A given name (also known as a first name, forename or Christian name) is a part of a person's personal name. It identifies a person, 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 bestowed at or close to the time of birth, usually by the parents of the newborn. A Christian name, a first name which historically was given at baptism, is now also typically given by the parents at birth.
In informal situations, given names are often used in a familiar and friendly manner. In more formal situations, a person's surname is more commonly used—unless a distinction needs to be made between people with the same surname.
By contrast, a surname (also known as a family name, last name, or gentile name), which is normally inherited, is typically shared with other members of one's immediate family. 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.
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, Malaysian Chinese, Singapore, and Vietnam, among others), as well as in Southern and North-Eastern parts of India, and in Hungary. This order is common also in Austria and Bavaria, and in France, Belgium, Greece and Italy, 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.
Multiple given names
In many Western cultures, people often have more than one given name. One of those which is not the first in succession might be used exclusively as the name which that person goes by, such as in the cases of John Edgar Hoover and Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland.
A child's given name or names are usually chosen by the parents soon after birth.
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 are deemed impractical.
Origins and meanings
Parents may choose a name because of its meaning.
- Aspirational personal traits (external and internal).
- Occupations, for example George means "earth-worker", i.e., "farmer".
- Circumstances of birth, for example Thomas meaning "twin" or the Latin name Quintus, which was traditionally given to the fifth male child.
- Objects, for example Peter means "rock" and Edgar means "rich spear".
- Physical characteristics, for example Calvin means "bald".
- Variations on another name, especially to change the sex of the name (Pauline, Georgia) or to translate from another language (for instance, the names Francis or Francisco that come from the name Franciscus meaning "Frank or Frenchman").
- Surnames, for example Winston, Harrison, and Ross. Such names can honour other branches of a family, where the surname would not otherwise be passed down (e.g., the mother's maiden surname).
- Places, for example Brittany and Lorraine.
- Time of birth, for example day of the week, as in Kofi Annan, whose given name means "born on Friday", or the holiday on which one was born, for example, the name Natalie meaning "born on Christmas day" in Latin. Also Tuesday, April, May, or June.
- Combination of the above, for example the Armenian name Sirvart means "love rose".
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.
Most common given names in English (and many other European languages) can be grouped into broad categories based on their origin:
- [[LINK|lang_en|Hebrew_name|Hebrew names]], most often from the Bible, are very common in, or are elements of names used in historically Christian countries. Some have elements meaning "God", especially "Eli". Examples: Michael, Joshua, Daniel, Joseph, David, Adam, Samuel, Elizabeth, Hannah and Mary. There are also a handful of names in use derived from theAramaic, particularly the names of prominent figures in the New Testament—such as Thomas, Martha and Bartholomew. All of the Semitic peoples of history and the present day use at least some names constructed like these in Hebrew (and the ancient Hebrews used names not constructed like these—such as Moses, probably an Egyptian name related to the names of Pharaohs like Thutmose and Ahmose). The Muslim world is the best-known example (with names like Saif-al-din, "sword of the faith", or Abd-Allah, "servant of God"), but even the Carthaginians had similar names: cf. Hannibal, "the grace of god" (in this case not the Abrahamic deity God, but the deity—probably Melkart—whose title is normally left untranslated, as Baal).
- [[LINK|lang_en|Germanic_names|Germanic names]] are characteristically warlike; roots with meanings like "glory", "strength", and "will" are common. The "-bert" element common in many such names comes from beraht, which means "bright". Examples: Robert, Edward, Roger, Richard, Albert, Carl, Alfred, Rosalind, Emma, Emmett, Eric and Matilda.
- French forms ofGermanic names. Since the Norman conquest of England, many English given names of Germanic origin are used in their French forms. Examples: Charles, Henry.
- [[LINK|lang_en|Slavic_names|Slavic names]] are often of a peaceful character, the compounds being derived from word roots meaning "to protect", "to love", "peace", "to praise [gods]", "to give". Examples: Milena, Vesna, Bohumil, Dobromir, Svetlana, Vlastimil. The names have also warlike character and are built of words meaning "fighter", "war", "anger". Examples: Casimir, Vladimir, Sambor, Wojciech and Zbigniew. Many of them derive from the root word "slava" - glory: Boleslav, Miroslav, Vladislav, Radoslav and Stanislav.
- [[LINK|lang_en|Celtic_languages|Celtic]] names are sometimes anglicised versions of Celtic forms, but the original form may also be used. Examples: Alan, Brian, Brigid, Mórag, Ross, Logan, Ciarán, Jennifer, and Seán. These names often have origins in Celtic words, as Celtic versions of the names of internationally known Christian saints, as names of Celtic mythological figures, or simply as long-standing names whose ultimate etymology is unclear.
- [[LINK|lang_en|Greek_names|Greek names]] may be derived from the history and mythology of Classical Antiquity or be derived from the New Testament and early Christian traditions. Such names are often, but not always, anglicised. Examples: Helen, Stephen, Alexander, Andrew, Peter, Gregory, George, Christopher, Margaret, Nicholas, Jason, Timothy, Chloe, Zoë, Katherine, Penelope and Theodore.
- [[LINK|lang_en|Roman_naming_conventions|Latin names]] can also be adopted unchanged, or modified; in particular, the inflected element can be dropped, as often happens in borrowings from Latin to English. Examples: Laura, Victoria, Marcus, Justin (Latin Justinus), Paul (Lat. Paulus), Julius, Cecilia, Felix, Vivian, Julia, Pascal (not a traditional-type Latin name, but the adjective-turned-name paschalis, meaning 'of Easter' (Pascha)).
- Word names come from English vocabulary words. Feminine names of this sort—in more languages than English, and more cultures than Europe alone—frequently derive from nature, flowers, birds, colours, or gemstones. Examples include Jasmine, Lavender, Dawn, Daisy, Rose, Iris, Petunia, Rowan, Jade, and Violet. Male names of this sort are less common—examples like Hunter and Fischer, or names associated with strong animals, such as Bronco and Wolf. (This is more common in some other languages, such as Northern Germanic and Turkish).
- Trait names most conspicuously include the Christian virtues, mentioned above, and normally used as feminine names (such as the three Christian virtues—Faith, Hope, and Charity).
- [[LINK|lang_en|Diminutive|Diminutives]] are sometimes used to distinguish between two or more people with the same given name. In English, Robert may be changed to "Robbie" or Thomas changed to "Tommy". In German the names Hänsel and Gretel (as in the famous fairy tale) are the diminutive forms of Johann and Margarete. Examples: Vicky, Cindy, Tommy, Abby, Allie.
- Shortened names (see nickname) are generally nicknames of a longer name, but they are instead given as a person's entire given name. For example, a man may simply be named "Jim", and it is not short for James. Examples: Beth, Ben, Zach, Tom.
- Feminine variations exist for many masculine names, often in multiple forms. Examples: Charlotte, Stephanie, Victoria, Philippa, Jane, Jacqueline, Josephine, Danielle, Paula, Pauline, Patricia, Francesca.
Frequently, a given name has versions in many different languages.
Despite the uniformity of Chinese surnames, Chinese given names can be 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" (伟, Wěi), "Learned" (文, Wén), "Peaceful" (安, Ān), and "Beautiful" (美, Měi). Despite China's increasing urbanization, a great many names – such as "Pine" (松, Sōng) and "Plum" (梅, 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.
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.
Most names in English are traditionally masculine or feminine, but there are unisex names as well, such as Jordan, Jamie, Jesse, Alex, Ash, Chris/Kris, Hilary/Hillary, Kim, Leslie/Lesley, Joe/Jo, Jackie, Pat, Dana, or Sam. Often, one gender is predominant. Also, a particular spelling is often more common for either men or women, even if the pronunciation is the same. Predicting gender using names in the US or Europe is about 99% accurate.
Many culture groups, past and present, did not or do not gender names strongly, so that many or all of their names are unisex.
Popularity distribution of given names
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.
Education, ethnicity, religion, class and political ideology affect parents' choice of names.
There are many tools parents can use to choose names, including books, websites and applications.
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. 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. 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).
Characters from fiction also seem to influence naming.
Songs can influence the naming of children.
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".
Popular culture figures need not be admirable in order to influence naming trends.
In contrast with these anecdotal evidence, a comprehensive study of Norwegian first name datasets shows that the main factors that govern first name dynamics are endogenous. Monitoring the popularity of 1000 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.
Name at birth
Where births are required to be officially registered, the entire name entered onto a births register or birth certificate may by that fact alone become the person's legal name. The assumption in the Western world is often that the name from birth (or perhaps from baptism or brit milah) will persist to adulthood in the normal course of affairs—either throughout life, or until marriage. Some possible changes concern middle names, diminutive forms, and changes relating to parental status (due to one's parents' divorce, or adoption by different parents). Matters are very different in some cultures in which a birth name is for childhood only, rather than for life.
The French and English-adopted terms née and né (/neɪ/; French: [ne]; from French né[e], meaning 'born') have been used to indicate maiden or married names. The term née, having feminine grammatical gender, can be used to denote a woman's surname at birth that has been replaced or changed. In most English-speaking cultures, it is specifically applied to a woman's maiden name after her surname has changed due to marriage. The term né, having masculine grammatical gender, can likewise be used to denote a man's surname at birth which has subsequently been changed or replaced. The diacritic marks (the acute accent) are considered significant to its spelling, and ultimately its meaning, but are sometimes omitted. According to Oxford University's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the terms are typically placed after the second surname (e.g. 'Ann Smith née Jones' or 'Adam Smith né Jones'). Because they are terms adopted into English from French, they do not have to be italicized, but often are.
- Hypocorism or pet name
- List of most popular given names (in many different countries and cultures)
- List of most popular given names by state in the United States
- List of names
- Maiden and married names
- Name day
- Personal name
- Saint's name Calendar of saints
- Slave name
- Theophoric name Theophory in the Bible
- Unisex name
- Bilingual tautological given names