A person's given name, in Western contexts often referred to as a first name or forename, is a part of his or her personal name and identifies and differentiates the person between members of a group, especially in a family, all of whose members usually share the same family name (surname). A given name is purposefully given, usually by a child's parents at or near birth, in contrast to an inherited one such as a family name. A given name is sometimes legally changed through a name change.
Given names are often used in a familiar and friendly manner in informal situations. In more formal situations the surname is more commonly used, 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 familiarity of addressing another by a given name.
Relationship to other names
In most European (and Europe-derived) cultures, the given name usually comes before the family name (though generally not in lists and catalogs), and is also known as a forename or first name; but the family name traditionally comes first in Hungary, parts of Africa and most of East Asia (e.g., China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam). In China and Korea, 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 preceding the surname there is no particular ordering rule for forenames. 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.
A child's given name or names are usually given by the parents soon after 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, Quebec, the Netherlands or Germany, a government appointed registrar of births may refuse to register a name that may cause him or her harm or which may be offensive. In France, the agency can refer the case to a local judge. Even spell-checking of the name is done. In 1996, 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."
People born in one country who immigrate to another with different naming conventions may have their names legally changed. If the name is not assigned at birth it may be assigned at a naming ceremony with families and friends attending.
Origins and meanings
Parents may choose a name because of its meaning. This may be a personal or familial meaning, such as giving a child the name of an admired person, or it may be an example of nominative determinism, in which the parents give the child a name that they believe will be lucky or favorable for the child. 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, and August.
- 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 "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.
- 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.
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 "Eli". 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 god" (in this case not the Abrahamic deity 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, Richard, Albert, Carl, Alfred, Rosalind, Emma, Emmett, 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.
- 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, Sambor, Wojciech and Zbigniew. Many of them derive from the root word "slava" - glory: Boleslav, Miroslav, Vladislav, Radoslav and Stanislav.
- Celtic names are sometimes anglicised versions of Celtic forms, but the original form may also be used. Examples: Alan, Brian, Brigid, Mórag, 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.
- Greek names can be derived from the Greco-Roman gods, or may have other meanings. Some may be derived from the New Testament and early Christian traditions. Such names are often, but not always, anglicised. Examples: Eleanor, Stephen, Alexander, Andrew, Peter, Gregory, George, Christopher, Melissa, Margaret, Nicholas, Jason, Timothy, Chloe, Zoë, Katherine.
- 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, 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, colors, 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).
- Diminutives are sometimes used to distinguish between two or more people with the same given name, and are often used by children. In English, Robert may be changed to "Robbie" or Daniel changed to "Danny". In German the names Hänsel and Gretel (as in the famous fairy tale) are the diminutive forms of Johann and Margarete. Examples: Vicky, Danny, Abby, Ali.
- 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, Dan, Max, Pete, Steve.
- 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. For example, the biblical name Susanna also occurs in its original biblical Hebrew version, Shoshannah, its Spanish and Portuguese version Susana, its French version, Suzanne, and its Polish version, Zuzanna.
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 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. Instead, they may be selected to include particular sounds, tones, or radicals; to balance the Chinese elements of a child's birth chart; or to honor a generation poem handed down through the family for centuries. Traditionally, it is considered an affront and not an honor to have a newborn named after an older relative, so that full names are rarely passed down through a family in the manner of English Seniors, Juniors, III, &c. Similarly, it is considered unhelpful for the child to bear a name already made famous by someone else, although Romanizations might be identical or a common name like Liu Xiang might be borne by tens of thousands.
In many Westernized Asian locations, many Asians also have an unofficial or even registered Western (typically English) given name, in addition to their Asian given name. This is also true for Asian students at colleges in countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia as well as among international businessmen.
Most names in English are specifically masculine or feminine, but there are many unisex names as well, such as Jordan, Jamie, Jesse, Aaron/Erin, Alex, Ash, Chris, Hilary/Hillary, Kim, Leslie/Lesley, Joe/Jo, Jackie, Pat, Dana, Sam or Ryan/Ryann. Often, one gender is predominant. Also, a particular spelling is often more common for each of the two genders, even when the pronunciation is the same.
Many culture groups, past and present, did not or do not gender names strongly, so that many or all of their names are unisex. On the other hand, in many languages including most Indo-European languages (but not English), gender is inherent in the grammar.
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.
Choice of names
Education, ethnicity, religion, class and political ideology affect parents' choice of names. In the United States, popular names tend to be chosen by parents with more education. Politically conservative parents choose common and traditional names, while politically liberal parents choose the names of literary characters or other relatively obscure cultural figures. Devout members of religions often choose names from their religious scriptures. For example, Hindu parents may name a daughter Saanvi after the goddess, Jewish parents may name a boy Isaac after one of the earliest ancestral figures, and Muslim parents may name a boy Mohammed after the prophet.
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 Pamela, invented by Sir Philip Sidney for a pivotal character in his epic prose work, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia; Jessica, 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; 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 Larissa 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' "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, historical events can influence child-naming. For example, the given name Adolf has fallen out of use since the end of World War II in 1945.
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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, 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 (after the American outlaw Jesse James), or Matthew and Mark (the first two books of the New Testament in the Bible), or Castor and Pollux (semi-divine twins in Greek mythology), or Romulus and Remus (the mythical founders of Rome).
For more possible origins, see the article List of twins.
- 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 U.S. counties named after personal first names
- Name days
- Names of God
- Personal name
- Calling name
- Middle name
- Pet name
- Saint's name
- Slave name
- Theophoric names
- Unisex name
- Greek name
- French names
- Finnish name
- Hungarian name
- Italian name
- Portuguese name
- Roman naming conventions
- Slavic names
- South Asia
- Middle East
- East Asia
- Chinese name
- Indonesian name
- Japanese name
- Korean name
- Malaysian name
- Mongolian name
- Philippine name
- Thai name
- Tibetan name
- Vietnamese name
- "A name given to a person at birth or at baptism, as distinguished from a surname" – according to the American Heritage Dictionary
- Thurston, Herbert (1911), Christian Names, New York: Robert Appleton Company, retrieved May 30, 2012
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Clement". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Clemens". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name George". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Thomas". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Quintus". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Edgar". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Peter". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Calvin". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Francis". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Francisco". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Franciscus". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Winston". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Harrison". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Ross". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Brittany". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Lorraine". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Kofi". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Natalie". MFnames.com. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Sirvart". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Polish names
- First Name Popularity in England and Wales over the Past Thousand Years
- Analytical Visions: Names
- J. Eric Oliver, Thomas Wood, Alexandra Bass. "Liberellas versus Konservatives: Social Status, Ideology, and Birth Names in the United States" Presented at the 2013 Midwestern Political Science Association Annual Meeting
- National Statistics Online
- Popular Baby Names, Social Security Administration, USA
|Look up Appendix:Names in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up given name or Appendix:Most popular given names by country in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Christian Names". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Given Name Frequency Project – Analysis of long-term trends in given names in England and Wales. Includes downloadable datasets of names for people interested in studying given name trends.
- NameVoyager – Java applet listing the frequency of the Top 1000 American baby names throughout history.
- U.S. Census Bureau: Distribution of Names Files Large ranked list of male and female given names in addition to last names.
- Popular Baby Names – The Social Security Administration page for Popular U.S. Baby Names
- Muslim Names Islamic names with Audio Voice for pronunciation of Arabic names.
- Onomast – Meaning of Names, Encyclopedia of Given Names