Personal name

This article is about the full names of individual human beings. For the name distinguishing one person from others with the same surname, see given name.

A personal name or full name refers to the set of names by which an individual 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 and legal names of the individual, seen below. In many cultures, individuals possess a variety of names, in others they are known by a single name; when a plurality of names occur, some are specific to the individual, distinguishing them from related individuals (e.g., John Adams and John Quincy Adams), while other names indicate the person's relationship to or membership in a family, clan, or other social structure (as for Charles Philip Arthur George and one of his namesakes), or even to unrelated others (e.g., as for Leonardo DiCaprio and his namesake).

In Western culture, nearly all individuals possess at least one given name (also known as a personal name, first name, forename, or Christian name), together with a surname (also known as a family name, last name, or gentile name)—respectively, the Thomas and Jefferson in Thomas Jefferson—the latter to indicate that the individual belongs to a family, a tribe, or a clan. Inserted between these are one or more "middle names" (e.g., Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles John Huffam Dickens, Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise Mountbatten-Windsor), further establishing such family and broader relationships. Some cultures, including Western, also add (or once added) patronymics or matronymics, for instance, via a middle name as with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (son of pater Ilya), or via a last name as with Björk Guðmundsdóttir (daughter of pater Guðmund) or Heiðar Helguson (son of mater Helga). Similar concepts are present in Eastern cultures.

However, in less urbanized 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. The academic study of names is called anthroponymy.

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.[3]


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 acronym 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. 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. Notice that he possessed the lands both 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

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 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).

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 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 catalogues, 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, Korea and Vietnam), as well as in Southern and North-Eastern parts of India, but also in Hungary. It is common in popular use also in Austria and Bavaria, but also in France, Belgium, Greece, Italy and Romania possibly because of the influence of the bureaucratic use of putting the family name before the given name.

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, some always write a family name in capital letters, especially when writing for an international audience. This habit is commonly used in the international language Esperanto. In Hungarian, for example, Japanese or Chinese names are most frequently used in the Western order; however, they sometimes remain in the same order as those of Hungarians.

Chinese people, except for those traveling or living outside of China, rarely reverse their names to the western naming order (given name, then family name). 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.[4] In popular journalism publications, western order is used for Japanese names.[5]

Japanese names of contemporary individuals and Hungarian names are usually "switched" when individuals 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, Vietnamese, and Japanese names of historical figures are usually left in East Asian order; for instance, Máo Zédōng is known as Mao Zedong in English.

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.

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 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 players' names are usually changed to Western order; for example Park Chan-Ho is referred to in the West as Chan-ho Park. Golfers' names are also typically switched to Western order; 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.

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.

Names of pets

Pet names often reflect the owner's view of the animal, and their expectations they have for their companion.[6][7] It has been argued that giving names allows researchers to view their pets as ontologically different from unnamed laboratory animals with which they work.[8]

The name given to a pet may refer to its appearance[9] or personality,[10] or be chosen for endearment,[11] or in honor of a favorite celebrity.[12]

Some pet owners give human names to their pets. This has been shown to reflect the owner having a human-like relationship with the pet.[13]

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.

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.[14] A dolphin chooses its name as an infant.[15]

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".[1][2]


  1. Snell, Wayne W (1964). Kinship relations in Machiguenga. pp. 17–25
  2. 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 April 1, 2012. ISBN 978-0-520-23242-6.
  3. 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.
  4. Terry, Edith. How Asia Got Rich: Japan, China and the Asian Miracle. M.E. Sharpe, 2002. 632. Retrieved from Google Books on August 7, 2011. ISBN 0-7656-0356-X, ISBN 9780765603562.
  5. Saeki, Shizuka. "First Name Terms." Look Japan. June 2001. Volume 47, No. 543. p. 35.
  6. 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
  7. Adopting a Pet For Dummies Page 10, By Eve Adamson
  8. Proper names and the social construction of biography: The negative case of laboratory animals, Mary T. Phillips, Qualitative Sociology, Volume 17, Number 2, SpringerLink
  9. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 1, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  10. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 2, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  11. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 4, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  12. What celebrity would you name your pet after?, by Margaret Lyons, Sep 28 2009, Entertainment Weekly
  13. The Best Pet Name Book Ever!, Chapter 3, By Wayne Bryant Eldridge
  14. "Dolphins, like humans, recognize names, May 9, 2006,CNN". Archived from the original on 2006-06-02.
  15. Dolphins Name Themselves, By Bjorn Carey, posted: 8 May 2006,

Further reading

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