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 currently 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; Vietnamese translation published by AJAR Press), and author of debut poetry collection ROPE (Nine Arches Press).