Personal name

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First/given, middle and last/family/surname with John Fitzgerald Kennedy as example. This shows a structure typical for the Anglosphere, among others. Other cultures use other structures for full names. FML names-2.png
First/given, middle and last/family/surname with John Fitzgerald Kennedy as example. This shows a structure typical for the Anglosphere, among others. Other cultures use other structures for full names.

A personal name, or full name, in onomastic terminology also known as prosoponym (from Ancient Greek πρόσωπον / prósōpon - person, and ὄνομα / onoma - name), [1] is the set of names by which an individual person is known, and that can be recited as a word-group, with the understanding that, taken together, they all relate to that one individual. [2] In many cultures, the term is synonymous with the birth name or legal name of the individual. In linguistic classification, personal names are studied within a specific onomastic discipline, called anthroponymy. [3]


In Western culture, nearly all individuals possess at least one given name (also known as a first name, forename, or Christian name), together with a surname (also known as a last name or family name)—respectively, the Abraham and Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln—the latter to indicate that the individual belongs to a family, a tribe, or a clan. Where there are two or more given names, typically only one (in English-speaking cultures usually the first) is used in normal speech.

Another naming convention that is used mainly in the Arabic culture and in different other areas across Africa and Asia is connecting the person's given name with a chain of names, starting with the name of the person's father and then the father's father and so on, usually ending with the family name (tribe or clan name). However, the legal full name of a person usually contains the first three names with the family name at the end, to limit the name in government-issued ID. The wife's name does not change after marriage, and it follows the naming convention described above. [4]

Some cultures, including Western ones, also add (or once added) patronymics or matronymics. For instance, as a middle name as with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (whose father's given name was Ilya), or as a last name as with Björk Guðmundsdóttir (whose father is named Guðmundur) or Heiðar Helguson (whose mother was named Helga). Similar concepts are present in Eastern cultures.

However, in some areas of the world, many people are known by a single name, and so are said to be mononymous. Still other cultures lack the concept of specific, fixed names designating people, either individually or collectively. Certain isolated tribes, such as the Machiguenga of the Amazon, do not use personal names. [lower-roman 1]

A person's full name usually identifies that person for legal and administrative purposes, although it may not be the name by which the person is commonly known; some people use only a portion of their full name, or are known by titles, nicknames, pseudonyms or other formal or informal designations.

It is nearly universal for people to have names; the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that a child has the right to a name from birth. [7]


Common components of names given at birth include:

Some people (called anonyms) choose to be anonymous, that is, to hide their true names, for fear of governmental prosecution or social ridicule of their works or actions. Another method to disguise one's identity is to employ a pseudonym.

For some people, their name is a single word, known as a mononym. This can be true from birth, or occur later in life. For example, Teller, of the magician duo Penn and Teller, was named Raymond Joseph Teller at birth, but changed his name both legally and socially to be simply "Teller". In some official government documents, such as his driver's license, his given name is listed as NFN, an initialism for "no first name".

The Inuit believe that the souls of the namesakes are one, so they traditionally refer to the junior namesakes, not just by the names (atiq), but also by kinship title, which applies across gender and generation without implications of disrespect or seniority. In Judaism, someone's name is considered intimately connected with his fate, and adding a name (e.g. on the sickbed) may avert a particular danger. Among Ashkenazi Jews it is also considered bad luck to take the name of a living ancestor, as the Angel of Death may mistake the younger person for his namesake (although there is no such custom among Sephardi Jews). Jews may also have a Jewish name for intra-community use and use a different name when engaging with the Gentile world.

Chinese children are called diminutive or pejorative names to make them appear worthless to evil spirits. They receive a definitive name as they grow up.[ citation needed ] Chinese and Japanese emperors receive posthumous names.

In some Polynesian cultures, the name of a deceased chief becomes taboo. If he is named after a common object or concept, a different word has to be used for it.

Depending on national convention, additional given names (and sometimes titles) are considered part of the name.

Feudal names

The royalty, nobility, and gentry of Europe traditionally have many names, including phrases for the lands that they own. The French developed the method of putting the term by which the person is referred in small capital letters. It is this habit which transferred to names of the Far East, as seen below. An example is that of Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch Gilbert du Motier, who is known as the Marquis de Lafayette . Note that he possessed both the lands of Motier and Lafayette.

The bare place name was used formerly to refer to the person who owned it, rather than the land itself (the word "Gloucester" in "What will Gloucester do?" meant the Duke of Gloucester). As a development, the bare name of a ship in the Royal Navy meant its captain (e.g., "Cressy didn't learn from Aboukir") while the name with an article referred to the ship (e.g., "The Cressy is foundering").

Naming conventions

A personal naming system, or anthroponymic system, is a system describing the choice of personal name in a certain society. Personal names consists of one or more parts, such as given name, surname and patronymic. Personal naming systems are studied within the field of anthroponymy.

In contemporary Western societies (except for Iceland, Hungary, and sometimes Flanders, depending on the occasion), the most common naming convention is that a person must have a given name, which is usually gender-specific, followed by the parents' family name. In onomastic terminology, given names of male persons are called andronyms (from Ancient Greek ἀνήρ / man, and ὄνομα / name), [8] while given names of female persons are called gynonyms (from Ancient Greek γυνή / woman, and ὄνομα / name). [9]

Some given names are bespoke, but most are repeated from earlier generations in the same culture. Many are drawn from mythology, some of which span multiple language areas. This has resulted in related names in different languages (e.g. George, Georg, Jorge), which might be translated or might be maintained as immutable proper nouns.

In earlier times, Scandinavian countries followed patronymic naming, with people effectively called "X's son/daughter"; this is now the case only in Iceland and was recently re-introduced as an option in the Faroe Islands. It is legally possible in Finland as people of Icelandic ethnic naming are specifically named in the name law. When people of this name convert to standards of other cultures, the phrase is often condensed into one word, creating last names like Jacobsen (Jacob's Son). In Kafirstan (now part of Pakistan) "Children are named as soon as born. The infant is given to the mother to suckle, while a wise woman rapidly recites the family ancestral names; the name pronounced at the instant the baby begins to feed is that by which it is thereafter known." [10]

There is a range of personal naming systems: [11]

Different cultures have different conventions for personal names. This is a list of articles about particular cultures' naming conventions.

Name order

Haruko Momoi at the Anime Expo 2007 in Los Angeles; her name card features a spelling of her name ("Halko Momoi") written in Western order; in Japanese her name is Tao Jing haruko
Momoi Haruko MomoiExpoCrop.png
Haruko Momoi at the Anime Expo 2007 in Los Angeles; her name card features a spelling of her name ("Halko Momoi") written in Western order; in Japanese her name is 桃井はるこMomoi Haruko

Western name order

The order given name, family name is commonly known as the Western order and is usually used in most European countries and in countries that have cultures predominantly influenced by Western Europe (e.g. North and South America, North, East, Central and West India, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines).

Within alphabetic lists and catalogs, however, the family name is generally put first, with the given name(s) following, separated from it by a comma (e.g. Smith, John), representing the "lexical name order". This convention is followed by most Western libraries, as well as on many administrative forms.

Eastern name order

The order family name, given name is commonly known as the Eastern order and is primarily used in East Asia (for example in China, Japan and Korea), as well as in Southeast Asia (Cambodia and Vietnam), and southern and north eastern parts of India, and also in Hungary.

When East Asian names are transliterated into the Latin alphabet, some people prefer to convert them to the Western order, while others leave them in the Eastern order but write the family name in capital letters. To avoid confusion, there is a convention in some language communities, e.g. French, to write the family name in all capitals when engaging in formal correspondence or writing for an international audience. In Hungarian, the Eastern order of Japanese names is officially kept and Hungarian transliteration is used (e.g. Mijazaki Hajao), but Western name order is also sometimes used with English transliteration (e.g. Hayao Miyazaki).

Chinese people, except for those traveling or living outside of China and areas influenced by China, rarely reverse their Chinese language names to the western naming order (given name, then family name), but some may have non-Chinese given names which may use a different order.[ citation needed ] Western publications usually preserve the Chinese naming order, with the family name first, followed by the given name. In regard to Japanese names, most foreign publications reverse the names of modern individuals, and most Japanese reverse their own names when creating materials for foreign consumption. [12] In popular journalism publications, western order is used for Japanese names. [13]

Japanese names of contemporary people and Hungarian names are usually "switched" when people who have such names are mentioned in media in Western countries; for example, Koizumi Jun'ichirō is known as Junichiro Koizumi in English, and Puskás Ferenc is known as Ferenc Puskás. But Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese names are usually left in East Asian order; for instance, in English, Máo Zédōng is known as Mao Zedong or Mao Tse-tung.

Names of Japanese or Chinese sportspeople generally follow the above conventions. For Japanese examples, see Ichiro Suzuki instead of Suzuki Ichirō (although he is widely known simply as "Ichiro" in both Japan and North America), or Hidetoshi Nakata instead of Nakata Hidetoshi. As for Chinese sportspeople, Yáo Míng is Yao Ming and Liú Xiáng is Liu Xiang in the West.[ citation needed ]

Names of Korean sportspeople may be rendered in East Asian or Western order in Western countries, apparently depending on the sport. For example, names of Korean footballers and most athletes are usually left in East Asian order (e.g. Ahn Jung-hwan, Hong Myung-bo, Park Ji-Sung, Sohn Kee-chung, Hwang Young-cho). Baseball, billiards, golf, and ice hockey players' names are usually changed to Western order (for example: baseball player Park Chan-Ho is referred to in the West as Chan-ho Park, and the female golfer Pak Se-ri is known in the West as Se-Ri Pak). Confusion can be avoided by noticing that in all the above cases, the words linked by a hyphen are the given name.[ citation needed ]

Mordvins use two names - a Mordvin name and a Russian name. The Mordvin name is written in the Eastern name order. Usually, the Mordvin surname is the same as the Russian surname, for example Sharonon Sandra (Russian: Alexander Sharonov), but it can be different at times, for example Yovlan Olo (Russian: Vladimir Romashkin).

Mongolians use the Eastern naming order (patronymic followed by given name), which is also used there when rendering the names of other East Asians and Hungarians. Russian and other Western names, however, are still written in Western order.

Non-human personal names

Apart from the Linnaean taxonomy, some humans give individual non-human animals and plants names, usually of endearment.

In onomastic classification, names of individual animals are called zoonyms, [14] while names of individual plants are called phytonyms. [15]

Names of pets

Pet names often reflect the owner's view of the animal, and their expectations they have for their companion. [16] [17] It has been argued that giving names allows researchers to view their pets as ontologically different from unnamed laboratory animals with which they work. [18]

The name given to a pet may refer to its appearance [19] or personality, [20] or be chosen for endearment, [21] or in honor of a favorite celebrity. [22]

Many pet owners give human names to their pets. This has been shown to reflect the owner having a human-like relationship with the pet. [23]

In some cultures, pets or sporting animals are sometimes given names similar to human names. Other cultures, such as the Chinese, give animals nonhuman names because it would be seen as offensive and disrespectful to the person of the same name.[ citation needed ]

Dolphin names for each other

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims that humans are not the only animals that use personal names. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Wilmington studying bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, found that the dolphins had names for each other. [24] A dolphin chooses its name as an infant. [25]

See also


  1. The Machiguenga may have nicknames, but generally refer to each other by how they are related. They may disambiguate with biographical information, such as "sister, the one who slipped in the river". [5] [6]

Related Research Articles

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

A patronymic, or patronym, is a component of a personal name based on the given name of one's father, grandfather (avonymic), or an earlier male ancestor. A component of a name based on the name of one's mother or a female ancestor is a matronymic. A name based on the name of one's child is a teknonymic or paedonymic. Each is a means of conveying lineage.

Surname Part of a naming scheme for individuals, used in many cultures worldwide

A surname, family name, or last name is the portion of a personal name that indicates a person's family.

Chinese personal names are names used by those from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and other parts of the Chinese-speaking world such as Singapore. Due to China's historical dominance of East Asian culture, many names used in Korea and Vietnam are adaptations of Chinese names or have historical roots in Chinese, with appropriate adaptation to accommodate linguistic differences.

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 official policy has been to cater to Western expectations and reverse the order, but recently the government has stated its intention to change this policy. Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are characters usually Chinese in origin but Japanese in pronunciation. The pronunciation of kanji Japanese names follow a special set of rules. Parents also have the option of using hiragana or katakana when giving a birth name to their newborn child. Names written in hiragana or katakana are phonetic renderings, and so lack the visual meaning of names expressed in the logographic kanji.

Name Word or term used for identification

A name is a term used for identification. 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.

Given name Name typically used to differentiate people from the same family, clan, or other social group who have a common last name

A given name is the part of a personal name that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the other members of a group who have a common surname. The term given name refers to a name 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.

Middle name

In several cultures, a middle name is a portion of a personal name that is written between the person's first given name and their surname.

Icelandic name

Icelandic names are names used by people from Iceland. Icelandic surnames are different from most other naming systems in the modern Western world by being patronymic or occasionally matronymic: they indicate the father of the child and not the historic family lineage. Iceland shares a common cultural heritage with the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Norway, and Sweden. Unlike other Nordics, Icelanders have continued to use their traditional name system, which was formerly used by all Nordic countries except partly Finland. The Icelandic system is thus not based on family names. Generally, with few exceptions, a person's last name indicates the first name of their father (patronymic) or in some cases mother (matronymic) in the genitive, followed by -son ("son") or -dóttir ("daughter").

Eastern Slavic naming customs

Eastern Slavic naming customs are the traditional way of identifying a person's given name and patronymic name in countries formerly part of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.

Indonesian names and naming customs reflect the multicultural and polyglot nature of the over 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The world's fourth most populous nation, Indonesia is home to approximately 365 ethnic groups, each with their own culture, customs, and language. The state officially recognises more than 300 of these ethnic groups. The Javanese are the largest single group, comprising around 40 percent of Indonesia's population.

Filipinos have various naming customs. They most commonly blend the older Spanish system and Anglo-American conventions, where there is a distinction between the "Christian name" and the "surname". The construct containing several middle names is common to all systems, but having multiple "first" names and only one middle and last name is a result of the blending of American and Spanish naming customs. The Tagalog language is one of the few national languages in Asia to practically use the Western name order while formally using the eastern name order. The Philippine naming custom is identical to the Spanish and Portuguese name customs and, to an extent, Chinese naming customs.

Indian names are based on a variety of systems and naming conventions, which vary from region to region. Names are also influenced by religion and caste and may come from epics. India's population speaks a wide variety of languages and nearly every major religion in the world has a following in India. This variety makes for subtle, often confusing, differences in names and naming styles. Due to historical Indian cultural influences, several names across South and Southeast Asia are influenced by or adapted from Indian names or words.

Mongolian names have undergone a number of changes in the history of Mongolia, both with regard to their meaning and their source languages. In modern day, Inner Mongolian naming customs are similar to Mongolia, but do display some differences.

Personal names in Malaysia vary greatly according to ethno-cultural group. Personal names are, to a certain degree, regulated by the national registration department, especially since the introduction of the National Registration Identity Card (NRIC).

The naming convention used in Eritrea and Ethiopia does not have family names and typically consists of an individual personal name and a separate patronymic. This is similar to Arabic, Icelandic, and Somali naming conventions. Traditionally for the Habesha peoples (Eritrean-Ethiopians), the lineage is traced paternally; legislation has been passed in Eritrea that allows for this to be done on the maternal side as well.

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.

This article features the naming culture of personal names of ethnic Serbs and the Serbian language. Serbian names are rendered in the "Western name order" with the surname placed after the given name. "Eastern name order" may be used when multiple names appear in a sorted list, particularly in official notes and legal documents when the last name is capitalized.

Cambodian names usually consist of two elements including a patronymic, which serves as a common family name for siblings, followed by a given name. Surname then given name. An example is famous singer Sin Sisamouth, his surname is Sin and his given name is Sisamouth. Traditionally, the Khmer do not have Western-style family names shared by multiple generations or entire families. Instead, Khmer children use their father's given name as their family name. Other Austroasiatic indigenous people groups within Cambodia have similar naming customs, while the Sino-Khmer and Viet-Khmer may follow Chinese and Vietnamese naming patterns, respectively. Chams in Cambodia may have either Khmer or Cham names or a combination of both. Cham name order is the reverse of the Khmer; the given name is followed by the father's given name.

Mononymous person Individual who is known and addressed by a single name

A mononymous person is an individual who is known and addressed by a single name, or mononym. In some cases, that name has been selected by the individual, who may have originally been given a polynym. In other cases, it has been determined by the custom of the country or by some interested segment. In the case of historical figures, it may be the only one of the individual's names that has survived and is still known today.


  1. Keats-Rohan 2007, p. 164-165.
  2. Room 1996, p. 79.
  3. Room 1996, p. 8.
  4. "The Arabic Naming System" (PDF). 28 (1): 20–21. February 2005.
  5. Snell, Wayne W (1964). Kinship relations in Machiguenga. pp. 17–25
  6. Johnson, Allen W. Families of the forest: the Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. University of California Press, 2003. pp. 9–10. Retrieved from Google Books on 1 April 2012. ISBN   978-0-520-23242-6.
  7. Text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 entry into force 2 September 1990, in accordance with article 49, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  8. Room 1996, p. 6.
  9. Barolini 2005, p. 91, 98.
  10. Robertson, George Scott (1911). "Kafiristan"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  11. Hanks, Patrick; Parkin, Harry (2016). "Family names". In Carole Hough (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 214. ISBN   9780191630415.
  12. Terry, Edith. How Asia Got Rich: Japan, China and the Asian Miracle. M.E. Sharpe, 2002. 632. Retrieved from Google Books on 7 August 2011. ISBN   0-7656-0356-X, ISBN   9780765603562.
  13. Saeki, Shizuka. "First Name Terms." Look Japan . June 2001. Volume 47, No. 543. p. 35.
  14. Room 1996, p. 106.
  15. Room 1996, p. 80.
  16. The complete idiot's guide to pet psychic communication, Debbie McGillivray, Eve Adamson, Alpha Books, 2004, ISBN   1-59257-214-6, ISBN   978-1-59257-214-4
  17. Adopting a Pet For Dummies Page 10, By Eve Adamson
  18. Proper names and the social construction of biography: The negative case of laboratory animals, Mary T. Phillips, Qualitative Sociology, Volume 17, Number 2, SpringerLink
  19. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 1, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  20. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 2, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  21. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 4, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  22. What celebrity would you name your pet after?, by Margaret Lyons, 28 September 2009, Entertainment Weekly
  23. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 3, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  24. "Dolphins, like humans, recognize names, May 9, 2006,CNN". Archived from the original on 2 June 2006.
  25. Dolphins Name Themselves, By Bjorn Carey, posted: 8 May 2006,


Further reading