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How To Tell The Difference Between Dato', Datuk, Dato' Seri & Other Titles

I also got confused trying to write this.

Cover image via Parliment of Malaysia

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Dato' and Datuk: Which spelling is correct?

Actually, they're both correct but the difference between them lies in the context of their usage and the level of prestige associated with each respective title.

These are just two of the many honorary titles used in Malaysia.

Image via Know Your Meme

What are honorary titles?

Honorary titles are a form of recognition and respect bestowed upon individuals for their notable contributions, achievements, or services to society.

Firstly, what you need to understand is there are two types of honorary titles — federal and state titles.

Federal titles are often considered higher in prestige due to the fact that they are bestowed by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA)

Recipients of federal awards are recognised for their contributions or achievements with a nationwide impact.

State titles are typically awarded by the respective heads of states, either by sultans or governors in states that don't have rulers like Penang, Melaka, Sabah, and Sarawak

They are more localised in their recognition, focusing on contributions and services within the specific state where the title is conferred.

Now, let's delve into the differences between the perpetually confusing titles

Dato' vs Datuk

Datuk Nicol Ann David

Image via New Straits Times

Even though they're pronounced similarly, they are indeed different.

Simply put, Dato' is awarded by one of the nine state rulers while Datuk is bestowed by the YDPA or governors in other states (except Penang, which uses Dato' only), according to Penang Infrastructure and Transport Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari's website.

Dato' Seri vs Datuk Seri

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim

Image via Bernama/New Straits Times

Dato' Seri is the highest state award granted by one of the nine state rulers. 

On the other hand, Datuk Seri is bestowed by the YDPA or governors.

Then, what about Dato' Sri and Dato' Seri?

Well, it's more of a spelling thing, and it depends on the state.

While Dato' Sri is only conferred by the Sultan of Pahang, the rulers of the other eight states award Dato' Seri.

And no, there isn't such a thing as Datuk Sri.

How about Tun & Tan Sri?

Tun Dr Mathathir Mohammad (left) & Tan Sri Dato' Seri Michelle Yeoh (right)

Image via New Straits Times

They are both federal titles, however, Tun is considered the most prestigious award in Malaysia. There may not be more than 35 living Malaysian Tun holders at any one time. A notable example would be Tun Dr Mathathir Mohammad.

Meanwhile, Tan Sri ranks just below Tun and shares equivalent rank with state titles Dato' Sri and Dato' Seri. For example, Michelle Yeoh, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress, gained the title of Tan Sri in 2013.

Datukships can be bought, but some could be fake. Here's how you can check online:

Did you hear that Michelle Yeoh will be getting her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

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