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A given name is a personal name that specifies and differentiates between members of a group of individuals, especially in a family, all of whose members usually share the same family name (surname). A given name is a name given to a person, as opposed to an inherited one such as a family name.

In most European countries and in countries that have cultures predominantly influenced by Europe (such as individuals with European heredity who populate North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), the given name usually comes before the family name (though generally not in lists and catalogs), and so is known as a forename or first name. But in many cultures of the world—such as that of Hungarymarker, various cultures in Africa and most cultures in East Asia (e.g. China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam)—given names traditionally come after the family name. In East Asia, even part of the given name may be shared among all members of a given generation in a family and the family's extensions, to differentiate those generations from other generations.

Under the common Western naming convention, people generally have one or more forenames (either given or acquired). If more than one, there is usually a main forename (for everyday use) and one or more supplementary forenames. But sometimes two or more carry equal weight. Beyond the fact that forenames come before the surname there is no particular ordering rule. Often the main forename is at the beginning, resulting in a first name and one or more middle names, but other arrangements are quite common.

Given names are often used in a familiar and friendly manner in informal situations. In more formal situations the surname is used instead, unless it is necessary to distinguish between people with the same surname. The idiom "on a first-name basis" (or "on first-name terms") alludes to the fact that using a person's given name betokens familiarity.


A child's given name or names are usually assigned around the time of birth. In most jurisdictions, the name at birth is a matter of public record, inscribed on the birth certificate or equivalent. In some jurisdictions, mainly civil-law jurisdictions such as France, Quebecmarker, the Netherlands or Germany, the functionary whose job it is to record acts of birth may act to prevent parents from giving the child a name that may cause him or her harm (in France, by referring the case to a local judge). Even spell-checking of the name is done.

Persons born in one country who immigrate to another with different naming conventions, may have their names legally changed accordingly. If the name is not assigned at birth it may be assigned at a naming ceremony with families and friends attending.

In 1991, in protest of Swedish naming laws, two parents attempted to name their child Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, claiming that it was "a pregnant, expressionistic development that we see as an artistic creation.".

Origin of given names

Given names most often derive from the following categories:
  • Aspiring personal traits (external and internal). For example, the name Clement means "merciful" . English examples include Faith, Prudence, August, and Fido (The last coming from the Latin word 'fides' meaning 'faith').
  • Occupations, for example George means "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 "Frenchman").
  • Surname, for example Winston, Harrison, and Ross. Such names often come from families that are frequently intermarried with the family bearing the individual's 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
  • Combination of the above, for example the Armenian name Sirvart means "love rose"
  • Names of unknown or disputed etymology, for example Mary.

In many cultures, given names are reused, especially to commemorate ancestors or those who are particularly admired, resulting in a limited repertoire of names that sometimes vary by orthography.

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 was considered taboo or sacrilegious in some of the Christian world.In most of the world the word Stephan means "The Game", according to proffesional nhl 10 gamer Stephan Stogneff who is pround of and holds the title "The Game"

Similarly, the name Mary, now popular if not ubiquitous 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:

  • Hebrew names, most often from the Bible, are very common in—or are elements of names used in—the historically Christian countries. Some have elements meaning "God", especially "El." Examples: Michael, Joshua, Daniel, Joseph, David, Adam, Elizabeth, Hannah and Mary. There are also a handful of names in use derived from the Aramaic, 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 Carthagenians had similar names: cf. Hannibal, "the grace of the Lord" (in this case not the Abrahamic God, but the deity—probably Marduk—whose title is normally left untranslated, as Baal).
  • 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, Albert, Carl, Alfred, Rosalind, Emma, Eric and Matilda.
  • French forms of Germanic names. Since the Norman conquest of England, many English given names of Germanic origin are used in their French forms. Examples: Robert, Charles, Henry, William, Albert.

Frequently, a given name has versions in many different languages. For example, the biblical Hebrew name Susanna also occurs in its original Hebrew version, Shoshannah, its Spanish and Portuguese version Susana, and its French version, Suzanne, and its Polish version, Zuzanna.

  • 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", and so on.
  • Chinese are often unique, because meaningful Hanzi and Hanja characters can be combined extensively. But Korean names and Vietnamese names are usually simply vernacularized conventions derived from their Chinese counterparts.
However, some parents recycle popular given names as well. The names of famous and successful persons are also reused occasionally.Nevertheless, many Chinese and Korean parents invest a tremendous amount contemplating the names of their newborns before their birth, often with comprehensive dictionaries or with religious guides, formal or informal. Sometimes, especially in traditional families, paternal grandparents are the name-givers.The Chinese language doesn't have a particular set of words that function as given names, which differs from English. Any combination of Chinese characters theoretically can be used as given names, but usually not any combination of English letters are used as given names, which sometimes make Chinese people think that there may be more English-speaking people sharing identical full names than Chinese. This is not the case, due to the much larger set of words used as family names in English.

In many Westernized Asian locations, many Asians also take on an unofficial English given name in addition to their official given name. This is also true for Asian students at colleges in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia, and people who wish to do business internationally—both as means to ease communication with people who cannot properly pronounce the names in their official languages. It's also interesting to note that when Chinese immigrants or students give themselves English given names, they tend to pick one that closely matches their original name if possible. For example, a Chinese man named "Ah Dar" might become "Arthur" if he emigrates to the United States, or a Vietnamese man named "Khanh" might become "Ken" if he moves to an English-speaking country.

Many female Japanese names, such as Yoko Ono's, end in ko (子), which means "child". This has caused some confusion among westerners, because in some Romance languages, masculine names often end in o, and feminine names often end in a. People used to names like Tino/Tina are surprised that Mariko or Yoko is female.

Most names in English are specifically masculine or feminine, but there are many unisex names as well, such as Jordanmarker, Jamie, Jesse, Alex, Ashley, Chris, Hillary, Lesley, Joe/Jo, Jackie, Pat, Sam. Often, one gender is predominant. Many culture groups down through history did not gender names strongly, so that many or all of their names were unisex such as Gaullish. Others had gender built in as a matter of grammar, for example Old Norse, Latin and its descendants Italian and French, Greek.

Christian name

The term Christian name is often used as a general synonym for given name. Strictly speaking, the term applies to a name formally given to a child at an infant baptism or "christening".

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. For example, in England and Wales, the most popular female and male names given to babies born in 1800 were Mary and John, with 24% of female babies and 22% of male babies receiving those names, respectively. In contrast, the corresponding statistics for in England and Wales in 1994 were Emily and James, with 3% and 4% of names, respectively. Not only have Mary and John gone out of favor in the English speaking world, also the overall distribution of names has changed significantly over the last 100 years for females, but not for males. This has led to an increasing amount of diversity for female names.

Influence of pop culture

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" 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. After the name Kayla was used for a character on the American soap opera Days of our Lives, the name's popularity increased greatly. The name Tammy, and the related Tamara became popular after the movie Tammy and the Bachelor came out in 1957. Some names were established or spread by being used in literature. Notable examples include Jessica, a name created by William Shakespeare in his play "The Merchant of Venice", Vanessa, created by Jonathan Swift; Fiona, a character from James Macpherson's spurious cycle of Ossian poems; and Wendy, an obscure name popularised by J. M. Barrie in his play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up; and Madison, a character from the movie Splash. Lara and Larissamarker were rare in America before the appearance of Doctor Zhivago, and have become fairly common since.

Songs can influence the naming of children. Jude jumped from 814th most popular male name in 1968 to 668th in 1969, following the release of The Beatles's Hey Jude. Similarly, Layla charted as 969th most popular in 1972 after the Eric Clapton song. It had not been in the top 1,000 before.

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. For example, Peyton came in to the top 1000 as a female given name for babies in the United States for the first time in 1992 (at #583), immediately after it was featured as the name of an evil nanny in the film The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. On the other hand, for example, Adolf has fallen out of use since the Second World War.

Twin names

In some cultures, twins may be given distinctive pairs of names. Twin names are sometimes similar in sound, for example boy/girl twins named Christian and Christina in followers of Christianity, or twin girls named Sudha and Subha in India, or Ojor and Omon in Nigeria. The names may have a thematic similarity such as Jesse (or Jessica) and James (named after the American outlaw Jesse James) or Matthew and Mark (named after the first two books of the New Testament in the Bible). The oldest ever female twins, who both died in 2000, were named Kin Narita and Gin Kanie, gold and silver respectively in Japanese.

Name changing

People may change their names for a variety of reasons. In many countries there is a mandatory or voluntary official procedure.

Popular reasons for changing one's name include these:
  • A change is required for security reasons, such as admittance into the Witness Protection Program
  • An estranged family member has the same name.
  • Family reasons, such as being raised by a stepparent rather than a biological one (most common with children who have no contact with the biological father).
  • Name conflicts with one's spiritual belief (popular in Asian countries; and often amongst converts to Islam).
  • Name has a space in it.
  • Name is obscene, vulgar or insulting in another language the name's owner later comes to use.
  • Name is too closely identified with someone who became famous or infamous after that person's birth (for instance, Adolf).
  • Name is too common or uncommon.
  • Name is too "foreign-sounding".
  • Name is too long.
  • Name is too "old-fashioned sounding".
  • Name is or is not unisex
  • One feels that a nickname is more "oneself" than the given name (or vice versa).
  • Professional reasons (as with actors).
  • To effect a clean break from the past and make a fresh start.
  • To conceal one's true racial/ethnic origins.
  • To mark a religious rite of passage (in Catholicism, for example, this may include baptism, confirmation, ordination, or taking religious vows as a monk or nun).
  • To reflect the identity of a transgender person (e.g. Walter/Wendy Carlos; Jonathan/Joan Roughgarden).

Related articles and lists

By type

By culture


Central Asia, Altaic

Semitic / Near Eastern

East Asia


Language isolates


  1. "A name given to a person at birth or at baptism, as distinguished from a surname" – according to the American Heritage Dictionary
  2. Polish names
  3. First Name Popularity in England and Wales over the Past Thousand Years
  4. Analytical Visions: Names
  5. National Statistics Online
  6. Popular Baby Names, Social Security Administration, USA

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