A personal name, or full name, in onomastic terminology also known as prosoponym (from Ancient Greek πρόσωπον / prósōpon - person, and ὄνομα / onoma - name), 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. 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.
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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). In the name "Abraham Lincoln", for example, Abraham is the first name and Lincoln is the surname. Surnames in the West generally indicate that the individual belongs to a family, a tribe, or a clan, although the exact relationships vary: they may be given at birth, taken upon adoption, changed upon marriage, and so on. 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 (given name, father's name, father's father's name) and the family name at the end, to limit the name in government-issued ID. Men's names and women's names are constructed using the same convention, and a person's name is not altered if they are married.
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.[i]
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.
Common components of names given at birth include:
In Spain and most Latin American countries, two surnames are used, one being the father's family name and the other being the mother's family name. In Spain, though, the second surname is frequently used if the first one is too common to allow an easy identification. For example, Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is often called Zapatero. In Argentina, only the father's last name is used, in most cases.
In Portugal, Brazil and most other Portuguese-speaking countries, at least two surnames are used, often three or four, typically some or none inherited from the mother and some or all inherited from the father, in that order. Co-parental siblings most often share an identical string of surnames. For collation, shortening, and formal addressing, the last of these surnames is typically preferred. A Portuguese man named António de Oliveira Guterres would therefore be known commonly as António Guterres.
In Russia, the first name and family name conform to the usual Western practice, but the middle name is patronymic. Thus, all the children of Ivan Volkov would be named "[first name] Ivanovich Volkov" if male, or "[first name] Ivanovna Volkova" if female (-ovich meaning "son of", -ovna meaning "daughter of", and -a usually being appended to the surnames of girls). However, in formal Russian name order, the surname comes first, followed by the given name and patronymic, such as "Raskolnikov Rodion Romanovich".
In many families, single or multiple middle names are simply alternative names, names honoring an ancestor or relative, or, for married women, sometimes their maiden names. In some traditions, however, the roles of the first and middle given names are reversed, with the first given name being used to honor a family member and the middle name being used as the usual method to address someone informally. Many Catholic families choose a saint's name as their child's middle name or this can be left until the child's confirmation when they choose a saint's name for themselves. Cultures that use patronymics or matronymics will often give middle names to distinguish between two similarly named people: e.g., Einar Karl Stefánsson and Einar Guðmundur Stefánsson. This is especially done in Iceland (as shown in example) where people are known and referred to almost exclusively by their given name/s.
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 their 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 their 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. 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.
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 Eastern Asia, 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").
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), while given names of female persons are called gynonyms (from Ancient Greek γυνή / woman, and ὄνομα / name).
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 Afghanistan) "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."
There is a range of personal naming systems:
Different cultures have different conventions for personal names. This is a list of articles about particular cultures' naming conventions.
The order given name, family name is commonly known as the Western name 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; Thailand; Laos; 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. In some countries, such as France and the former Soviet Union, the comma may be dropped and the swapped form of the name be uttered as such, perceived as a mark of bureaucratic formality.
The order family name, given name is commonly known as the Eastern name order began prominently used in Ancient China and subsequently influenced the East Asian cultural sphere (China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam) along with Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia (especially among the Chinese communities). It is also used in the southern and northeastern parts of India, as well as in Central Europe by Hungarians.
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, that the family name should be written 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. hu:Mijazaki Hajao), but Western name order is also sometimes used with English transliteration (e.g. Hayao Miyazaki).
Starting from the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Western name order was primarily used among the Japanese nobility when identifying themselves to non-Asians with their romanized names. As a result, in popular Western journalism publications, this order became increasingly used for Japanese names in the subsequent decades. This ended in 2020 as the Government of Japan reverted the order of romanized names back to the Eastern name order in official documents (e.g. identity documents, academic certificates, birth certificates, marriage certificates, among others), which means writing family name first in capital letters and has recommended that the same format shall be used among the general Japanese public.
Japan has also requested Western publications to respect this change, such as not using Shinzo Abe but rather Abe Shinzo, similar to how Chinese leader Xi Jinping is not referred to as Jinping Xi. Its sluggish response by Western publications was met with ire by Japanese politician Kono Taro, which stated that "If you can write Moon Jae-in and Xi Jinping in correct order, you can surely write Abe Shinzo the same way."
Chinese, Korean and other East Asian peoples, except for those traveling or living outside of China and areas influenced by China, rarely reverse their Chinese and Korean language names to the Western naming order. Western publications also preserve this Eastern naming order for Chinese, Korean and other East Asian individuals, with the family name first, followed by the given name. In contrast, due to familiarity, Japanese names of contemporary people 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, but other East Asian names are usually left in the Eastern order; for instance, in English, Máo Zédōng is known as Mao Zedong or Mao Tse-tung. Since 2020, Japan has requested that Western publications cease this practice of placing their names in the Western name order and revert back to the Eastern name order. Hungarian names are also switched; Puskás Ferenc is known as Ferenc Puskás.
In Hong Kong, Cantonese names of Hong Kong people are usually written in the Eastern order with or without a comma (eg. Wong Yat Sum or Wong, Yat Sum). Outside Hong Kong, they are usually written in Western order. Unlike other East Asian countries, the syllables or logograms of given names are not hyphenated or compounded but instead separated by a space (eg. Yat Sum). People outside Hong Kong often confuse the second syllables with middle names regardless of name order. Some computer systems could not handle given name inputs with space characters.
Some Hong Kongers and Singaporeans may have an anglicised given name, always written in the Western order. The English and transliterated Chinese full names can be written in various orders. A hybrid order is preferred in official documents including the legislative records in the case for Hong Kong. Examples of the hybrid order goes in the form of Hong Kong actor “Tony Leung Chiu-wai” or Singaporean politician "Lawrence Wong Shyun Tsai", with family names (in the example, Leung and Wong) shared in the middle. Therefore, the anglicised names are written in the Western order (Tony Leung, Lawrence Wong) and the Chinese names are written in the Eastern order (Leung Chiu-wai, 梁朝偉; Wong Shyun Tsai, 黄循财).
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.
Telugu people from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana traditionally use family name, given name order. The family name first format is different from North India where family name typically appears last or other parts of South India where patronymic names are widely used instead of family names.
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).
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, while names of individual plants are called phytonyms.
The practice of naming pets dates back at least to the 23rd century BC; an Egyptian inscription from that period mentions a dog named Abuwtiyuw.
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. The name given to a pet may refer to its appearance or personality, or be chosen for endearment, or in honor of a favorite celebrity. Pet names often reflect the owner's view of the animal, and the expectations they may have for it.
Dog breeders often choose specific themes for their names, sometimes based on the number of the litter. In some countries, like Germany or Austria, names are chosen alphabetically, with names starting with 'A' for puppies from the first litter, 'B' for the second litter, and so on. A puppy called "Dagmar" would belong to a fourth litter. Dog owners can choose to keep the original name, or rename their pet.
It has been argued that the giving of names to their pets allows researchers to view their pets as ontologically different from unnamed laboratory animals with which they work.
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. A dolphin chooses its name as an infant.