Cover Photo: illustration of a person diving into a pool resembling a nametag, with background words HELLO MY NAME IS; pool surrounded by tiles featuring Minang textile patterns
Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult

Sans Surname

Linguistic diversity is under threat around the world. Each challenge to a patriarchal binary system marks a step away from extinction of this richness.

This is Dialek :: Dialect, a new column by Khairani Barokka on language, culture, and power.


It seems like an impossible task to go against bureaucracies that reinstate patriarchy in our very names, re-inscribing colonial norms on which contemporary nation-states are built. Think about all the areas of life in Western countries affected by this patriarchal first name-surname primacy: visas and immigration, property deeds, medical records, death records, other areas of law, schooling, academic citations—every area of public life I can think of. The forms that require “First Name,” “Surname” are not as blatantly patriarchal as the medical forms I refused to sign as an adult woman in a Jakarta clinic, requesting my father’s or husband’s name and contact details—but they are still patriarchal, I argue, in origin, and are certainly colonial vestiges.

Khairani Barokka is an Indonesian writer and artist in London, whose work has been presented extensively, in fifteen countries. She is Researcher-in-Residence at UAL's Decolonising the Arts Institute, and Modern Poetry in Translation’s Inaugural Poet-In-Residence. Among Okka’s honours, she was an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow and is a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change. Okka is  co-editor of STAIRS AND WHISPERS: d/DEAF AND DISABLED POETS WRITE BACK (Nine Arches), author-illustrator of INDIGENOUS SPECIES (Tilted Axis), and author of debut poetry collection ROPE (Nine Arches).