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 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.
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.
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.
Common components of names given at birth include:
- Personal name: The given name (or acquired name in some cultures) can precede a family name (as in some European cultures), or it can come after the family name (as in some East Asian cultures), or be used without a family name.
- Patronymic: A surname based on the given name of the father.
- Matronymic: A surname based on the given name of the mother.
- Family name: A name used by all members of a family. In China, surnames gradually came into common use beginning in the 3rd century BC (having been common only among the nobility before that). In some areas of East Asia (e.g. Vietnam and Korea), surnames developed in the next several centuries, while in other areas (like Japan), surnames did not become prevalent until the 19th century. In Europe, after the loss of the Roman system, the common use of family names started quite early in some areas (France in the 13th century, and Germany in the 16th century), but it often did not happen until much later in areas that used a patronymic naming custom, such as the Scandinavian countries, Wales, and some areas of Germany, as well as Russia and Ukraine. The compulsory use of surnames varied greatly. France required a priest to write surnames in baptismal records in 1539 (but did not require surnames for Jews, who usually used patronymics, until 1808). On the other hand, surnames were not compulsory in the Scandinavian countries until the 19th or 20th century (1923 in Norway), and Iceland still does not use surnames for its native inhabitants. In most of the cultures of the Middle East and South Asia, surnames were not generally used until European influence took hold in the 19th century.
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", -ova meaning "daughter of", and -a usually being appended to the last names of girls).
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 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.
Depending on national convention, additional given names (and sometimes titles) are considered part of the name.
This section's factual accuracy is disputed. (February 2013)
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").
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."
- Binomial systems: apart from their given name, people are described by their surnames, which they obtain from one of their parents. Most modern European personal naming systems are of this type.
- Patronymic systems: apart from their given name, people are described by their patronymics, that is given names (not surnames) of parents or other ancestors. Such systems were in wide use throughout Europe in the first millennium CE, but were replaced by binomial systems. The Icelandic system is still patronymic.
- More complex systems like Arabic system, consisting of paedonymic (son's name), given name, patronymic and one or two bynames.
Different cultures have different conventions for personal names. This is a list of articles about particular cultures' naming conventions.
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, 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.
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 northeastern parts of India. It is also used 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, 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. hu:Mijazaki Hajao), but Western name order is also sometimes used with English transliteration (e.g. Hayao Miyazaki). From 2020, the Government of Japan has changed the order of names in official documents to order to write family name first in capital letters, also recommended the same format to the general Japanese public.
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. 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. In popular journalism publications, western order is used for Japanese names.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hong Kong people usually have an anglicised given name, those names are always written in the Western order. The English and transliterated Cantonese full names can be written in various orders. A hybrid order is preferred in official documents including the Hong Kong's legislative records. The hybrid order goes in the form of “Chris Wong Yat Sum”. With family names (in the example, Wong) shared in the middle, the anglicised names are written in the Western order and the Cantonese names are written in the Eastern 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
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.
Pet names often reflect the owner's view of the animal, and their expectations they have for their companion. It has been argued that giving names allows researchers to view their pets as ontologically different from unnamed laboratory animals with which they work.
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. A dolphin chooses its name as an infant.
- Germanic name
- Given name, name at birth
- Iry-Hor and Kushim, candidates for earliest known recorded personal name
- List of adjectival and demonymic forms of place names
- List of most popular given names
- Lists of most common surnames
- Married and maiden names
- Mononymous person
- Name-letter effect
- Name day
- Personally identifiable information
- Posthumous name
- Temple name
- Ancient Greek personal names
- Bilingual tautological personal names
- FM-2030 (see the section FM-2030#Name change)
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