Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / Naming Conventions

Go To

There are many different ways that names are structured and have been structured throughout the world, here are many examples:

General topics

Names by culture

    open/close all folders 

    The Modern Western World 
In much of Western Europe and countries influenced by them (i.e. the USA and Canada) the standard is to have a Personal Name first and a patrilineal family name or surname last, with one or more middle names in between that are rarely used. In most cases women changed their surname to their husband's upon marriage, but there's something of a trend for women to keep their "maiden" name or attach their husband's surname to their own with a hyphen.

While there's less of a tendency for baby names to cross religious lines on the whole (for example, Jewish baby names aren't typically taken from those more often associated with Christian saints or New Testament figures) it's something of a thing for black families in the western world to choose Arabic names, like Aisha and Khadija, despite not being Muslim themselves.

    English Language Names 
Names in the English language reflect the wide variety of cultures and languages that have swept through the islands, whether as conquerors of a backwater or as immigrants and slaves to a powerful empire. There are Celtic, German, Baltic, French, Roman, and Hebrew influences, to name just a few.

English nicknames also reflect this variety of influences. Most often, a nickname is just a shortened version of the full version (Richard —> Rich, Jonathan —> Jon), but some are more obscure.

  • Jack: This is a nickname for John that comes from German history. It was common to tack "-kin" onto a name as an affectionate nickname, from "kind", or "child". Essentially putting "boy" or "girl" on the name. Jan-kin == John-Boy. Shorten it a little bit and Jankin becomes Jack.
  • Rhyming nicknames: For a few centuries there, it was common to not only shorten a name but to rhyme it. Thus Margaret —> Meg & Peg. Robert & Robin —> Rob, Dob, & Hob. Rickard —> Rick —> Dick & Hick. That, by the way, is why we call country bumpkins hicks. They hung onto the old-fashioned nicknaming system long after it fell out of style. Only a rube would still call himself Hick. This also explains the opening of the rhyme "Hickory, Dickory, Doc". Those are the names of the three mice that ran up the clock.

From the 7th century B.C. to A.D. most Roman men had at least three names. A praenomen or personal name, a nomen gentilicium indicating membership in a gens or extended family/clan, and a cognomen, which started as a second personal name but later became hereditary tied to specific lineages within a gens. For instance, Gaius Julius Caesar could be written in modern English as "Gaius of the Caesarian branch of the Julius family".

The Romans also used patronymics, or filliations, to an extent, using their father's praenomen followed by filius (male) or fillia (female) between the nomen and cognomen. In addition the eldest son was traditionally given the same praenomen as his father.

For a brief time it was also common to include a Roman's voting tribe (tribus) in their name after the filliation and before the cognomen.

Adoption was commonplace among Patricians without biological sons as a means of continuing their family lines. In such cases the adopted son would take on his adoptive father's praenomen, nomen, and cognomen as with biological eldest sons and his original nomen would form the basis of a new surname. For instance, when Gaius Julius Caesar adopted his grand-nephew Gaius Octavius he became known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.

Women originally had all the same names as men, but over the course of the Republic's reign, the female praenomen became less important in Roman society. More and more women were known simply by their nomen, especially after they marriage; as they kept their birth nomen and would usually become the only person in their husband's household with that nomen. By the Imperial era, it was largely only women with sisters in the same household who used praenomina.

Emperors and their heirs were known for changing their names frequently. Many early emperors adopted their heirs from other branches of the gens as in the case of the first two. The title of Imperator (emperor) was itself a secondary praenomen first given to Octavian by his troops, while Augustus was granted to him as a cognomen by the senate. Successive emperors also took the praenomen and cognomen Imperator and Augustus upon their ascension to the throne. Caesar came to be a cognomen designating an heir apparent rather than any specific bloodline, even after Gaius Julius Caesar's Julio-Claudian dynasty died with Imperator Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Incidentally, the only European culture that places the family name first is the Hungarians. 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.

<given name> <mother's last family name> <father last family name>.

<given name> <Patronymic>

In Icelandic, a patronymic usually consists of the father's given name in the genitive form, followed by the suffix -son (masculine) or -dottir (feminine).

So, for example, if Jón and Sara, an Icelandic couple, were to have a son named Stefán and a daughter named Freyja, their children's legal Icelandic names would be Stefán Jónsson (Stefán, Jón's son) and Freyja Jónsdottir (Freyja, Jón's daughter), respectively.

Icelandic people may also use a matronymic if they so choose, e.g. to distance themself from the father, make a social statement, or as a matter of personal style, with little to no social stigma attached. Since 2019, a neuter (gender-neutral) suffix -bur (based on a poetic form of "son", in this case, it would be "child of [X]") can be legally used in an Icelandic patronymic for non-binary individuals.

Due to the patronymic nature of the last name, first names are always used when addressing a person, even in formal situations; by way of example, the former prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir would not be introduced as 'Ms Sigurðardóttir' but either by her first name or her full name, and usually addressed by her first name only.

    East and Southeast Asian 
Chinese - <family name> <given name>
Japanese - <family name> <given name>
Korean - <family name> <given name> - Korean given names consist of two syllables, usually hyphenated in the West. It is common for given include "generational name", one syllables shared by all siblings in a family (North Korea) or all members of same generation in extended family (South Korea).

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.
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.

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.

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 second word 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.

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 cast of independence hero Aung San, that is his given name, and he has no family name or patronymic to go with it.

Generally follow Western naming conventions and modes of address.

An exception would be Tamil names, as Tamils generally do no 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.

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 former Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, is addressed as Dr. Mahathir.

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."

While most modern Jews have adopted Western-style surnames they historically used patronymics prefixed by ben-/bar- (son of) or bat- (daughter of) sometimes followed by the name of an ancient tribe of Israel. Such names are still used in religious ceremonies such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. An example is Paltiel Yeshai ben Pesach Yonah ha Kohen... or [given name], son of [father's given name], of the order of the Kohanim (Priestly Class of the Tribe of Levi). There are in theory eleven tribes and two 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.

While it seems to be a common practice in English-speaking countries for a boy to be given his father's given name as a middle name, it's customary to name a Jewish baby after a predeceased relative, typically an elder, except in the case of Sephardic Jews, who are more likely to name a baby after a living relative.

Given that there are over 300 recognized ethnic groups in Indonesia, it's not surprising that there is considerable variance in naming conventions between groups. Some examples:
  • Javanese people often only have single name, such as the former dictators Sukarno and Suharto. Javanese Christians will often have a baptismal name in addition to their single name, usually a Latin-derived name for Catholics or a contemporary English western name for Protestants. More recently, it's become increasingly common for Javanese to have surnames, which are often patronymics.
  • Balinese (who are predominantly Hindu) will usually have a given name indicating which number sibling they are, and a surname indicating their caste.
  • Muslims (the largest religious group in Indonesia) often use Arabic or Arabic-derived names.
  • Recently, it has been popular to have a Western first name. Sometimes, this will be derived from the month that person was born (such as Yanuar for January, Febriyanto for February, and so on).
  • Indonesians of Chinese descent used to use Chinese names, until they were forcibly assimilated to adopt "Indonesian" names under Suharto's rule. After these laws were repealed, some have kept those names, while others have reverted to using their Chinese names.
  • The Minangkabau, the fourth-largest ethnic group in Indonesia, uses a matrilineal naming convention, and is the largest ethnic group in the world to do so.
  • Other ethnic groups in Indonesia use patronymic and clan naming conventions.

The current Filipino naming system is a combination of Spanish and American (Anglo-Saxon) naming conventions, given the history of colonization under those two countries. Simply put, <given name> <maternal surname, which is commonly used as the person's middle name> <paternal surname, which is commonly used as the person's surname>. Today, it's not strange for Filipinos to have multiple given names, mostly for uniqueness's sake. For legal purposes (such as mugshots), the Spanish order is used, complete with the particle y.

In pre-colonial times, a Tagalog man would lose his name and instead adopt the name of his firstborn child, with the pattern "Ama ni <firstborn's name>" (father of <firstborn's name>). This resembles the Malay naming pattern given above.

The main reason Filipinos today have Spanish surnames despite having little to no drop of Spanish blood is a book titled Catálogo alfabético de apellidos (Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames), which was published in 1849 following an edict by Governor-General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa that standardized Filipino naming conventions for census purposes. Some Filipinos, especially those who were descended from the pre-colonial nobles, were allowed to keep their original surnames.

Besides Spanish, there's also a healthy mix of indigenous and Chinese surnames. Indigenous-derived surnames are usually descriptive and are often Awesome McCoolnames, such as Panganiban ("aware of danger") and Dimaapi ("cannot be oppressed"), and once used Spanish orthographical conventions until late 19th-century orthographic reforms encouraged native spellings. As for Chinese surnames, there are three variants: The single-syllable surname for Chinese Filipinos who immigrated from 1898 onward, the patrilineal surname consisting of a Spanish-orthographized form of the patriarch's full name (e.g. Gokongwei, Yuchengco) for Chinese Filipinos who immigrated before 1898, and Spanish-orthographized forms of words in the Hokkien dialect denoting their ancestry for native-born Chinese Filipinos (e.g. Tuazon = eldest grandson; Dizon = second grandson; Samson/Sansonnote  = third grandson; etc.)