The Malay language has a complex system of titles and honorifics, which are still used extensively 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 Suharto, for example, was the Raden Ayu Siti Hartinah, not as some say, Madame Soeharto. (Under the Dutch in Java, similarly, descendants of the Majoors, Kapiteins and Luitnens der Chinezen were entitled to the hereditary title "Sia".) In the 1930s, the colonial government in the 1930s abolished these titles and Peranakan feudalism, during implementation of their "social policy", whose goal was establishing a more egalitarian society.
Today, Malaysia, Brunei and several provinces in Indonesian still regularly award honorary and life titles. What follows 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; 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)