Last-Name Basis

Newscaster: ...Turanga Leela.
Fry: Turanga?!
Amy: That's her name, Philip.
Bender: Philip?!
Futurama, "The Problem With Popplers''

In many shows, the characters refer to each other by their given names, and the audience refers to these characters as such. We refer to the friends of Friends as Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, etc. This is usually the case in Dom Coms and other shows where many of the characters are related and therefore have the same last name. However, The X-Files could probably be considered the Trope Codifier, as that series took this trope to an extreme. Try thinking of a single character in that series who isn't referred to with either a descriptive title, or their last name.

In other shows, usually based on a shared workplace, characters refer to each other by surnames only. Nobody (except his mother and his ex) ever calls House by his given name, Greg; not even his best friend, whom House also calls by surname, Wilson. Most of the characters on CSI call Gil Grissom by his surname (as they do Brass, Hodges, and Ecklie). Accordingly, since this is the way the character is canonically addressed, fans will refer to them by their surname as well, sometimes to the point of forgetting a character's given name entirely.

(These characters are not referred to with titles, either. It's not "Dr. House" to the other regulars. It's just "House.")

At times the Last-Name Basis becomes jarring. When House's Wilson began dating Amber (the only first-namer on the show,) she still referred to him as Wilson, possibly because the writers were so used to the name they just didn't think about it, and possibly because they thought the viewers might not know who "James" was. (This kind of situation may be used to set up a joke if the character has an embarrassing first name.)

Shows which use this trope can instill an artificial dislike for a new or guest character in the audience by putting them on a first name basis with the regular cast. They seem out of place as a result, which causes viewers to regard them as "bad" despite there being absolutely nothing to fault them for.

Characters on a last-name basis are much more likely to be male than female. Sometimes there's a Double Standard for this trope: the same show may refer to men by their last names and women by their first names. In a few of Dan Brown's books, regardless of how the characters address each other, the narrator mostly calls men by their last name, and women by their first name, including protagonists or co-protagonists.

Initial use of this helps give First-Name Basis significance; if the work begins with them on a First-Name Basis, they can't switch in order to mark a significant increase in friendship or knowledge.

In some works, this trope is sometimes used to establish that two or more characters have a antagonistic relationship. The implication of this is that a First-Name Basis is primarily used for friends and families, and that more formal addresses convey a sense of civility and dignity.

If only some characters in a work get this trope, it is frequently because they have a boring or common first name (like John), or an embarrassing or unusual one.

Last-Name Basis is Truth in Television for many non-US cultures; in Latin America it's not uncommon to see close friends calling each other by their last names, and using the family name plus or minus honorific is standard for Japan, where First-Name Basis is a much more significant social statement.

Also Truth in Television for shows set in historical times (before about 1945 in North America and 1980 in the UK). In Regency England, for instance, first names were only used by adults when addressing children (and parents when addressing their own children, even if they were adults), and among siblings or very close female friends. Husbands and wives only addressed each other by their first names when alone: in public or even amongst their family, they often referred to each other more formally. In many ways, the use of the first name became the English-language version of the French tutoyer, as if addressing someone by their first name without a good reason showed that you didn't see them as your equal. While modern Americans see using the first name as friendly and egalitarian, someone from this time frame would see it as pushy, rude, and intrusive.

How much Truth in Television this is for modern US culture varies, especially for professional settings. Title-and-last-name-basis is often used in formal business relationships, for example with a customer or a boss. Even in less formal settings, Last-Name Basis is seen among groups of coworkers and male persons, especially when there is a lot of first-name overlap. Female persons tend to stay with first names and tend to only use both first and last names if there is an overlap. It's also the standard in the US military, where you might be a bit hazy on the first name of your best buds.

Compare Full-Name Basis, They Call Me Mister Tibbs. Contrast Hey, You! and Terms of Endangerment.


  • In This Is War Logan specifically tells Tex to refer to him by his surname.
  • In Critical Hit, a live play Dungeons & Dragons podcast, Ket refers to his teammates almost exclusively by their last name while giving orders in battle.
  • Everyone in Wolf 359 refers to one another by their last names, with the exception of very emotionally heavy situations. This often leads to many characters only being known by their last names for a long time (Minkowski's first name - Reneé - wasn't revealed until the start of season 2).
    • Averted with Cutter, who makes a point of referring to people by their first names.

     Web Animation 
  • In RWBY, Lie Ren is referred to in show as just Ren, and provides the R to his team's name (JNPR). This was the subject of much fan speculation about Western/Eastern name order, until Volume 4 confirmed that he goes by his surname.
    • Roman is occasionally referred to as just "Torchwick."

Alternative Title(s): Only Know By The Surname, Surname Basis