Given name

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Diagram of naming conventions, using John F. Kennedy as an example. "First names" can also be called given names or forenames; "last names" can also be called family names or surnames. This shows a structure typical for English-speaking cultures (and some others). Other cultures use other structures for full names. FML names-2.png
Diagram of naming conventions, using John F. Kennedy as an example. "First names" can also be called given names or forenames; "last names" can also be called family names or surnames. This shows a structure typical for English-speaking cultures (and some others). Other cultures use other structures for full names.
The sarcophagus of Queen Desideria at Riddarholm Church in Sweden. The name was given to Desiree Clary not at birth but when she was elected Crown Princess of Sweden in 1810. Desideria of Sweden & Norway grave 2007.jpg
The sarcophagus of Queen Desideria at Riddarholm Church in Sweden. The name was given to Désirée Clary not at birth but when she was elected Crown Princess of Sweden in 1810.

A given name (also known as a forename or first name) is the part of a personal name [1] that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the other members of a group (typically a family or clan) who have a common surname. The term given name refers to a name usually bestowed at or close to the time of birth, usually by the parents of the newborn. A Christian name is the first name which is given at baptism, in Christian custom.


In informal situations, given names are often used in a familiar and friendly manner. [1] In more formal situations, a person's surname is more commonly used. The idioms 'on a first-name basis' and 'being on first-name terms' refer to the familiarity inherent in addressing someone by their given name. [1]

By contrast, a surname (also known as a family name, last name, or gentile name) is normally inherited and shared with other members of one's immediate family. [2] Regnal names and religious or monastic names are special given names bestowed upon someone receiving a crown or entering a religious order; such a person then typically becomes known chiefly by that name.

Name order

The order given name – family name, commonly known as the Western order, is used throughout most European countries and in countries that have cultures predominantly influenced by European culture, including North and South America; North, East, Central and West India; Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

The order family name – given name, commonly known as the Eastern order, is primarily used in East Asia (for example in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysian Chinese, Singapore, and Vietnam, among others), as well as in Southern and North-Eastern parts of India, and as a standard in Hungary. This order is also used to various degrees and in specific contexts in other European countries, such as Austria and adjacent areas of Germany (that is, Bavaria), [note 1] and in France, Belgium, Greece and Italy [ citation needed ], possibly because of the influence of bureaucracy, which commonly puts the family name before the given name. In China and Korea, part of the given name may be shared among all members of a given generation within a family and extended family or families, in order to differentiate those generations from other generations.

The order given name – father's family name – mother's family name is commonly used in Spanish-speaking countries to acknowledge the families of both parents. Today the order can also be changed legally in Spain and Uruguay using given name – mother's family name – father's family name.

The order given name – mother's family name – father's family name is commonly used in Portuguese-speaking countries to acknowledge the families of both parents.

The order given name - father's given name - grandfather's given name (often referred to as triple name) is the official naming order used in Arabic countries (for example Saudi Arabia, Iraq and UAE).


In many Western cultures, people often have multiple given names. Most often the first one in sequence is the one that a person goes by, although exceptions are not uncommon, such as in the cases of John Edgar Hoover (J. Edgar) and Dame Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland (Barbara). The given name might also be used in compound form, as in, for example, John Paul or a hyphenated style like Bengt-Arne. A middle name might be part of compound given name or might be, instead, a maiden name, a patronymic, or a baptismal name. Sometimes, a given name is used as just an initial, especially in combination with the middle initial (such as with H. G. Wells), and more rarely as an initial while the middle name is not one (such as with L. Ron Hubbard).

The signature of Alexander Graham Bell. Alexander Graham Bell (signature).svg
The signature of Alexander Graham Bell.

In England, it was unusual for a person to have more than one given name until the seventeenth century when Charles James Stuart (King Charles I) was baptised with two names. That was a French fashion, which spread to the English aristocracy, following the royal example, then spread to the general population and became common by the end of the eighteenth century. [3]

Some double given names for women were used at the start of the eighteenth century but were used together as a unit: Anna Maria, Mary Anne and Sarah Jane. Those became stereotyped as the typical names of servants and so became unfashionable in the nineteenth century.

Double names are also common among Vietnamese names to make repeated name in the family. For example, Đặng Vũ Minh Anh and Đặng Vũ Minh Ánh, are two sisters with the given names Minh Anh and Minh Ánh.

A child's given name or names are usually chosen by the parents soon after birth. If a name is not assigned at birth, one may be given at a naming ceremony, with family and friends in attendance. In most jurisdictions, a child's name at birth is a matter of public record, inscribed on a birth certificate, or its equivalent. In western cultures, people normally retain the same given name throughout their lives. However, in some cases these names may be changed by following legal processes or by repute. People may also change their names when immigrating from one country to another with different naming conventions. [4]

In certain jurisdictions, a government-appointed registrar of births may refuse to register a name that may cause a child harm, which is considered offensive or which is deemed impractical. In France, the agency can refer the case to a local judge. Some jurisdictions, such as Sweden, restrict the spelling of names. [note 2] In Denmark, one does not need to register a given name for the child until the child is six months old, and in some cases, one can even wait a little longer than this, before the child gets an official name.

Origins and meanings

John, a name of Hebrew origin is very popular in the Western World, and has given many variants depending on the language: Shaun, Eoin, Ian, Juan, Ivan, and Yahya. Click on the image to see the diagram in full detail. Yohanan name evolution.svg
John , a name of Hebrew origin is very popular in the Western World, and has given many variants depending on the language: Shaun , Eoin , Ian , Juan , Ivan , and Yahya . Click on the image to see the diagram in full detail.

Parents may choose a name because of its meaning. This may be a personal or familial meaning, such as giving a child the name of an admired person, or it may be an example of nominative determinism, in which the parents give the child a name that they believe will be lucky or favourable for the child. Given names most often derive from the following categories:

English examples include numerous female names such as Faith, Prudence, Amanda (Latin: worthy of love); Blanche (white (pure));

Many were adopted from the 17th century in England to show respect to notable ancestry, usually given to nephews or male grandchildren of members of the great families concerned, from which the usage spread to general society. This was regardless of whether the family name concerned was in danger of dying out, for example with Howard, a family with many robust male lines over history. Notable examples include

In many cultures, given names are reused, especially to commemorate ancestors or those who are particularly admired, resulting in a limited repertoire of names that sometimes vary by orthography.

The most familiar example of this, to Western readers, is the use of Biblical and saints' names in most of the Christian countries (with Ethiopia, in which names were often ideals or abstractions—Haile Selassie, "power of the Trinity"; Haile Miriam, "power of Mary"—as the most conspicuous exception). However, the name Jesus is considered taboo or sacrilegious in some parts of the Christian world, though this taboo does not extend to the cognate Joshua or related forms which are common in many languages even among Christians. In some Spanish speaking countries, the name Jesus is considered a normal given name.

Similarly, the name Mary, now popular among Christians, particularly Roman Catholics, was considered too holy for secular use until about the 12th century. In countries that particularly venerated Mary, this remained the case much longer; in Poland, until the arrival in the 17th century of French queens named Marie. [27]

Most common given names in English (and many other European languages) can be grouped into broad categories based on their origin:

Frequently, a given name has versions in many different languages. For example, the biblical name Susanna also occurs in its original biblical Hebrew version, Shoshannah, its Spanish and Portuguese version Susana, its French version, Suzanne, its Polish version, Zuzanna, or its Hungarian version, Zsuzsanna .

East Asia

Despite the uniformity of Chinese surnames, some Chinese given names are fairly original because Chinese characters can be combined extensively. Unlike European languages, with their Biblical and Greco-Roman heritage, the Chinese language does not have a particular set of words reserved for given names: any combination of Chinese characters can theoretically be used as a given name. Nonetheless, a number of popular characters commonly recur, including "Strong" (, Wěi), "Learned" (, Wén), "Peaceful" (, Ān), and "Beautiful" (, Měi). Despite China's increasing urbanization, a great many names such as "Pine" (, Sōng) and "Plum" (, Méi) also still reference nature.

Most Chinese given names are two characters long and despite the examples above the two characters together may mean nothing at all. Instead, they may be selected to include particular sounds, tones, or radicals; to balance the Chinese elements of a child's birth chart; or to honor a generation poem handed down through the family for centuries. Traditionally, it is considered an affront. not an honor, to have a newborn named after an older relative and so full names are rarely passed down through a family in the manner of American English Seniors,Juniors, III, etc. Similarly, it is considered disadvantageous for the child to bear a name already made famous by someone else although their romanizations maybe identical, and a common name like Liu Xiang may be borne by tens of thousands.

Korean names and Vietnamese names are often simply conventions derived from Classical Chinese counterparts.[ citation needed ]

Many female Japanese names end in -ko (), usually meaning "child" on its own. However, the character when used in given names can have a feminine (adult) connotation.

In many Westernised Asian locations, many Asians also have an unofficial or even registered Western (typically English) given name, in addition to their Asian given name. This is also true for Asian students at colleges in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia as well as among international businesspeople. [ citation needed ]


Most names in English are traditionally masculine (Hugo, James, Harold) or feminine (Daphne, Charlotte, Jane), but there are unisex names as well, such as Jordan, Jamie, Jesse, Morgan, Leslie/Lesley, Joe/Jo, Jackie, Pat, Dana, Alex, Chris/Kris, Randy/Randi, Lee, etc. Often, use for one gender is predominant. Also, a particular spelling is often more common for either men or women, even if the pronunciation is the same.

Many culture groups, past and present, did not or do not gender names strongly, so that many or all of their names are unisex. On the other hand, in many languages including most Indo-European languages (but not English), gender is inherent in the grammar. Some countries have laws preventing unisex names, requiring parents to give their children sex-specific names. [28] Names may have different gender connotations from country to country or language to language.

Within anthroponymic classification, names of human males are called andronyms (from Ancient Greek ἀνήρ / man, and ὄνυμα [ὄνομα] / name), [29] while names of human females are called gynonyms (from Ancient Greek γυνή / woman, and ὄνυμα [ὄνομα] / name). [30]


Most popular US baby names from 1880 to 2012 USA historical popular baby names.svg
Most popular US baby names from 1880 to 2012

The popularity (frequency) distribution of given names typically follows a power law distribution.

Since about 1800 in England and Wales and in the U.S., the popularity distribution of given names has been shifting so that the most popular names are losing popularity. For example, in England and Wales, the most popular female and male names given to babies born in 1800 were Mary and John, with 24% of female babies and 22% of male babies receiving those names, respectively. [31] In contrast, the corresponding statistics for England and Wales in 1994 were Emily and James, with 3% and 4% of names, respectively. Not only have Mary and John gone out of favour in the English speaking world, the overall distribution of names has also changed significantly over the last 100 years for females, but not for males. This has led to an increasing amount of diversity for female names. [32]

Choice of names

Education, ethnicity, religion, class and political ideology affect parents' choice of names. Politically conservative parents choose common and traditional names, while politically liberal parents choose the names of literary characters or other relatively obscure cultural figures. [33] Devout members of religions often choose names from their religious scriptures. For example, Hindu parents may name a daughter Saanvi after the goddess, Jewish parents may name a boy Isaac after one of the earliest ancestral figures, and Muslim parents may name a boy Mohammed after the prophet Mohammed.

There are many tools parents can use to choose names, including books, websites and applications. An example is the Baby Name Game that uses the Elo rating system to rank parents preferred names and help them select one. [34]

Popular culture appears to have an influence on naming trends, at least in the United States and United Kingdom. Newly famous celebrities and public figures may influence the popularity of names. For example, in 2004, the names "Keira" and "Kiera" (anglicisation of Irish name Ciara) respectively became the 51st and 92nd most popular girls' names in the UK, following the rise in popularity of British actress Keira Knightley. [35] In 2001, the use of Colby as a boys' name for babies in the United States jumped from 233rd place to 99th, just after Colby Donaldson was the runner-up on Survivor: The Australian Outback .[ citation needed ] Also, the female name "Miley" which before was not in the top 1000 was 278th most popular in 2007, following the rise to fame of singer-actress Miley Cyrus (who was named Destiny at birth). [36]

Characters from fiction also seem to influence naming. After the name Kayla was used for a character on the American soap opera Days of Our Lives , the name's popularity increased greatly. The name Tammy, and the related Tamara became popular after the movie Tammy and the Bachelor came out in 1957. Some names were established or spread by being used in literature. Notable examples include Pamela, invented by Sir Philip Sidney for a pivotal character in his epic prose work, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia ; Jessica, created by William Shakespeare in his play The Merchant of Venice ; Vanessa, created by Jonathan Swift; Fiona, a character from James Macpherson's spurious cycle of Ossian poems; Wendy, an obscure name popularised by J. M. Barrie in his play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up ; and Madison, a character from the movie Splash . Lara and Larissa were rare in America before the appearance of Doctor Zhivago, and have become fairly common since.

Songs can influence the naming of children. Jude jumped from 814th most popular male name in 1968 to 668th in 1969, following the release of the Beatles' "Hey Jude". Similarly, Layla charted as 969th most popular in 1972 after the Eric Clapton song. It had not been in the top 1,000 before. [36] Kayleigh became a particularly popular name in the United Kingdom following the release of a song by the British rock group Marillion. Government statistics in 2005 revealed that 96% of Kayleighs were born after 1985, the year in which Marillion released "Kayleigh". [ citation needed ]

Popular culture figures need not be admirable in order to influence naming trends. For example, Peyton came into the top 1000 as a female given name for babies in the United States for the first time in 1992 (at #583), immediately after it was featured as the name of an evil nanny in the film The Hand That Rocks the Cradle . [36] On the other hand, historical events can influence child-naming. For example, the given name Adolf has fallen out of use since the end of World War II in 1945.

In contrast with these anecdotal evidence, a comprehensive study of Norwegian first name datasets [37] shows that the main factors that govern first name dynamics are endogenous. Monitoring the popularity of 1,000 names along 130 years, the authors have identified only five cases of exogenous effects, three of them are connected to the names given to the babies of the Norwegian royal family.

20th century African-American names

Since the civil rights movement of 1950–1970, African-American names given to children have strongly mirrored sociopolitical movements and philosophies in the African American community. Since the 1970s neologistic (creative, inventive) practices have become increasingly common and the subject of academic study. [38]

See also


  1. However, the family name – given name order is used only in informal or traditional contexts. The official naming order in Austria and Bavaria is given name – family name.
  2. Protesting Swedish naming laws, in 1996, two parents attempted to name their child Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, stating that it was "a pregnant, expressionistic development that we see as an artistic creation". [5]

Related Research Articles

Surname conventions and laws vary around the world. This article gives an overview of surnames around the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Surname</span> Part of a naming scheme for individuals, used in many cultures worldwide

In some cultures, a surname, family name, or last name is the portion of one's personal name that indicates one's family, tribe or community.

Chinese names or Chinese personal names are names used by individuals from Greater China and other parts of the Chinese-speaking world throughout East and Southeast Asia (ESEA). In addition, many names used in Japan, Korea and Vietnam are often ancient adaptations of Chinese characters in respect to the influences they have garnered geographically or have historical roots in Chinese, due to China's historic cultural influence in ESEA.

Japanese names in modern times consist of a family name (surname) followed by a given name, in that order. Nevertheless, when a Japanese name is written in the Roman alphabet, ever since the Meiji era, the official policy has been to cater to Western expectations and reverse the order. As of 2019, the government has stated its intention to change this policy. Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are characters mostly Chinese in origin but Japanese in pronunciation. The pronunciation of Japanese kanji in names follows a special set of rules, though parents are able to choose pronunciations; many foreigners find it difficult to read kanji names because of parents being able to choose which pronunciations they want for certain kanji, though most pronunciations chosen are common when used in names. Some kanji are banned for use in names, such as the kanji for "weak" and "failure", amongst others.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Name</span> Word or term used for identification by an external observer

A name is a term used for identification by an external observer. They can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context. The entity identified by a name is called its referent. A personal name identifies, not necessarily uniquely, a specific individual human. The name of a specific entity is sometimes called a proper name and is, when consisting of only one word, a proper noun. Other nouns are sometimes called "common names" or (obsolete) "general names". A name can be given to a person, place, or thing; for example, parents can give their child a name or a scientist can give an element a name.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unisex name</span> Given name used for multiple genders

A unisex name is a given name that is not gender-specific. Unisex names are common in the English-speaking world, especially in the United States. By contrast, some countries have laws preventing unisex names, requiring parents to give their children sex-specific names. In other countries or cultures, social norms oppose such names and transgressions may result in discrimination, ridicule, and psychological abuse.

Chinese given names are the given names adopted by speakers of the Chinese language, both in majority-Sinophone countries and among the Chinese diaspora.

A Hawaiian name is a name in the Hawaiian language. Such names are popular not only in Hawaiian families, but also among other residents of Hawaii, and even in the United States mainland among both non-native and native Hawaiians.

Indonesian names and naming customs reflect the multicultural and multilingual nature of the over 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The world's fourth most populous nation, Indonesia is home to more than 1300 ethnic groups, each with their own culture, custom, and language. The Javanese are the largest single group, comprising around 40 percent of Indonesia's total population.

Hungarian names include surnames and given names. Occasionally there are more than one of the latter, but normally just one is used. In the Hungarian language, whether written or spoken, these names are invariably given in the "Eastern name order", or family name followed by given name. The Hungarian language is one of the few national languages in Europe to use the Eastern name order, among languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and some Basque nationalists.

French names typically consist of one or multiple given names, and a surname. Usually one given name and the surname are used in a person’s daily life, with the other given names used mainly in official documents. Middle names, in the English sense, do not exist. Initials are not used to represent second or further given names.

Polish names have two main elements: the given name, and the surname. The usage of personal names in Poland is generally governed by civil law, church law, personal taste and family custom.

Dutch names consist of one or more given names and a surname. The given name is usually gender-specific.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bulgarian name</span> Name system

The Bulgarian name system has considerable similarities with most other European name systems, and with those of other Slavic peoples such as the Russian name system, although it has certain unique features.

A Lithuanian personal name, as in most European cultures, consists of two main elements: the given name followed by the family name. The usage of personal names in Lithuania is generally governed by three major factors: civil law, canon law, and tradition. Lithuanian names always follow the rules of the Lithuanian language. Lithuanian male names have preserved the Indo-European masculine endings. These gendered endings are preserved even for foreign names.

In Finland, a person must have a surname and at least one given name with up to three middle names permitted. Surnames are inherited either patrilineally or matrilineally, while given names are usually chosen by a person's parents. Finnish names come from a variety of dissimilar traditions that were consolidated only in the early 20th century. The first national act on names came into force in 1921, and it made surnames mandatory. Between 1930 and 1985, the Western Finnish tradition whereby a married woman took her husband's surname was mandatory. Previously in Eastern Finland, this was not necessarily the case. On 1 January 2019, the reformed Act on Forenames and Surnames came into force.

A Turkish name consists of an ad or an isim and a soyadı or soyisim (surname). Turkish names exist in a "full name" format. While there is only one soyadı (surname) in the full name there may be more than one ad. Married women may carry both their maiden and husband's surnames. The soyadı is written as the last element of the full name, after all given names.

English names are names used in, or originating in, England. In England as elsewhere in the English-speaking world, a complete name usually consists of a given name, commonly referred to as a first name, and a family name or surname, also referred to as a last name. There can be several given names, some of these being often referred to as a second name, or middle name(s).

A name in Romanian tradition consists of a given name (prenume) and a family name (surname). In official documents, surnames usually appear before given names.

The United States has very few laws governing given names. This freedom has given rise to a wide variety of names and naming trends. Naming traditions play a role in the cohesion and communication within American cultures. Cultural diversity in the U.S. has led to great variations in names and naming traditions and names have been used to express creativity, personality, cultural identity, and values.


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