Given name

From Academic Kids

A given name specifies and differentiates between members of a group of individuals, especially a family, all of whose members usually share the same family name.

The given name may be single, or several names may be given (the latter are known as middle names). In the latter case, one of them, generally the first, is commonly used while the others are mostly used for official records.

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 or Quebec, 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, such as a bizarre or obscene one (in France, by referring the case to a local judge).

In many European countries, "given name" is synonymous with first name, forename, and (for Christians) with Christian name, but these terms do not apply internationally. For example, the Hungarians traditionally have given names placed after the family names, as do all East Asians and the Vietnamese. The practice of placing given name last in these Asian countries has been considered a manifestation of the importance of familial collective over individualism.

The etymology of given names includes:

  • Aspiring personality traits (external and internal), e.g. The Japanese name Miko means child of beauty.
  • Objects, e.g. rock (Peter), spear
  • Literary characters, e.g. Wendy
  • Physical characteristics, e.g. Calvin (means the bald king)
  • Another name, e.g. Pauline (especially to change the sex of the name)
  • Surnames, e.g. Ralph
  • Places, e.g. Brittany
  • Day of the week of birth, e.g. Kofi Annan Kofi= born on Friday etc
  • Combination of the above, e.g. Ashley (means by the ash wood)

Of course there are also names of unknown or disputed etymology, e.g. Keisha.

However, in many cultures, given names are reused, especially to commemorate the dead (namesake), resulting in a virtually limited repertoire of names that sometimes vary by orthography. And those namesakes, in turn, were often named after Biblical characters, except for the name Jesus, which is almost always considered taboo or sacrilegous when used as a given name in English-speaking regions. In the Spanish-speaking world, however, "Jess" is a very popular name, without any negative implications.

On the other hand, Mary is almost universally popular among Christians, especially among Roman Catholics.

Most common given names in English (and many other European languages) can be grouped into broad categories based on their origin:

  • Recent names come from English vocabulary words. These are usually girls' names, derived from flowers, birds, gemstones and aspiring traits. Examples: Lily, Mavis, Amber, Serenity.
  • Recent coinages and variants are created by parents who want to give their child a new version of an old name. Names which are currently in fashion tend to be varied the most. Also, many masculine names have had feminine versions created, especially by adding the suffix -a. Pet forms are informal forms of longer names, usually made by adding -y. Shortenings reduce the size of a long name. Examples: Vicky, Pauline, Bob, Tony, Mike.

Other languages provide other names: for example, the name Belle comes from French, so the above should not be thought of as the only sources of names.

Frequently, a given name occurs in different language varieties. For example, the English name Susan from the Old Testament also occurs in its original Hebrew version, Susannah, and in its French version, Suzanne.

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, etc. (For a more complete list see List of Slavic given names.)

The Chinese and Korean given names are virtually all unique, because meaningful Hanzi and Hanja characters can be combined extensively. However, some less educated parents recycle popular given names as well. The names of famous and successful persons are also reused occasionally. Nevertheless, most Chinese and Korean parents invest a tremendous amount contemplating the names of their newborns before their birth, often with comprehensive dictionaries or with religious guides, formal or informal. Sometimes, especially in traditional families, paternal grandparents are the name-givers.

In more Westernised Asian locations like Singapore and Hong Kong, many Chinese also take on an English given name in addition to their Chinese given name.

Many Japanese women's names, such as Yoko Ono's, used to end in ko (子), which means "(girl-)child" in Japanese. This fell out of favor in the 1980s, and has remained outdated since. As a result, while the vast majority of Japanese women born before 1980 have names ending in ko, it is relatively rare for the younger generation.

Most names are either masculine or feminine, but unisex names can be either. Usually, one gender is predominant.


Popularity distribution of given names

The popularity (frequency) distribution of given names typically follows a power law distribution. This frequency distribution commonly occurs among collections of symbols instantiated and used in a similar way, e.g. newspapers ranked by circulation, movies ranked by box office receipts, Internet web sites ranked by visits.

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.[1] ( In contrast, the corresponding statistics for in England and Wales in 1994 were Emily and James, with 3% and 4% of names, respectively. Better understanding this change might provide insights into symbolic economics increasingly important with the rapid development of information and communication technologies.


The term Given name is rarely used in the United Kingdom; Forename or Christian name predominate, with the former now used almost exclusively on official documentation.

Related articles and lists

External links

de:Vorname fr:Prnom fy:Foarnamme lb:Virnumm nl:Voornaam pl:Imię ru:Личное имя sk:Krstn meno wa:Pitit no


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