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Royalty and Titles

by The Expatriate Lifestyle Editorial Team 1 Jun 2013
Royalty and Titles

Malaysia’s current reigning Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Almu'tasimu Billahi Muhibbuddin Tuanku Al-Haj Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Badlishah and his wife Sultanah Haminah Hamidun


During your time in Malaysia, you may notice that there is a particularly complex system of titles and honorifics. These can be hereditary (for example royal titles), or non-hereditary. All non-hereditary titles can be granted to men or women. In the event that it is a man who has a title, there is a form of the title than can be used by his wife.

However, if the woman is titled in her own right, her husband does not obtain a title through her, and she will use the same title as a man of that same title, as opposed to the “wife” version. Some people may have more than one title, and if this is the case, only the highest title in each class should be used. The classes are as follows:

• Royal Hereditary Title
• Federal Title
• State Title
• Non-royal Hereditary Title
• Doctor (either of medicine or philosophy)
• Haji/Hajjah (denotes a Muslim man or woman who has performed the Hajj)

Rather than using “Haji”, some male royals may choose to append “al-Haj” to their name.

Regarding people with multiple titles, there are times when both titles can be used. If the person in question has a Tan Sri-ship, which is always a Federal Title, and a Federal Datukship, the Tan Sri is the title they should use as it is the higher of the two. However, Datukships can also be State Titles. In the event that a person has a State Datukship and a Federal Tan Sri-ship, they may use both titles.

Yang di-Pertuan Agong is a title you will probably come across fairly often. It literally means “He who is made Supreme Lord” but usually “Supreme Head” or “Paramount Ruler”. In English he is usually referred to as the King. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected from among the nine heads of the royal families of each state. Each family or state has a chance to have the title, if only for five years. His consort or Queen is called the Raja Permaisuri Agong. Both are referred to in English as “His/Her Majesty”.

The official residence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is Istana Negara (the National Palace) located in Jalan Syed Putra in Kuala Lumpur. There are also other residences, such as Istana Melawati in the federal administrative capital Putrajaya, which is also the venue for meetings of the Council of Rulers.

Since Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, the role of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is largely ceremonial. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong appoints the (ceremonial) Yang di-Pertua Negeri, or Governors, of the other four states of Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak.

Yang di-Pertuan Besar is the official title of the ruler of Negeri Sembilan, and literally means “He who is made Great Lord”. With the exception of the Raja of Perlis, all other state rulers are known as Sultans.

By convention the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s birthday is officially celebrated on the first Saturday of June, irrespective of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s actual birthday.

You may also hear the honorific Tun, often in reference to former Prime Ministers such as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. This is a title conferred by the Agong to denote a person who has made a great contribution to the nation. This person can be either male or female. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s wife also possesses this title in her own right.

Datuk is a federal title, and can also be bestowed upon both males and females. The wife of a federal Datuk is known as a Datin, and a female conferred the title in her own right is known as “Datin Paduka”, although many can and do choose to use “Datuk”. This award can be conferred by a ruler who has been appointed by the Agong; primarily the rulers of Penang, Melaka, Sabah and Sarawak. The prefix Dato’ is similar to the British knighthood and is a state rather than a federal title.

Encik and Puan are the Malay equivalents of Mr and Ms. Encik can be used by all men, while Puan denotes a married woman. Cik is equivalent to Miss, and is used by all unmarried women.

As an expatriate it is useful for you to be aware of such titles, particularly since newspapers often make reference to them. Knowing the denotations Mr, Ms and Miss will also enable you to understand forms, in the event that the Malay versions of these words are used rather than the English, as can be the case.

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