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Useful Notes / Name Order Conventions

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Different cultures, particularly those speaking different languages, have different Naming Conventions for name order. In some cases, a single language can have multiple name orders, such one standard name order, and another for formal documents. When someone used to one naming convention encounters another, Name Order Confusion may occur.

Some naming conventions have their own Useful Notes pages:

Specific name orders include:

  • Western: given name, followed by middle names (if any), followed by family name. Thus, William Shakespeare was William of the Shakespeare family. Since this is the convention best known to English speakers, the given and family name are usually called the "first" and "last" name in English. The only European culture that places the family name first is the Hungariansnote . In general, people are addressed by their first names by personal friends, and by their last names in formal situations. Therefore, someone with the name John Andrew Smith will be addressed as John by his friends, and Mr Smith in formal situations.
    • Hispanic: given name, father's first family name, mother's first family name. Thus, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former president of Spain, is the son of Juan Rodríguez and Purificación Zapatero. A common practice among Hispanics in other countries is to merge the two family names into one single surname, sometimes with a hyphen. See also Overly Long Spanish Name.
    • Lusitanic: given name, mother's last family name, father last family name.
    • Icelandic: given name, father's given name plus -son if male or -dottir if female. Thus, Ólafur Grímsson, former President of Iceland, is Ólafur, son of Grím. Due to the fact that the last names are patronymics rather than family names, first names are always used when addressing individuals. Therefore, Ólafur Grímsson would be addressed as Mr Ólafur even in the most formal situations.
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    • Irish: Mostly outdated, but some Irish speaking areas still refer to people use the genitive form of their father's and grandfather's as surnames or sometimes other important relations. Thus Séan son of Pól and grandson of Séamus would be known as "Seán Phóil Shéamuis". Other Celtic nations also historically used a Patronymic system and some attempts at revival are being made.
    • France: the family name comes last, except in some official documents. Thankfully, it is sometimes clarified by putting the family name in all caps or by putting the given name in brackets.
    • Britain, especially Wales: if a person has three names and the last is a very common surname (e.g. Jones, Smith) then the second name may well be a middle name used more prominently than usual, making it look like part of a double-barrelled surname (hyphenated or not). Well-known people sometimes use this device as a kind of pseudonym, but some use it in their private lives too. Examples: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Marshall Smith (family names Jones and Smith respectively). This can be a problem when people are listed by surname, as in bookstores; sometimes there's no handy way to tell whether (made-up example) Sarah Rowan Brown should be "Brown, Sarah Rowan" or "Rowan Brown, Sarah".
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    • In some German-speaking regions, e. g. the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, people are still accustomed to put the surname first, thus Anton Graswander will be referred to as der Graswander Toni.
  • Ancient Roman: given name, followed by the name of the clan (gens), followed by the name of a family within the clan. (Women, however, generally only had a given name.) Thus, Gaius Julius Caesar was Gaius of the Caesar family within the Julius clan. What creates confusion is arbitrary shortening of names: Caesar's one-time allies in the First Triumvirate, commonly known as Crassus and Pompey, had different components taken out, as their full names were Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Some famous (or infamous) Romans got a fourth name (agnomen) for their achievements, such as Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who got the nickname Felix (fortunate).
  • East Asian: for the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, family name, followed by given name. However, the names are often (and inconsistently) swapped in the West to match the Western convention: Thus, Hayao of the Miyazaki family, known as Hayao Miyazaki in the West, is known as Miyazaki Hayao (宮崎 駿) back in Japan.
    • Hong Kong: If a person has a Western given name in addition to a Chinese one, then in English-language sources their full name order will be the Western given name, followed by the family name, followed by the Chinese given name. For example, the second Chief Executive Sir Yam-Kuen, or Donald, of the Tseng family, is known as Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen.
      • This order is not always strictly followed: it is also common (especially when it comes to computers) to put both given names together, giving Yam-Kuen Donald Tsang in Western media and Tsang Yam-Kuen Donald in Eastern ones.
      • Chinese given names may be one or two syllable affairs and may or may not be hyphenated. In some cases, the second syllable maps directly into the western idea of a "middle name". For some, the English given name may be a pet name and may not appear in formal documents.
      • Certain Chinese families also use the first character of the given name as a generational name, which can be traced back to the originator of the last name. For example, Kung Tsui-chang (孔垂长), a government official in Taiwan, is a descendant in the 79th generation from Confucius, which is indicated by the word 垂 (Tsui) in his name. Anyone else whose name started with 孔垂 (Kung Tsui) would also have Confucius as their great-great-great-(77 greats)-grandfather.
    • Korean given names consist of two syllables, usually hyphenated in the West (such as Kim Jong-il, Jong-il of the Kim family). It is common for the given name to include a generational name, with one of the syllables being shared either by all siblings in a family (in North Korea) or all members of the same generation in an extended family (in South Korea). There are less than 300 family names in Korea, almost all are a single syllable (the rare two-syllable surnames, of which there are only about a dozen, are never hyphenated in the West). Approximately 54% of Koreans have one of five surnames: Kim, Lee, Park, Choi or Jung (with each having several Romanization variants).
    • To further complicate Japanese name transliterations, historical persons' (defined to be anyone born before the Meiji Restoration) names are not supposed to be swapped around, i.e. Tokugawa Ieyasu is Tokugawa Ieyasu in English, not Ieyasu Tokugawa (Except in other Western languages besides English). Too bad that they forgot to tell this to the Japanese who have a tendency to automatically swap name order in all names when writing them in the Latin alphabet, assuming that this is the correct way. Japan itself has sometimes subverted the rule, but they treat it like foreigners would be more likely to violate the rule and spoke historical people's name in first name-last name order, when that happens, katakana is used. Could be one way to identify which person is a native Japanese and which one is a foreigner.
  • Vietnamese names generally follow East Asian traditions, with family name followed by given name, but because about 40% of the country shares the last name Nguyễn, newspapers will often refer to people by the final word(s) of their given names, and this is the form used even in formal situations. Therefore, the Vietnamese prime minister, Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, is generally referred to as Mr Dũng despite the fact that Nguyễn is his family name.
    • Similarly large number of Vietnamese have the same given name meaning the way to refer people is middle name(2nd middle name is they have a four words name) given name ie: Mr. Tấn Dũng
  • Thai names usually follow the Western naming orders of given name + family name. However, Thais generally do not address each other using their family names, even in the most formal situations. Therefore, the current prime minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra is addressed as Ms Yingluck even though Shinawatra is the family name.
  • Burmese names are generally simpler than their Western counterparts, using only given names with no family name, patronymic or matronymic. Therefore, in the case of independence hero Aung San, that is his given name, and he has no family name or patronymic to go with it.
  • Russian: given name, followed by patronymic, followed by family name. Thus, Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia, was also known as Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov, which means Nikolai, son of Aleksandr, of the Romanovs family. The patronymic is often left out by Russians — except when addressing or referring to someone deferentially (e.g., a teacher or significantly older acquaintance), in which case only the given name and patronymic will be used. And to add to the confusion, most Russian formal documents place the family name first; e.g., "Romanov Nikolai Aleksandrovich".
    • They also add an "-a" to the end of most family names for women, thus Anastasia, youngest daughter of Nicholas II, is Anastasiya Nikolaevna Romanova. However, there are a few exceptions. A woman from a family with a name ending in "-(s)ky" will have that name with the ending "-(s)kaya". Some family names, such as those ending in "-o" and many non-Russian names are left unchanged.
  • Indian names generally follow Western naming conventions and modes of address. An exception would be Tamil names, as Tamils generally do not have family names. Tamil names typically go by the form given name + father's name, or father's initial + given name. Therefore, someone called Ramesh Ramaiah has the given name Ramesh, with Ramaiah being his father's name. He may also be known as R. Ramesh. Due to the patronymic nature of Tamil last names, first names are always used when addressing a person, even in formal situations. Therefore, in the above scenario, Ramesh Ramaiah will be addressed as Mr Ramesh.
  • Malay names as seen in Malaysia generally follow the pattern of given name + bin + father's name for men, and given name + binti + father's name for women. Due to the patronymic nature of the last name, first names are always used when addressing a person, even in formal situations. Therefore, the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, would be addressed as Dr Mahathir.
  • Arabic: a full-blown Arabic name has, in the following order, an optional kunya (a reverse patronymic, or "teknonym", meaning "mother/father of"), an ism (a given name), a nasab (a patronymic or string of patronymics), a laqab (a descriptive, sort of like a nickname) and a nisba (a family laqab, closely approaching the European "family name"). Fortunately, most contemporary Arabs only use the given name and one or more patronymics on an everyday basis, with either a patronymic, an ancestor's laqab, or a nisba serving as a surname (patronymics being most common in eastern Arab countries like Egypt and Lebanon, while laqab and nisba use is most common in western Arab countries like Morocco). Some countries have adopted fully western conventions, and most use them for international documents, though westerners may be required to construct such a full name for internal documents, such as visa applications.
    • The order has not been static throughout history. Example: In the full name of the arabic conqueror Saladin, "Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub", the laqab, 'Salah ad-Din', meaning "Righteousness of the Faith", comes first. The ism, 'Yusuf' comes next, then the nasab, 'ibn Ayyub'. Roughly translated to English, it's "Righteousness of the Faith, Joseph, son of Job."
    • A modern example: the Sudanese/British (Sudanese father, British mother) actor who goes by the stage name Alexander Siddig has the full name of Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi.
  • Hebrew: many Jews have rather complex Hebrew names. An example is Paltiel Yeshai ben Pesach Yonah ha Kohen... or first name, middle name son of father's first and middle name, of the order of the Kohanim (Priestly Class of the Tribe of Levi). A female Jew would replace the 'ben' (son of) with 'bat' (daughter of). Some males will use the Aramaic 'bar' instead of 'ben'. There are in theory 11 and 2 half tribes plus the Priests, but many of the original tribes are assumed to be extinct and new ones created; vis ha Israel, ha Levi, ha Mizrahi, etc. Creation of new Hebrew names was commonplace after the founding of modern Israel in 1948; ex-European Jews often created Hebrew versions of their old European names, or discarded them entirely in favor of patriotic Hebrew names.

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