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A personal name (often called full name) typically comprises an individual's given name (bestowed at birth or at a young age) plus their middle name(s) and family name (surname). It is also usually the name which identifies the person for legal, administrative and other purposes, and may not be the name by which the person is commonly known. It is nearly universal for a human to have a name, the Convention on the Rights of the Child has even declared that a child has the right from birth to a name.
Naming conventions are strongly influenced by culture, with some cultures being more flexible on naming than others. However, for all cultures where historical records are available, the naming rules are known to change over time. The academic study of personal names is anthroponymy.
Common components of names given at birth include:
- Personal name: In most Western cultures, the given name precedes the family name or surname. Other cultures place the given name after the family name, or use no 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 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 many families, single or multiple middle names are simply alternative names, names honoring an ancestor or relative, or, for married women, occasionally 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. In countries such as Brazil the middle name is usually the mother's family name. 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 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-communitary use and use a different name when engaging with the Gentile world. Chinese children are called insulting 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.
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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. Another example is Don Quixote de la Mancha, who is never referred to in literature by the phrase used as the title of the musical comedy, Man of La Mancha.
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").
In contemporary Western societies (except for Iceland, Hungary, sometimes Flanders (depending on the occasion)), the most common naming convention is that a person to 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.
Different cultures have different conventions for personal names. This is a list of articles about particular cultures' naming conventions.
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The order personal 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 (North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines).
The order family name - personal name is commonly known as the Eastern order and in Hungary, parts of Africa, East Asia (for example in China, Japan, Korea, Malaysian Chinese, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam) and Southern India. It is common in popular use also in France, Italy and Flanders, because of the influence of the bureaucratic use of putting the family name before the given name. In Asia, surnames are first because they are much more important in the Eastern culture than the personal name.
In Western countries, the Eastern order, with family name first, is generally used in lists and catalogues, with the family and given names separated with a comma (e.g. Smith, John). This convention is followed by most Western libraries, as well as on many administrative forms. In Russia this convention is used even more extensively, with the Russian Wikipedia using it for the names of articles on non-fictional people.
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, Japanese or Chinese names, for example, are most frequently used in the Western order (first name-last name), 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 regards 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 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.
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. It has been argued that giving names allows researchers to view their pets as ontologically different from unnamed laboratory animals with which they work.
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.
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.