Given name

Given name

A given name, in Western contexts often referred to as a first 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 purposefully given, usually by a child's parents at or near birth, in contrast to an inherited one such as a family name.[1]

In most European (and Europe-derived) cultures, 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 the family name traditionally comes first in Hungary, parts of Africa and most of East Asia (e.g. China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam). 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 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.

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 familiarity of addressing another by a given name.

The western style of having both a family name (surname) and a given name (Christian name or forename) is far from universal. In many countries it is common for ordinary people to have only one name or Mononym.



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, Quebec, 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).[citation needed] Even spell-checking of the name is done.

Men born in one country who immigrate to another with different naming conventions may have their names legally changed accordingly.[citation needed] 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."[citation needed]

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".[2][3] English examples include Faith, Prudence and August.
  • Occupations, for example George means "farmer".[4]
  • Circumstances of birth, for example Thomas meaning "twin" or the Latin name Quintus, which was traditionally given to the fifth male child.[5][6]
  • Objects, for example Peter means "rock" and Edgar means "rich spear".[7][8]
  • Physical characteristics, for example Calvin means "bald".[9]
  • 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").[10][11][12]
  • Surnames, for example Winston,[13] Harrison,[14] and Ross.[15] Such names often come from families that are frequently intermarried with the family bearing the individual's surname.
  • Places, for example Brittany[16] and Lorraine.[17]
  • Time of birth, for example day of the week, as in Kofi Annan, whose given name means "born on Friday",[18] or the holiday on which one was born, for example, the name Natalie meaning "[born on] Christmas day" in Latin.[19]
  • Combination of the above, for example the Armenian name Sirvart means "love rose."[20]
  • Names of unknown or disputed etymology, for example Mary.[21]

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 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.[22]

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 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, 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 consist of word "slava" - glory: Bolesław, Miroslav, Vladislav, Radoslav and Stanisław.
  • 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. Some of the names are often, but not always, anglicised. Examples: Eleanor, Stephen, Alexander, Andrew, Peter, Gregory, George, Christopher, Melissa, Margaret, Nicholas, Jason, Timothy, Chloe and Zoë.
  • 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, Paul (from Lat. "Paulus"), Julius, Cecilia, Felix, Julia, Trent, Pascal (not a traditional-type Latin name, but the adjective-turned-name paschalis, "relating to the Pascha"—English "Easter").
  • 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, flower, birds, colors, or gemstones. Examples include Jasmine, Lavender, Dawn, Daisy, Rose, Iris, Petunia, Rowan, and Violet. Male names of this sort are less common—sometimes names like Bronco and Wolf associated with strong or dangerous animals. (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 virtuesFaith, 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 "Robby" 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 Many masculine names have feminine variations, often multiple ones. Examples: Charlotte, Stephanie, Victoria, Philippa, Jane, Jacqueline, Josephine, Danielle, Paula, Pauline, Patricia and 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, and its French version, Suzanne, and its Polish version, Zuzanna.

East Asia

Chinese given names are often unique, because meaningful Han 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 people are also reused occasionally. Nevertheless, many Chinese and Korean parents invest tremendous effort in considering the names of their children before birth, often with comprehensive dictionaries or with religious guides, formal or informal. Sometimes, especially in traditional families, paternal grandparents are the name-givers.

Unlike European languages, the Chinese language does not have a particular set of words reserved for given names; any combination of Chinese characters theoretically can be used as a given name. This fact sometimes makes Chinese people think that there may be more English-speaking people sharing identical full names than Chinese. This is not the case, because English has a much larger variety of family names.[citation needed]

In many Westernized Asian locations, many Asians also use a Western (often English) given name, which may be official or not, 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, 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 Jordan, Jamie, Jesse, Alex, Ashley, Chris, Hilary/Hillary, Kim, Leslie/Lesley, Joe/Jo, Jackie, Pat, Sam. Often, one gender is predominant; often a particular spelling is 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.

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.[23] 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.[24]

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.[25] 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).[26]

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 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'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.[26]

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.[26] 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, 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).

The oldest ever female twins, who both died in 2000 and 2001, were named Kin Narita and Gin Kanie, gold and silver respectively in Japanese.

For more possible origins, see the article List of twins.

Related articles and lists

By type

By language

  • Germanic names
    • Dutch name
    • German names
    • Scandinavian given names
  • Indian
    • Indian names
  • French
    • French names
  • Spanish
    • Spanish name
Central Asia, Altaic, Finno-Ugric
Middle East
East Asia
  • Akan name


  1. ^ "A name given to a person at birth or at baptism, as distinguished from a surname" – according to the American Heritage Dictionary
  2. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Clement". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  3. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Clemens". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  4. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name George". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  5. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Thomas". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  6. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Quintus". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  7. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Edgar". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  8. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Peter". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  9. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Calvin". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  10. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Francis". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  11. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Francisco". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  12. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Franciscus". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  13. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Winston". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  14. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Harrison". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  15. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Ross". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  16. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Brittany". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  17. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Lorraine". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  18. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Kofi". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  19. ^ Igor Katsev. "Origin and Meaning of Natalie". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  20. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Sirvart". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  21. ^ Mike Campbell. "Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Mary". Behind the Name. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  22. ^ Polish names
  23. ^ First Name Popularity in England and Wales over the Past Thousand Years
  24. ^ Analytical Visions: Names
  25. ^ National Statistics Online
  26. ^ a b c Popular Baby Names, Social Security Administration, USA

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Given name — Name Name (n[=a]m), n. [AS. nama; akin to D. naam, OS. & OHG. namo, G. name, Icel. nafn, for namn, Dan. navn, Sw. namn, Goth. nam[=o], L. nomen (perh. influenced by noscere, gnoscere, to learn to know), Gr. o mona, Scr. n[=a]man. [root]267. Cf.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Given name — Given Giv en, p. p. & a. from {Give}, v. [1913 Webster] 1. (Math. & Logic) Granted; assumed; supposed to be known; set forth as a known quantity, relation, or premise. [1913 Webster] 2. Disposed; inclined; used with an adv.; as, virtuously given …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • given name — given names N COUNT: oft with poss A given name is a person s first name, which they are given at birth in addition to their surname. [FORMAL] Syn: first name …   English dictionary

  • given name — n. the first name of a person; name given at birth or baptism, as distinguished from the surname; forename …   English World dictionary

  • given name — given ,name noun count the name your parents give you when you are born: FIRST NAME => NAME …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • given name — n AmE your ↑first name …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • given name — see Christian name …   Modern English usage

  • given name — index call (title) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • given name — noun the name that precedes the surname • Syn: ↑first name, ↑forename • Hypernyms: ↑name • Hyponyms: ↑Christian name, ↑baptismal name, ↑praenomen * * * …   Useful english dictionary

  • given name — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms given name : singular given name plural given names mainly American the name that your parents give you when you are born • See: name …   English dictionary

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