Malay titles

The Malay language has a complex system of titles and honorifics which is still extensively used in Malaysia and Brunei. Singapore, whose Malay royalty was abolished by the British colonial government in 1891, has adopted civic titles for its leaders.

Indonesia, meanwhile, despite being a Republic, recognizes several hereditary rulers and aristocratic systems, mostly those who supported the Independence movement of 1945. The late wife of former President Soeharto, for example, was the Raden Ayu Siti Hartinah, not as some say, Madame Soeharto. Under the Dutch, similarly, descendants of the Majoors, Kapiteins and Luitnens der Chinezen in Java were entitled to the hereditary title "Sia". Together with Peranakan feudalism, however, these titles were abolished by the colonial government in the 1930s during the implementation of their 'social policy'.

Today, hereditary and life titles are still regularly awarded in Brunei, several Indonesian provinces and Malaysia. What follows, however, is specific to the Malaysian system. References to Brunei and Indonesia are given when pertinent.

In Malaysia, all non-hereditary titles can be granted to both men and women. Every title has a form which can be used by the wife of the title holder. This form is not used by the husband of a titled woman and such a woman will bear a title which is the same as a titled man.

The sequence that should be used when formally writing or addressing a person's name is as follows:

Honorary Style, Professional Rank, Royal Hereditary Title, Federal Title, State Title, Non-royal Hereditary Title, Doctor (of medicine or philosophy), Haji/Hajjah (for Muslim men and women who have performed the Hajj), Name.

A style carried by virtue of royal title always trumps those carried by non-royal titles. Male royals may choose to append "al-Haj" to their name instead of using "Haji". The following examples are correct:

  • Yang Berbahagia Jeneral Tan Sri Hj Nik (Name)
  • Yang Amat Mulia Jeneral Tengku Dato' (Name) al-Haj
  • Yang Berhormat Senator Tan Sri Dato' (Name)

Only the highest title in each class should be used; thus a person with a Tan Sriship (always a federal title) and a federal Datukship should only use the Tan Sri; but a holder of a federal Tan Sriship and a state Dato'ship may use both titles.

Malay royalty

The following titles are hereditary and reserved for the royal families of Brunei and the nine royal states of Malaysia.

  • Yang di-Pertuan Agong (literally, "He who is made Supreme Lord" but usually "Supreme Head" or "Paramount Ruler") is the official title of the ruler of all Malaysia, elected from among the nine heads of the royal families. The title is often glossed King in English.
  • Yang di-Pertuan Negara (literally "He who is made Lord of the State" but usually "Head of State") is the official title of the Sultan of Brunei. The title was also used in Singapore until its independence in 1965, upon which the title became President.
  • Yang di-Pertuan Besar (literally "He who is made Great Lord", but often "Great Lord") is the official title of the Ruler of Negeri Sembilan. All other Rulers are Sultans except the Raja of Perlis.
  • Yang di-Pertua Negeri is not a royal title, but the title of a Governor of a state which does not have a hereditary ruler.
  • Tuanku is both a title when used before a name and form of address when used alone, and is reserved for the Malay Rulers. It literally means "My Lord", and as a form of address can be glossed as "Your Majesty" or "Your Highness", but is left untranslated when used as a title. In Aceh, now a province of Indonesia, "Tuanku" is given to children and grandchildren of a ruling monarch. In Sarawak, "Tuanku" is the prefix used by certain noble families.
  • Tengku (also spelled Tunku in Johor, Negeri Sembilan and Kedah, and Ungku or Engku Ansaruddin Agus to denote particular lineages, and Raja in Perak and certain Selangor lineages, and Syed/Sharifah in Perlis if suffixed by the royal clan name) is roughly equivalent to Prince or Princess. In Aceh, "Tengku" is the title given to religious officers, eg. Tengku Imam Meunasah (leader of the mosque).
  • Pengiran Muda and Pengiran Anak is a royal title for the royal families of Brunei.
  • Pengiran is a hereditary title for people that have blood ties with the Bruneian Royal Family.

The following styles often precede the royal title on formal notices:

  • Ke Bawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia (literally "The Dust Under The Feet of His Exalted Highness") is used for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and state Rulers alike. However, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong also uses the prefix "Seri Paduka Baginda" (literally, "Conqueror Majesty") and in English, his title is often translated as "His Majesty". A state Ruler is "His Royal Highness" (in colonial times "His Highness"). Since 1984, the ruler of Johor has used the title "Baginda" as well, but he is still referred to in English as "His Royal Highness". The ruler of Perak also uses the prefix "Paduka Seri" which is derived from the archaic formula "Paduka Seri Maulana". The ruler of Negeri Sembilan also used the prefix "Paduka Seri" between 1993 and 2004 (this has since been dropped). These titles are not used as a form of address - instead Tuanku is used.
  • Yang Teramat Mulia is used by the children of reigning Sultans (except in Negeri Sembilan) and by the Dato' Kelana, the Undang of Sungai Ujong in Negeri Sembilan
  • Yang Amat Mulia is used by the children of the ruler of Negeri Sembilan and Johor, the Undang of Jelebu, Johol and Rembau and the Tunku Besar of Tampin in Negeri Sembilan
  • Yang Mulia are used for other heirs and heiresses, who are the descendants of royal families.

Federal titles

In Malaysia, federal awards are granted by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and some may carry the following federal titles. Such titles are honorary and non-hereditary.


The Tun title has existed in the Malay Heritage for hundreds of years.

In ancient times, Tun was an honorific title used by noble people of royal lineage and Tun is a title inherited by the male descendants.

Over the time, the Tun title is a title conferred by Agong to the most deserving figure who has highly contributed to the nation. The wife of a Tun is Toh Puan.

Tun is the most senior federal title awarded to recipients of either the SMN (Seri Maharaja Mangku Negara) or SSM (Seri Setia Mahkota). However, the SMN and SSM are not the highest federal awards. The SMN ranks fourth in order of Federal Awards and the SSM ranks fifth. The highest federal award granted by the Malaysian government is the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa.

There may not be more than 35 local living holders of each of these awards at any one time. The honorific address for the wife of a Tun is Toh Puan. The most recent recipient is former minister of energy, water and communication Tun Lim Keng Yaik during the Yang Dipertuan Agong's birthday in June, 2008. Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and wife, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, who were both bestowed the title upon the former's retirement from politics and the government in October 2003. Following the demise of Musa's successor, Tun Ghafar Baba in April, 2006, there was a vacancy of one recipient of the Tunship from the 35 local living holders.

The numerical limits apply only to Malaysian subjects. Foreigners may receive the award in a supernumerary and honorary capacity and use the title locally.

Tan Sri

Tan Sri is the second most senior federal title and an honorific used to denote recipients of the PMN (Panglima Mangku Negara) and the PSM (Panglima Setia Mahkota). The PMN and PSM rank seventh and eight respectively in the order of Malaysian Federal Awards.

There may be at any time up to a maximum of 75 PMN holders living at any one time, and a maximum of 250 PSM holders living at any one time. The wife of a Tan Sri is Puan Sri.

The numerical limits apply only to Malaysian subjects. Foreigners may receive the award in a supernumerary and honorary capacity and use the title locally.


Datuk is a federal title has been conferred since 1965 and limited to recipients of PJN (Panglima Jasa Negara) of which there may be up to 200 living at any one time, and PSD (Panglima Setia Diraja) of which there may be up to 200 living at any one time. The PJN and PSN rank 9th and 10th respectively in the rank of federal awards.

The wife of a federal Datuk is a Datin.

A female conferred the title in her own right is known as "Datin Paduka", although the prefix "Datuk" is still more commonly used for females as well.

The numerical limits apply only to Malaysian subjects. Foreigners may receive the award in a supernumerary and honorary capacity and use the title locally.

Individual states that has a head of state nominated by the respective state's legislature may confer the title of 'Datuk' to individuals. However, this is different from the title "Dato'", where it is given by individual states that has a Sultan and not a head of state nominated by the state legislature. For example, Yang Dipertua Negeri Melaka is a head of state nominated by the Melaka state legislature and may confer the title of 'Datuk' while the Sultan of Pahang is the hereditary ruler of the state of Pahang and may confer the title of "Dato'".

The award of these titles is determined by the individual rulers and there is no set limit on the number of state Dato's.

State titles

The following titles, which roughly correspond to the British knighthood, can be granted by the Ruler or Governor of each state. They are honorary and non-hereditary.


Different from the awarding of Datuk, the award of Dato' (pronounced in similar manner as Datuk) can only be conferred by a hereditary Royal ruler of one of nine Malay states.

Other types of Dato':

  • Dato' Seri Utama is the highest state title, below Tun but above Tan Sri. The wife of a recipient is "Datin Seri Utama" .
  • Dato' Seri or Dato' Paduka ranks below the federal titles above. The wife of a Dato' Seri is a Datin Seri.
  • Dato' is the most common chivalrous title. The wife of a Dato' is a Datin, except in Terengganu where they are known as "To' Puan" (not to be confused with "Toh Puan", the wife of a non-hereditary "Tun").

There are also hereditary Dato's from Negeri Sembilan, where titles are held for life by heads of certain families and passed on to their heirs. These are not conferred by the ruler, but passed on through the customary native laws. The wife of a hereditary Dato' is addressed by courtesy as "To' Puan".

In other states, certain noble families also have hereditary titles and are addressed as Dato'. For example, the current Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak, is hereditary Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar of Pahang and would have been addressed as "Dato'" even if he had not been conferred a "Dato' Seri" state award.


A ruler who is appointed by the Yang Di Pertuan Agong, namely the Governor of Melaka, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak, can confer the award of Datuk, not Dato'.

Some state rulers grant awards which carry titles unique to that state, such as Datuk Wira of the state of Melaka and Kedah, and Datuk Amar and Datuk Patinggi of the state of Sarawak and Datuk Seri Panglima of the state of Sabah.

State awards may be revoked by the Ruler or Governor, and may be returned by the individual.

Honorary styles

The following are both used as styles, before a person's title, and (by themselves) as forms of address:

  • Tuan Yang Terutama (T.Y.T.) (literally "The Most Eminent Master") is the style of a state Governor, equivalent to "Your/His Excellency" and also as a title for serving Ambassadors to Malaysia, e.g. T.Y.T. Tuan Christopher J. LaFleur.
  • Yang Amat Berhormat (Y.A.B.) (literally "The Most Honourable") is the style of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Tuns who are also Members of Parliament and the Chief Ministers of the states. Tuns who are not Members of Parliament, are addressed as Yang Amat Berbahagia (Y.A.Bhg.).
  • Yang Berhormat (Y.B.) (literally "The Honourable") is the style of Members of Parliament and state Legislative Assemblymen. A prince who is a Member of Parliament is "Yang Berhormat Mulia" eg Yang Berhormat Mulia Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah, the MP for Gua Musang. "Yang Berhormat" is also used for recipients of the First Class Order of the Crown of Johor (S.P.M.J.) regardless whether he is a Member of Parliament or not.
  • Yang Amat Arif (Y.A.A.) (literally "The Most Learned") is the style of the Chief Justice of Malaysia, the President of the Malaysian Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the High Court of Malaya and the Chief Judge of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak.
  • Yang Arif (Y.A.) (literally "The Learned") is the style of a judge.
  • Yang Berbahagia (Y.Bhg.) (literally "The Felicitous") (and variants thereof) are the styles of persons with a chivalrous title.

The English versions of these styles follow British usage. Thus the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, Senators, state Executive Councillors and judges of the High Court and above are styled the Honourable. It is a solecism to style the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister Right Honourable as they are not members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.

Other Malay Titles By Inheritance

  • Abang is a title that is particularly found in Sarawak and is inherited. Its origin rooted from the appointments of Datuk Patinggi, Datuk Temenggung, Datuk Bandar and Datuk Imam for centuries, long before the British colonization. The issue of these state dignitaries carries the title Abang (male) and Dayang (female). When an Abang marries a Dayang or a commoner, the issue will get to keep the title. The issue of a Dayang does not carry a title if he/she has a non-Abang father. However, if a Dayang marries a male aristocrat bearing a different title than hers, her issue will be named according to the husband's given title.
  • Awang is the term used for addressing men in Brunei and it is equivalent to Mr. However, certain Awang are hereditary, of which they may later claim the title Pengiran since they are also blood related to the Brunei Sultanate. This, however can only be done after he gets the approval of the elders and is considered as matured enough to carry the title. The change is only eligible for those who inherit the name Awang from their family line. As for the rule of inheritance of the name, it is the same as Abang
  • Dayang is the term used for addressing women in Brunei and it is equivalent to Ms. Dayang is also the female issue of an Abang and an Awang (see Abang and Awang).
  • Syed is a title inherited by male descendants, through the male line, from the Prophet via his grandsons Hassan and Hussein. Female descendants are known as Syarifah or Sharifah. However, "Syed" has also been used as a name by some parents and is no longer strictly indicative of this heritage.
  • Megat is a title inherited by the male descendant of a Megat. A Megat is a descendant of the Pagaruyung Prince, Megat Terawis. "Megat" also styled by a half blood royal male descendent of a female royal. e.g. Megat Muzaffar Syah , Megat Iskandar Syah , Megat Johan , Megat Danial , Megat Syafiq , Megat Allaudin , Megat Syakir Amri , Megat Junid etc.
  • Puteri is a title inherited by the female descendant of a Megat.
  • Tun is a title inherited by the issue of a Puteri, the female descendant of a Megat and a commoner father, in turn inheritable through the male line. In Pahang it is the title of a male or female descendant of a Sultan through the distaff line.
  • Meor is a title inherited by the male issue of a Syarifah and non-Syed father and for female the first letter of the name comes with 'Ma' as in "Ma Mastura". Typically used in Perak and few other states such as Terengganu and Kelantan.
  • Wan is a title inherited by the issue of a male Wan. Typically found in Kelantan and Terengganu. In Kedah, Wan is the title used by descendants of certain former chief ministers of the state, e.g. the descendants of Wan Mohd Saman. Wan can also be used as the title for a girl's name, but this is uncommon, e.g. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Wan can also be found in Sarawak, and is somehow related to the state's Syed lineage. A female issue of Wan carries the title Sharifah. A Wan may later claim the title Tuanku. This, however can only be done after he gets the approval of the elders and is considered as matured enough to carry the title. The change is only eligible for those who inherit the name Wan from their family line. The issue of a Sharifah does not carry a title if he/she has a non-Wan father.
  • Nik is a title inherited by the issue of a male Nik. It is typically found in Kelantan and Terengganu.

Other salutations

  • Haji (or Hajjah for female) can be used by people who have completed the Hajj. This title is abbreviated as "Hj." or "Hjh.".
  • Tuan is equivalent to Master. Due to its colonial overtones, this term is largely obsolete, although the title can still be prepended to Syed and Haji. It is also used for non-titled Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen. In some states like Kelantan, it could also denote a membership of the royal family.
  • Encik (abbreviated "En.") is equivalent to Mr and can be used by all men.
  • Puan (abbreviated "Pn.") can be used by all married women. It is equivalent to 'Mdm./Madam' not 'Mrs' as in the Malay language, married women do not use the names and/or surnames of their husbands. Married Malaysian Chinese women are also addressed as "Puan (name)" in Malay and "Mdm. (name)" in English, since they do not change their surnames on marriage.
  • Cik is equivalent to Miss and can be used by all unmarried women.

Protection of value of titles

Not all Datuks have lived exemplary lives and some have even been convicted of crimes. The various sultans have taken steps to ensure the integrity of the institution.

Tun Dr Mahathir mentioned that one of the problems with titles in Malaysia is the numbers given out. He stated in an interview "Personally, I feel if you want to give value to anything, it must be limited...if you produce a million Ferrari cars, nobody will care about buying a Ferrari."

The Raja Muda (Crown Prince) of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah stated "That is my view. You degrade the award and the Ruler has the right to revoke it. In my opinion, it should be taken away." He also stated that "Sometimes, I think we give away too many dilutes and devalues the award."

In the first government following the independence of Malaya in 1957, 5 of 15 cabinet Ministers were Datuks. The finance minister at the time, Tan Siew Sin, held the title Justice of Peace. Later he was granted a Federal award which carried the title Tun. The father of Malayan independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, received no awards and carried the title "Tunku" which was inherited by him being the prince of the state of Kedah. He was honorarily referred to as "Yang Teramat Mulia". The senate held only 14 datuks and parliament held only 7.

The conferral of "Datuk" by the Penang government to 25-year-old squash double world champion Nicol David and Olympic silver medalist Lee Chong Wei had also sparked controversy that they are too young to receive the title.


  • The datuks of Selangor attempted to set up an association of Selangor Datuks. It received approval from the registrar of societies but was shelved when the Sultan forbade any datuk from joining or risk losing the title.
  • Four datuks were removed in 2003 by the Sultan of Selangor.
  • In 2004 Six Datuks had their titles "suspended" by the Sultan of Selangor. The six are on trial. The palace issued a statement through the state secretary that the title would automatically be withdrawn if they were convicted or restored if they were acquitted. In the meantime they may not use the title "datuk" as issued by the Sultan of Selangor. They may still declare federal titles or titles granted by other states, the six are:

* Tan Sri Eric Chia Eng Hock who was awarded the Datuk Seri Indera Alam Diraja in 1985 which carries the title "Datuk Diraja". He is on trial for criminal breach of trust. He does not use his Selangor title since he has a higher title.

* Datuk Saidin Thambi, former Selangor state asseblyman and executive counciller, awarded the Datuk Paduka Mahkota Selangor (DPMS) in 1985 which carries the title "Datuk". On trial for corruption.

* Datuk Mohd Saberi Salleh, formerly a dean in UiTM, awarded the Datuk Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah (DSSA) in 1999 which carries the title "Datuk". On trial for verifying false invoices.

* Former Tabung Haji senior general manager Datuk Mohamad Shafie, awarded the Datuk Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah (DSSA) in 1999 which carries the title "Datuk". On trial for cheating.

* Datuk Mohd Shariff Jajang, former Selangor executive counciller, awarded the Datuk Paduka Mahkota Selangor (DPMS) in 1991 which carries the title "Datuk". Additionally he holds the award Setia-Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah (SSA) awarded 1988. On trial for corruption.

* Datuk Chow C. K. Kenneth alias A.Wira Tjakrawinata, an Indonesian businessman, awarded the Datuk Paduka Mahkota Selangor (DPMS) in 1999. He is on trial for furnishing false information to the Securities Commission.

  • Robert Chan Win Ing and Tan Hok Low had their datukships withdrawn in 2004.


  • The Sultan of Pahang revoked the titles of two datuks in 2004.

* Datuk Seri Koh Kim Teck, executive director of a stockbroking firm, awarded Sri Sultan Ahmad Shah Pahang in 2003. He was charged with the murder of his 14 year-old nephew.

* Datuk Tee Yam lost his Pahang title for involvement in undesirable activities.


  • Istana Terengganu withdraws Datukship titles from 3 treasoners which takes immediate effect on March 26 2008 due to the Menteri Besar (Chief Minister of Terengganu) Crisis. The Menteri Besar crisis is due to the controversy between Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong over the appointment of the Terengganu Menteri Besar. The Palace (Istana) of Terengganu appointed Kijal assemblyperson Ahmad Said as the new Menteri Besar to replace the incumbent Idris Jusoh. The appointment is said to be "unconstitutional" by the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who backed Idris Jusoh to remain in the post. However despite the support of all the 22 BN assemblypersons, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Terengganu - who is also the present king - preferred Ahmad Said to take over as the state’s menteri besar. Idris is believed to have had a fallout with the sultan over several issues. The crisis ended with the appointment of Ahmad Said as the Menteri Besar.

*Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, former MB of Terengganu

*Datuk Rosol Wahid

*Datuk Din Adam

See also

Datu - Philippine equivalent of Malay term Dato

External links

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