A mononymous person is an individual who is known and addressed by a mononym, or "single name". In some cases, that name has been selected by the individual, who may have originally been given a polynym ("multiple name"). In other cases, it has been determined by the custom of the country 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.
The structure of persons' names has varied across time and geography. In some communities, 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. Later, Biblical names were typically mononymous, as were names in the surrounding cultures of the Fertile Crescent. Ancient Greek names also follow the pattern, with second names only used to avoid confusion, as in the case of Zeno the Stoic and Zeno of Elea; patronymics or other biographic details (such as city of origin, or another city the individual was associated with, borough, occupation) 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 (the use being mostly typical of the upper class, while plebeians would usually have only two names) name comprised three parts, praenomen (given name), nomen (clan name) and cognomen (family line within the clan) — the nomen and cognomen being virtually always hereditary.
During the early Middle Ages, mononymity slowly declined, with northern and eastern Europe keeping the tradition longer than the south; an example is Edeko, the East Germanic chieftain whose son ruled Italy as Flavius Odoacer. By the end of the period, surnames had become commonplace: Edmund Ironside, for example, ruled England, Brian Boru was High-king of Ireland, Kenneth MacAlpin had united Scotland, and even in Scandinavia surnames were taking hold. 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.
Between Columbus' arrival in the New World and the late 19th century, most native Americans were mononymous. Examples include Agüeybaná (Puerto Rico, died 1510), Auoindaon (Canada, flourished 1623), Pocahontas (United States, 1595–1617), Guamá (Cuba, died 1532), Anacaona (Haiti, 1464–1504), Moctezuma (Mexico, 1398–1469), Lempira (Honduras, died 1537), Diriangen (Nicaragua, fl. 1520), Urracá (Panama, died 1531), Tamanaco (Venezuela, died 1573), Atahualpa (Ecuador, 1497–1533), Cangapol (Argentina, fl. 1735), Lautaro (Chile, 1534–1557), and Tecumseh (United States, 1768–1813). Uniquely, the Dutch-Seneca diplomat Cornplanter was given both a Seneca language mononym (Kaintwakon, which roughly translates as "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, instead use "Cornplanter" as the family name instead of "Abeel." In the 19th century, most chiefs involved in the Apache Wars had mononymous birth names, and some replaced those with mononymous nicknames: Geronimo (born Goyaałé), Victorio (born Beduiat), Cochise, and so on.
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.
In the 18th century, François-Marie Arouet took the mononym "Voltaire", for both literary and personal use, in 1718 after his imprisonment in Paris's 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]"; it reversed the syllables of the name of a family château, "Airvault"; and it has implications of speed and daring through similarity with French expressions such as "voltige", "volte-face" and "volatile". "Arouet", on the other hand, would not serve the same purpose, given that name's associations with "roué" and with an expression that meant "for thrashing."
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 greatly admired.
Some French actors and singers, have used their given name or surname as a stage mononym.
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). In 2002 Multatuli was proclaimed by the Society for Dutch Literature to have been the most important Dutch writer of all time. The Dutch writer Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh (1882-1961) wrote under the pseudonym Nescio (Latin for "I don't know").
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).
In the Soviet Union, Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky are assumed names, for similar reasons. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov adopted the pen name Lenin while publishing anti-Tsarist propaganda in the 1910s, and was generally known as Lenin (or sometimes V.I. Lenin) after rising to power in the October Revolution. Iosif Vissarionitch Dzhugashvili assumed the pen name Stalin, from the Russian word for "steel", and was also generally known by this name after the revolution. Similarly, Lev Davidovich Bronshtein assumed the name Leon Trotsky, which then became shortened over time to Trotsky.
A number of visual artists, such as Michelangelo, Titian, Tintoretto, 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.
The American writer of non-fiction and fiction, Rodney William Whitaker (1931–2005), is best known for some novels that he wrote under the mononym pen name, "Trevanian". The Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh was commonly known as "Karsh of Ottawa".
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. In Japan, the emperor and his family have no surname, only a given name, such as Hirohito, which in practice is rarely used: out of respect and as a measure of politeness, Japanese prefer to say "the Emperor" or "the Crown Prince." 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.
In Turkey, surnames were introduced only after World War I as part of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's program of modernization and westernization. Common people are normally addressed by their first name only (plus a "Mr." or "Mrs."), famous personalities such as singers and actors by given and family name, and politicians by surname only (Ecevit, Demirel).
In modern times, in countries that have long been part of the Chinese cultural sphere (Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China itself), mononyms are rare. An exception pertains to the Emperor of Japan (a common opinion being that there is no state to give the family name (苗字) to the Emperor). Mononyms are common as stage names in the Japanese 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. Also, Japanese baseball superstar 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, Jin, and Justin Lo (who uses the Chinese mononym, "側田"). In Korea, singers such as BoA, Rain, Zelo, Shoo and Psy are known by their mononyms.
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. Several Indian film personalities, such as Pran, Sridevi, Rekha, Kajol, Dharmendra, and Rajnikanth, are also known only by their mononyms. Surnames are common in northern India, but less so in the south. In the southern State of Tamil Nadu, for instance, social-reform movements resulted in people discarding surnames which are synonymous with caste names.
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, as often among Javanese people of common birth. Other mononyms, such as Rossa, Chrisye and Tohpati, are stage names taken from a nickname or are part of the full name.
In Thailand, people usually address each other in informal situations by nicknames (Thai: ชึ่อเล่น chue-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. All Thais have such a name, even the royal family, and they are freely used in everyday life.
U Thant, a Burmese 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 Burmese convention. In Burma, he was known as Pantanaw U Thant, in reference to his hometown, Pantanaw.
Surnames were introduced in Turkey after World War I, as part of his westernizing and modernizing program, by that country's first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. His own surname, Atatürk, which was bestowed by the Turkish parliament, means "Father Turk."
In the West, mononymity, as well as its use by royals in conjunction with titles, has been primarily a privilege of famous persons such as prominent writers, artists, entertainers, musicians and athletes.
Some persons, such as the artist 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 currently 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.
The case of the Icelandic musician Björk is similar, but her use of a single name also has roots in her native culture. Like most Icelanders, she has no family name; the second part of her full name is a patronymic. Icelanders generally address one another solely by given names even in formal settings.
Some mononym stage names are the performer's given name (e.g., Adele, Beyoncé, Madonna, Prince, Cher, Enya, Shakira, Donovan while others may be the performer's middle name (e.g., Rihanna, Drake), or surname (e.g., Feist, Liberace, Mantovani, Morrissey, Nilsson). Some mononym stage names are invented (e.g. Lorde, Cantinflas, Xzibit), adopted words (e.g. Capucine, French for "nasturtium") or nicknames (e.g., Sting, Bono, Moby, Nena). The names of Chilean musicians Nicole, Gepe, Chinoy and Puerto Rican singer Chayanne are also invented stage names.
In Lusophone countries such as Portugal, Cape Verde and especially Brazil, football players often adopt a mononym (e.g. Pelé, Nani, Ronaldo, Eusébio, Marta). In Spain, mononyms for football players are also very common; they include nicknames (Michel, Arteaga, Arzu), derivations of the player's surname (Coro, Guti), derivations of the player's first name (Juanfran, Kiko), diminutives (Juanito, Mista), or the player's first name (Xavi, Sergi, Raúl). Because there are a few very common surnames in Spain (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.
The former president of Brazil, 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 comedian and illusionist Teller, the silent half of the duo Penn & Teller, has legally changed his original polynym, Raymond Joseph Teller, to the mononym "Teller" and possesses a United States passport issued in that single name.
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.
Some have selected their mononym themselves, when they have been able to do so, because of its distinctiveness. Others have come to be known by a mononym that has been applied to them by some segment of 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 W ("Dubya"'), in distinction to his father President George (H.W.) Bush. Both mechanisms contributed in the case of Hillary Rodham 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...'..." In an interview with Hillary Clinton published in Salon.com, 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 Bill Clinton.
- From the Greek monos ("single") and onoma ("name"). Noun: "mononym"; adverb: "mononymously"; verb: "mononymize"; abstract noun: "mononymity". See "mononym". A Word a Day. 2003-05-06. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
- "Mononym... f[rom the] Gr[eek]... mono- + ... name" 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.
- For example, Javanese names traditionally are mononymic.
- William Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, p. 2060.
- Richard Holmes, Sidetracks, pp. 345–66; and "Voltaire's Grin", New York Review of Books, November 30, 1955, pp. 49–55.
- F.W.J. Hemmings, "Stendhal", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 25, p. 680.
- Elaine Marks, "Colette", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 7, p. 230.
- "Witkiewicz, Stanisław Ignacy", Encyklopedia Polski, pp. 747–48.
- "Bellotto, Bernardo", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 3, p. 520.
- The names of a few European kings have included surname — for example, those of most of Poland's elected kings, such as Stefan Batory. "Stephen Báthory", Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 3, p. 346.
- 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.
- All Janice Vidal albums are credited mononymously as "Janice".Vidal, Janice (2005, 2006). CD Album booklet. Hong Kong: Amusic. pp. cover. Check date values in:
- MacArtney, Jane (August 26, 2008). "Tibets most famous woman blogger Woeser detained by police". The Times (London). Retrieved May 13, 2010.
- National Public Radio report of 18 May 2009 about civilian Afghan victims of U.S. drone-aircraft bombings in the U.S.-Taliban war. 
- 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.
- "A mononym is a name consisting of a single word. They are generally favored by celebrities of sufficient stature to be identified in this way, such as Madonna, Pelé."  "Mononym", on Answers.com
- 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." Lucy Rock, "From Nobody Much to Someone Special", The Observer, January 29, 2006 
- della Cava, Marco R. (2007-11-16). "At home: Teller's magical Vegas retreat speaks volumes". USA Today. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- "Penn & Teller: Rogue Magician Is EXPOSING Our Secrets!!!". TMZ.com. 2012-04-12. Retrieved 2012-06-27.
- The Mononym Platform New York Times
- Walter Shapiro (Jun 18, 2007). "Hillary's hard-won experience". Salon.com.
- Encyclopedia Americana, Danville, CT, Grolier, 1986 ed., ISBN 0-7172-0117-1.
- Encyklopedia Polski (Encyclopedia of Poland), Kraków, Wydawnictwo Ryszard Kluszczyński, 1996, ISBN 83-86328-60-6.
- Richard Holmes, "Voltaire's Grin", New York Review of Books, November 30, 1995, pp. 49–55.
- Richard Holmes, Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer, New York, HarperCollins, 2000.
- William Smith (lexicographer), Dictionary of the Bible: Comprising Its Antiquities..., 1860–65.
- Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision-Making in Prewar Japan, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, ISBN 0-8248-1166-6.