From ‘Batman Suparman story takes off’, 17 Nov 2013, article by Nur Asyiqin Mohammed Salleh, Sunday Times
Singapore’s Batman Suparman (below) made news when he was sent to jail last Monday for a string of crimes. His story also took off beyond Singapore, making the list of best-read stories on the BBC website. The interest clearly was less about his crimes – theft, housebreaking and consuming heroin, for which he was jailed for two years and nine months – and more about his unusual name.
His mother, however, was not amused to hear that his name was being talked about here and elsewhere. “A person’s name is not a laughing matter and it’s our business what we name our child,” she said, irritated to be asked if he had been named after the comic hero. She claimed Batman, 23, was a “normal” Javanese name properly pronounced as “But-Mun”.
Only one other person in the phone directory is named Batman but when contacted, the woman declined to be interviewed. There are 23 listings of Suparman, the name of Batman’s father.
…Veteran Malay language teacher Abdul Rahim Omar told The Sunday Times that while Suparman is a common Javanese name, Batman is not and has no meaning in Malay or Javanese. “I think his parents were probably inspired by the comic.”
To date, no one has published a photo of Batman outside of his identity card and it would be interesting to see what he looks like now. I thought it was also rather insensitive of ST to ask Batman’s mother about his superhero name when he’s serving time in jail. No wonder she was irritated; she must have been asked the same question a million times. Nobody cares if you name your son ‘Tan Ah Kow’ anymore. Too bad the writer of the Batman article wasn’t Kimberly Spykerman.
Kudos to Ch5 newsreader Chew Wui Lynn for keeping po-faced when reporting Batman’s arrest. And she passed the pronunciation with flying colours. This is how you say ‘Batman Bin Suparman’ like a pro, ‘bart-mon (as in monday)’.
Not so for the rest of the world, who say Batman as, literally, Bat-Man. Holy Java Chip Frappucino!
But let’s go beyond the Internet sensation and the most famous Singaporean other than LKY, or the Dark Knight, and try to uncover the origins of ‘batman’ if its Javanese source is disputed. In 1912, a CAPTAIN BATMAN was fined $10 for stowing away a ‘decrepit Chinaman’ into the ‘Colony’. In Melbourne, there’s a place called Batman’s Hill, named after founder John Batman (1801-1839). All this happening, of course, way before the father of the creator of DC’s Batman was even born.
In the military, a ‘batman’ is an obsolete term for a soldier assigned to an officer as a ‘manservant’, and is tasked with ‘batting’, or basically being at the beck and call of your boss. You could say that the comic’s butler Alfred is a ‘Batman’ in his own way. In 1951, the Singapore Free Press published a report with the headline ‘Batman in theft case’, so it’s not the first time that a real-life ‘Batman’ has committed a crime.
A batman is also an ancient unit of mass, as defined by the Ottoman empire, roughly working out to be today’s 7.6 kg. The Turkish province Batman, the Batman River and the Batman airport all hint at a possible connection with the Javanese ‘Batman’. ‘But-man’ itself isn’t immune to mockery either (think ‘Buttman’). Either Batman bin Suparman’s parents are closet superhero geeks, or are well versed in the ancient Ottoman metric system. What the journo should have done to uncover the mystery of Batman as a first name, is to get a Javanese or Turkish phonebook rather than a local one. Only then will you get some insight into how, well, Batman Begins.