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Plato, Greek philosopher

A mononym is a name composed of only one word. An individual who is known and addressed by a mononym is a mononymous person. In some cases, a mononym selected by an individual may have originally been from a polynym, a word which refers to one of many names for a person or an object. In other cases, it has been determined by the custom of the land or by some interested segment. In the case of historical figures, it may be the only one of the individual's names that has survived and is still known today.

Many Afghans have no surname.[1] It is also common to have no surname in Bhutan, Indonesia, Myanmar, and South India. Javanese names traditionally are mononymic, especially among people of older generations.[citation needed]


The word mononym is a direct loanword from the Greek word monṓnymo (μονώνυμο), which is a combination of the words mónos (μόνος, "single"), and ónoma (ὄνομα, "name").[a][b]


Narmer, ancient Egyptian pharaoh

The structure of persons' names has varied across time and geography. In some societies, individuals have been mononymous, receiving only a single name. Alulim, first king of Sumer, is one of the earliest names known; Narmer, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, is another. In addition, Biblical names like Adam, Eve, Moses, or Abraham, were typically mononymous, as were names in the surrounding cultures of the Fertile Crescent.

Ancient Greek names like Heracles, Homer, Socrates, and Aristotle, also follow the pattern, with epithets (similar to second names) only used subsequently by historians to avoid confusion, as in the case of Zeno the Stoic and Zeno of Elea; likewise, patronymics or other biographic details (such as city of origin, or another place name or occupation the individual was associated with) were used to specify whom one was talking about, but these details were not considered part of the name.

A departure from this custom occurred, for example, among the Romans, who by the Republican period and throughout the Imperial period used multiple names: a male citizen's name comprised three parts (this was mostly typical of the upper class, while others would usually have only two names): praenomen (given name), nomen (clan name) and cognomen (family line within the clan) — the nomen and cognomen were almost always hereditary.[3] Famous ancient Roman mononymous figures include Hercules, Cicero and Terence. Roman emperors, such as Augustus, Caligula, and Nero, are also often referred to in English by mononyms.

Mononyms in other ancient cultures include Hannibal, the Celtic queen Boudica and the Numidian king Jugurtha. However, the historical records of some of these figures are scanty or rely completely on the documentation of those outside the person's culture, so it is possible such figures may have had other names within their own cultures that have since been lost to history.

Medieval uses[edit]


During the early Middle Ages, mononymity slowly declined, with northern and eastern Europe keeping the tradition longer than the south. The Dutch Renaissance scholar and theologian Erasmus is a late example of mononymity; though sometimes referred to as "Desiderius Erasmus" or "Erasmus of Rotterdam", he was christened only as "Erasmus", after the martyr Erasmus of Formiae.

Composers in the ars nova and ars subtilior styles of late medieval music were often known mononymously—potentially because their names were sobriquets—such as, Borlet, Egardus, Egidius, Grimace, Solage, Trebor.[4]

The Americas[edit]

Pocahontas, Native American princess

Between Columbus' arrival in the New World and the late 19th century, prominent indigenous peoples in the Americas were mononymous. Examples include Moctezuma (Mexico, 1398–1469), Anacaona (Haiti, 1464–1504), Agüeybaná (Puerto Rico, died 1510), Diriangén (Nicaragua, died 1523), Urracá (Panama, died 1531), Guamá (Cuba, died 1532), Atahualpa (Peru, 1497–1533), Lempira (Honduras, died 1537), Lautaro (Chile, 1534–1557), Tamanaco (Venezuela, died 1573), Pocahontas (United States, 1595–1617), Auoindaon (Canada, fl. 1623), Cangapol (Argentina, fl. 1735), and Tecumseh (United States, 1768–1813).

Uniquely, the Dutch-Seneca diplomat Cornplanter received both a Seneca-language mononym (Kaintwakon, roughly "corn-planter") from his mother and a given name and surname (John Abeel) from his father, and he used both throughout his life. His later descendants, such as Jesse Cornplanter, used "Cornplanter" as the family name instead of "Abeel".

In the 19th century, most chiefs involved in the Apache Wars had mononym birth names, and some replaced those with mononymous nicknames: Geronimo (born Goyaałé), Victorio (born Beduiat), Cochise, and so on.

Post-medieval uses[edit]

Since the medieval period, mononyms in the West have almost exclusively been used to identify people who already had surnames. These nicknames were either adopted by the persons themselves or conferred by contemporaries.


Molière, 17th-century French dramatist

Some French authors have shown a preference for mononyms. In the 17th century, the dramatist and actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622–73) took the mononym stage name Molière.

In the 18th century, François-Marie Arouet adopted the mononym Voltaire, for both literary and personal use, in 1718 after his imprisonment in Paris' Bastille, to mark a break with his past. The new name combined several features. It was an anagram for a Latinized version of his family surname, "Arouet, l[e] j[eune]" ("Arouet, the young"); it reversed the syllables of the name of the town, Airvault, where his father came from; and it has implications of speed and daring through similarity to French expressions such as "voltige", "volte-face" and "volatile". "Arouet" would not have served the purpose, given that name's associations with "roué" and with an expression that meant "for thrashing".[5]

The 19th-century French author Marie-Henri Beyle used many pen names, most famously the mononym Stendhal, adapted from the name of the little Prussian town of Stendal, birthplace of the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, whom Stendhal admired.[6]

In the 20th century, a fourth French writer, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (author of Gigi, 1945), used her actual surname as her mononym pen name, Colette.[7] Some French actors and singers, including Dalida, have used their given name or surname as a stage mononym.

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 1820–1910) was an early French photographer.

The controversial French physician and author Louis-Ferdinand Céline adopted, and was called by, the single name Céline.

Elsewhere in Europe[edit]

Novalis, 18th-century German philosopher

In the 17th and 18th centuries, most Italian castrato singers used mononyms as stage names (e.g. Caffarelli, Farinelli). The German writer, mining engineer and philosopher, Georg Friedrich Philipp Freiherr von Hardenberg (1772–1801), became famous as Novalis.

The 19th-century Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820–87), better known by his mononymous pen name Multatuli (from the Latin multa tuli, "I have suffered [or borne] many things"), became famous for the satirical novel, Max Havelaar (1860), in which he denounced the abuses of colonialism in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

The Dutch writer Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh (1882–1961) wrote under the pseudonym Nescio (Latin for "I don't know").

The 20th-century British author Hector Hugh Munro became known by his pen name, Saki. In 20th-century Poland, the theater-of-the-absurd playwright, novelist, painter, photographer, and philosopher Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz after 1925 often used the mononymous pseudonym Witkacy, a conflation of his surname (Witkiewicz) and middle name (Ignacy).[8]

A number of visual artists, such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, are commonly known by mononyms. The modern Russian artist Erté formed his mononymous pseudonym from the initials of his actual name, as did the Belgian comics writers Hergé and Jijé.

Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto, who is now ranked as an important and original painter in his own right, traded on the mononymous pseudonym of his uncle and teacher, Antonio Canal (Canaletto), in those countries—Poland and Germany—where his famous uncle was not active, calling himself likewise "Canaletto". Bellotto remains commonly known as "Canaletto" in those countries to this day.[9]


Naruhito, emperor of Japan

Monarchs and other royalty, for example Napoleon, have traditionally availed themselves of the privilege of using a mononym, modified when necessary by an ordinal or epithet (e.g., Queen Elizabeth II or Charles the Great). This is not always the case: King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden has two names. While many European royals have formally sported long chains of names, in practice they have tended to use only one or two and not to use surnames.[c]

In Japan, the emperor and his family have no surname, only a given name, such as Hirohito, which in practice in Japanese is rarely used: out of respect and as a measure of politeness, Japanese prefer to say "the Emperor" or "the Crown Prince".[11] Following an Emperor's death, but not his retirement, he is renamed according to the era of his reign. In India, the first six Mughal emperors were known by just one name, adopted by each emperor upon his accession.

Roman Catholic popes have traditionally adopted a single, regnal name upon their election (except for John Paul I and II). The mononymous tradition reverted to form with the election and succession of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and Pope Francis in 2013.

Modern times[edit]


The Western practice of combining a given name (given name or forename) with a family name (surname) is not universal.

Surnames were introduced in Turkey only after World War I, by the country's first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as part of his Westernization and modernization programs.[12] His own surname, Atatürk, which was bestowed by the Turkish parliament, means "Father Turk". Common people can be addressed semi-formally by their given name plus the title Bey or Hanım (without surname), whereas politicians are often known by surname only (Ecevit, Demirel). Many Turkish sportspeople, especially football players, wear jerseys with only their first name (e.g. Çağlar).

Mononyms are also common in Indonesia for Javanese individuals, both prominent government figures such as former presidents Sukarno and Suharto and weightlifter Triyatno.

Most Icelanders do not have surnames, only patronymics (sometimes matronymics), and they address each other by their given name in both formal and informal situations. One such well-known artist celebrity is Björk.

Some North American Indigenous people continue their nations' traditional naming practices, which may include the use of single names. In Canada, where government policy often included the imposition of Western-style names, one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was for all provinces and territories to waive fees to allow Indigenous people to legally assume traditional names, including mononyms.[13] In Ontario, for example, it is now legally possible to change to a single name or register one at birth, for members of Indigenous nations which have a tradition of single names.[14]


In modern times, in countries that have long been part of the East Asian cultural sphere (Japan, the Koreas, Vietnam and China), mononyms are rare. An exception pertains to the Emperor of Japan (a common opinion being that there is no higher state authority to bestow the family name (苗字) to the Emperor).

Mononyms are common as stage names in the entertainment industry, usually when the performer's legal name is not publicly known; e.g., Ayaka, Becky, Gackt, hide, Hyde, Mana, Kamijo, Miyavi, Tsunku, and Yui. Additionally, Japanese baseball star Ichiro Suzuki is widely known in both Japan and North America as "Ichiro". In Hong Kong, a few musicians are also known by mononyms, e.g., Janice,[15] Jin, and Justin Lo (who uses the Chinese mononym, "側田"). In Korea, singers such as BoA, Shoo, and Psy are known by their mononyms.

Rekha, Indian actress

Mononyms continue to be used in parts of India, especially the South. Mayawati, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, chooses to use only a single name. They are also used to resist casteism, as surnames are generally a telltale sign of caste. Several Indian film personalities, such as Asin, Biswajit, Dharmendra, Govinda, Kajol, Pran, Rajnikanth, Rekha, Irrfan, and Tabu, are also mononymous. Govindjee, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Plant Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an Indian-American and an authority on photosynthesis, publishes his research under his singular name. In the northeastern India state of Mizoram, most people have a single name, mostly of four syllables (e.g., Lalthansanga, Thangrikhuma, Zorinmawia). Everyone also has a tribal or clan name inherited from their father, but they do not include it in their official name.

South Indian film-industry actors have, since inception, adopted the practice of being known mononymously by their first names. In case of any resemblance, for professional purposes they adopt a different given name, use a patronymic surname, or use a fan-given title. This practice is reportedly to keep caste factors at bay. This norm is prevalent across languages.[citation needed] Some notable mononymous stars, among many others, include Rajkumar, Mammootty, Mohanlal, Chiranjeevi, Rajinikanth, Balakrishna, Asin, Malashri, Darshan, Sudeep, Vijay, Prabhas, Yash, Ramya, Upendra, Rambha, and Sridevi.

Mononyms are also common in Indonesia, especially in Javanese names. In some cases, such as those of former Presidents Sukarno and Suharto, the mononym is the full legal name. Other mononyms, such as Rossa, Chrisye and Tohpati, are stage names taken from a nickname or are part of the full name.

Single names still also occur in Tibet[16] and Mongolia.[citation needed] Most Afghans have no surname.[17]

In Thailand, people usually address each other in informal situations by nicknames (Thai: ชึ่อเล่น, romanizedchue-len). Given by parents or relatives in early childhood, these nicknames are typically one syllable (or worn down from two syllables to one). They may often be nonsense words or humorous, and usually have no relation to the person's actual name, although in some cases may be diminutive forms of their first name, like "Nok" for "Noknoi" which means respectively bird and little bird, the first used as nickname and the second being the first name. Many Thais have such a name, even the royal family, and they are freely used in everyday life.[citation needed]

In Bhutan, most people use either only one name or a combination of two personal names typically given by a Buddhist monk. There are no inherited family names, but instead Bhutanese differentiate themselves with nicknames or prefixes.[18]

Mononyms are common in Myanmar. U Thant, a Myanmar diplomat, was the third Secretary-General of the United Nations (1961–71). "U" is an honorific in Burmese, roughly equal to "Mr". "Thant" was his only name, per local convention. In Myanmar, he was known as Pantanaw U Thant, in reference to his hometown, Pantanaw.

In the Near East's Arab world, the Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber (born 1930) at age 17 adopted the mononym pseudonym, Adunis, sometimes also spelled "Adonis". A perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in literature, he has been described as the greatest living poet of the Arab world.[19]

Other examples[edit]

In the West, mononymity, as well as its use by royals in conjunction with titles, has been primarily used or given to famous people such as prominent writers, artists, entertainers, musicians and athletes.[d]

Some persons, such as the artists Vincent and Christo, the sculptor Chryssa and the singer-songwriter Basia, have had polynymous names that were unwieldy, or unfamiliar and difficult to remember or to pronounce in the community in which they were active, but have not wanted to entirely change their names to something more familiar to the broad public at the cost of abandoning their sense of self-identification and so have used only a single part of their full names.

Adele, an English singer and songwriter

Some mononym stage names are the performer's given name (e.g. Brandy, Shakira, Adele, Prince, Mitski, Usher, Selena, Cher, Madonna, Björk, Kelis, Tiffany, Zendaya, Normani). Others may be the performer's middle name (e.g. Rihanna, Drake) or surname (e.g. Teller, Liberace, Mantovani, Morrissey, Feist). Some mononym stage names are invented (e.g. Eminem, Future, Lorde), adopted words (e.g. Capucine, French for "nasturtium") or nicknames (e.g., Sting, Bono, Fergie, Ye). Musicians from non-Anglophone backgrounds may use an anglicized version of their given name (e.g. Enya.)

Others are simply known by their surname such as Hitchcock. This extended into Hollywood, for example with ‘Bogie and Bacall’ referencing husband and wife acting contemporaries, Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) and Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo to name a few.

In Lusophone countries such as Portugal, Cape Verde and especially Brazil, footballers often adopt a mononym (e.g. Pelé, Nani, Ronaldo, Eusébio, Marta). In Spain, mononyms for football players are also common; they include the player's first name (Xavi, Sergi, Raúl), derivations of the player's surname (Coro, Guti), derivations of the player's first name (Juanfran, Kiko), diminutives (Juanito, Mista) and nicknames (Michel, Arteaga, Arzu). Because a large number of Spaniards have the same surnames (García, Pérez, López, Hernández), the use of mononyms makes it easier to distinguish between the many Garcías and Pérezes on each team. Mononyms are occasionally used by players from other countries, for example the Venezuelan Miku, the Ivorian Gervinho and the Serbian-born American Preki. Mononyms can be seen in other sports in these countries, with examples including Brazilian basketball players Hortência and Nenê.

In Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is known as "Lula", a nickname he officially added to his full name. Such mononyms, which take their origin in given names, surnames or nicknames, are used because Portuguese names tend to be rather long.

The American writer of non-fiction and fiction Rodney William Whitaker (1931–2005) is best known for some novels that he wrote under a mononym pen name, Trevanian. The Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh was commonly known as "Karsh of Ottawa".

The comedian and illusionist Teller, the silent half of the duo Penn & Teller, legally changed his original polynym, Raymond Joseph Teller, to the mononym "Teller" and possesses a United States passport issued in that single name.[21][22]

Chyna, an American professional wrestler and actress

The professional wrestler Warrior (born James Hellwig) legally changed his name to the mononym "Warrior" in an effort to boost his standing in a trademark dispute with his employer, the World Wrestling Federation. His children now use the Warrior name (as opposed to Hellwig) as their surname. Chyna did likewise when the now-WWE attempted to restrict her use of the name in pornographic titles; reports conflict as to whether she changed it back to her birth name, Joan Laurer, before she died.

The great British pianist Solomon Cutner (1902–1988) was worldwide known professionally as Solomon.

While some have chosen their own mononym, others have mononyms chosen for them by the public. Oprah Winfrey, famed American talk show host, is usually referred to by only her first name, Oprah. The public has referred to President George W. Bush by the mononym "Dubya" (eye dialect of "W"), to distinguish him from his father, President George (H.W.) Bush.

Both mechanisms contributed in the case of Hillary Clinton, who has been called and has publicly called herself "Hillary". Peter Funt, of Candid Camera, wrote in a February 21, 2007 New York Times op-ed piece, "The Mononym Platform": "Someone has apparently decided that Mrs. Clinton will be the first major single-name candidate since 1952, when Ike's P.R. gurus realized that 'Eisenhower' was tough to fit on a bumper sticker. ... In an apparent attempt to model her marketing on the likes of Madonna, Beyoncé and Cher, Mrs. Clinton's site proclaimed: 'Today, Hillary took the first step...'"[23][e] Examples of mononyms also exist in modern popular culture. For instance, some characters on the NBC television sitcom Seinfeld are referred to only by their last names as a mononym, most prominently: Kramer, played by Michael Richards and Newman, played by Wayne Knight. Newman's name is clearly a true mononym, in that his first name is never used or even revealed. Kramer's first name, Cosmo, is revealed to the other characters and the audience, and so his name could be seen as less of a mononym. However, this does not occur until the show's sixth season, and after the revelation he is still referred to as Kramer. Additionally, on the ABC television sitcom Home Improvement, the character Wilson, played by Earl Hindman, a next-door neighbor of the central characters, is only referred to as Wilson. His full name, Wilson Wilson Jr., is not revealed until the fourth season.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Noun: "mononym"; adverb: "mononymously"; verb: "mononymize"; abstract noun: "mononymity".[2]
  2. ^ "Mononym" is defined in The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989, volume IX, p. 1023) as "A term consisting of one word only […] Hence mononymic […] a[djective], consisting of a mononym or mononyms; mononymy […], a mononymic system; mononymize v[erb], to convert into a mononym; whence mononymization." The term is attested in the English language as early as 1872.
  3. ^ The names of a few European kings have included surname — for example, those of most of Poland's elected kings, such as Stefan Batory.[10]
  4. ^ A Paris Hilton lookalike, Chantelle Houghton, nicknamed "Paris Travelodge", became famous "for not being famous" after winning an extraordinary Celebrity Big Brother. Lucy Rock writes: "It is a select band. Madonna, Maradona, Pelé, Thalía, Sting...even, possibly, Jordan. People who wear their fame with such confidence that they have dispensed with the... concerns of having more than one name. They are the mononym brigade. Now there is one more.... Chantelle is... the apotheosis of that celebrity narrative that first gave us people who were famous for being good at something. Then came the people who were famous for simply... being famous. Now there is Chantelle, who is famous for not being famous at all."[20]
  5. ^ In an interview with Clinton published by, the interviewer acknowledged receiving reader accusations of sexism whenever he referred to Clinton in print as "Hillary" (in contrast with male candidates who were almost always referred to by their last names), although he stated it was primarily to avoid confusion with her husband, President Bill Clinton. [24]


  1. ^ Goldstein, Joseph (2014-12-10). "For Afghans, Name and Birthdate Census Questions Are Not So Simple". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-03.
  2. ^ See "mononym". A Word a Day. 2003-05-06. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
  3. ^ William Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, p. 2060.
  4. ^ Leach, Elizabeth Eva (2002). "Grimace, Magister Grimache, Grymace". In Finscher, Ludwig (ed.). Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Vol. 8. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter. pp. 40–42. ISBN 978-3-476-41020-7.
  5. ^ Richard Holmes, Sidetracks, pp. 345–66; and "Voltaire's Grin", The New York Review of Books, November 30, 1955, pp. 49–55.
  6. ^ F.W.J. Hemmings, "Stendhal", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 25, p. 680.
  7. ^ Elaine Marks, "Colette", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 7, p. 230.
  8. ^ "Witkiewicz, Stanisław Ignacy", Encyklopedia Polski, pp. 747–48.
  9. ^ "Bellotto, Bernardo", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 3, p. 520.
  10. ^ "Stephen Báthory", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 3, p. 346.
  11. ^ Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision-Making in Prewar Japan, preface, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8248-1166-6.
  12. ^ Jan Siwmir, "Nieziemska ziemia" ("An Unearthly Land"), Gwiazda Polarna [The Pole Star]: America's oldest independent Polish-language newspaper, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, vol. 100, no 18, August 29, 2009, p. 1.
  13. ^ Vowel, Chelsea (4 November 2018). "Giving my children Cree names is a powerful act of reclamation". CBC News. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  14. ^ "Newborn Registration Service". Service Ontario. Queen's Printer for Ontario. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  15. ^ All Janice Vidal albums are credited mononymously as "Janice".Vidal, Janice (2005–2006). CD Album booklet. Hong Kong: Amusic. pp. cover.
  16. ^ MacArtney, Jane (August 26, 2008). "Tibets most famous woman blogger Woeser detained by police". The Times. London. Archived from the original on April 18, 2010. Retrieved May 13, 2010.
  17. ^ National Public Radio report of 18 May 2009 about civilian Afghan victims of U.S. drone-aircraft bombings in the U.S.-Taliban war. [1]
  18. ^ Hickok, John. Serving Library Users from Asia: a Comprehensive Handbook of Country-Specific Information and Outreach Resources. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019., p.588
  19. ^ "Adonis: a life in writing". The Guardian. 27 January 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2012. each autumn is credibly tipped for the Nobel in literature
  20. ^ Lucy Rock, "From Nobody Much to Someone Special", The Observer, January 29, 2006 [2]
  21. ^ della Cava, Marco R. (2007-11-16). "At home: Teller's magical Vegas retreat speaks volumes". USA Today. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
  22. ^ "Penn & Teller: Rogue Magician Is EXPOSING Our Secrets!!!". 2012-04-12. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
  23. ^ The Mononym Platform New York Times
  24. ^ Walter Shapiro (Jun 18, 2007). "Hillary's hard-won experience".


External links[edit]