Personal name

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). 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.[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.[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.[7]

  1. ^ Keats-Rohan 2007, p. 164-165.
  2. ^ Room 1996, p. 79.
  3. ^ Room 1996, p. 8.
  4. ^ "The Arabic Naming System" (PDF). Councilscienceeditors.org. 28 (1): 20–21. February 2005.
  5. ^ Snell, Wayne W. (1964). Kinship relations in Machiguenga. Hartford Seminary Foundation. pp. 17–25.
  6. ^ Johnson, Allen W. (2003). Families of the forest: the Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. University of California Press. pp. 9–10. 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.


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