. Chris said,

    August 14, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

    Want to add another example of Javanese names
    The Indonesian president: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
    Susilo=politeness. Bambang=to lead, Yudhoyono=the art of battle. So it loosely and philosophically means to lead and to master the art of battle with politeness. Which btw, stoic politeness is one of the distinctive characteristic of Javanese people.

    An Indonesian actress, a bit older than Ranomi.
    Dian Sastrowardoyo (full name: Diandra Paramita Sastrowardoyo)
    Dian is Diandra being shortened, Diandra is western name, Paramita sanskrit means wisdom and Sastrowardoyo (in old writing will be sastrowardjojo) is her gandfather's name.

    For new generation now, the name of Kromowidjojo, Sastrowadoyo, Nitisastro are indeed the names of older generation and it is even unfamiliar in the middle of urban society of Jakarta.
    After Indonesian independence, many of the javanese coming from farmer family were acquire higher education in almost any field. Therefore you can find a lot of the common name in many prominent field in Indonesia today eg professors, ministers, presidents, military generals.
    I think the kinda of name is also correlated with priyayi (javanese royals) if they happen to be distant relatives to the javanese king or just because Javanese royals also use sankrit javanese names eg see this sultan's children's name http://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamengkubuwana_IX

  27. Jerawat said,

    February 12, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

    there are several Kromowidjojos in the Netherlands. The Javanese don't use family names, with the exception of (high) nobility. So I wonder if the name is an indication of "blue blood", or that it became a surname in either Surinam or Holland

  28. Jerawat said,

    May 12, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

    whether Kromowidjojo still descendants of Javan ? because I have a friend with the same name.

RSS feed for comments on this post