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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A surname is a name added to a given name and is part of a personal name. In many cases a surname is a family name; the family-name meaning first appeared in 1375.[1] Many dictionaries define "surname" as a synonym of "family name". It is also known as a "last name". In some cultures, the surname may be a patronymic or matronymic. Some cultures, for example the Burmese and some Javanese, do not use surnames.

In some cases, such as Chinese Indonesians and Chinese Thais, certain ethnic groups are subject to political pressure to change their surnames, in which case surnames can lose their family-name meaning. For instance, Indonesian business tycoon Liem Swie Liong (林绍良) "indonesianised" his name to Sudono Salim. In this case "Liem" (林) was rendered by "Salim", a name of Arabic origin, while "Sudono", a Javanese name with the honorific prefix "su-" of Sanskrit origin, was supposed to be a rendering of "Swie Liong".


Order of words

Although surnames are commonly used as last names, in some cultures the surname comes first, followed by the given name or names; this is the case in Hungary, and countries in the Chinese cultural sphere (i.e. Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China). However, in Hong Kong and Japan, when Hongkongers and Japanese write their personal name in the Latin alphabet, it is common to reverse the order of their names for the convenience of Westerners, just as Hungarians do when associating with other Europeans. Reversing the order of names is also somewhat common in Estonian and Finnish, which are Finno-Ugric languages like Hungarian.


Name etymologists classify European surnames under five categories, depending on their origin.[2][3] These include:

  • Given names. These may be a simple first name such as "Wilhelm", a patronymic such as "Andersen", a matronymic such as "Beaton", or a clan name such as "O'Brien". Multiple surnames may be derived from a single given name: there are thought to be over 90 Italian surnames based on the given name "Giovanni".[4]
  • Occupational names. These include simple occupational names such as "Eisenhauer" (an iron worker, later Anglicized in America as "Eisenhower") or "Schneider" as well as more complicated names based on occupational titles. In England it was common for servants to take a modified version of their employer's occupation or first name as their last name, adding the letter "s" to the word, although this formation could also be a patronymic. For instance, the surname "Vickers" is thought to have arisen as an occupational name adopted by the servant of a vicar,[5] while "Roberts" could have been adopted by either the son or the servant of a man named Robert. A subset of occupational names in English are names thought to be derived from the medieval mystery plays. The participants would often play the same roles for life, passing the part down to their oldest sons. Names derived from this may include "King", "Lord", "Virgin", and "Death";[2] the last is often wrongly thought to be an Anglicization of the French name "D'Ath".[3] It is now thought that the surname "D'Ath" arose well after the surname "Death" was first used.[3]
  • Location names. These may be as generic as "Gorski" (Polish for "hill") or "Pitt" (English for "pit"), but may also refer to specific locations. "Washington", for instance, is thought to mean "the homestead of the family of Wassa",[3] while "Lucci" likely means "resident of Lucca".[4] Although some surnames (such as "London" or "Bialystok") are derived from large cities, more reflect the names of smaller communities. This is thought to be due to the tendency in Europe during the Middle Ages for migration to chiefly be from smaller communities to the cities, and the need for new arrivals to choose a defining surname.[3][2]
  • Nicknames. These include names based on appearance such as "Schwartzkopf", "Short", and probably "Caesar",[4] and names based on temperament and personality such as "Daft", "Gutman", and "Maiden", which according to a number of sources was an English nickname meaning "effeminate".[4][3] When Jewish families in Central Europe were forced to adopt surnames in the 18th and 19th century, those who failed to choose a surname were often given pejorative or even cruel nicknames (such as "Schweinmann" ("pig man") or "Schmutz" (a variant of "filthy")) by the local registrar.[2] Many families later changed these names.
  • Ornamental names. These surnames are more common in communities which adopted (or were forced to adopt) surnames in the 18th and 19th centuries,[2] and are common among Jewish families and in Scandinavia.[4] Examples include "Morgenstern" ("morning star"), "Safire" ("sapphire"), and "Reis" ("branch").

The meanings of some names are unknown or unclear. The most common European name in this category may be the Irish name "Ryan", which has no known meaning.[3][5] Other surnames may have arisen from more than one source: the name "De Luca", for instance, likely arose either in or near Lucania or in the family of someone named Lucas or Lucius;[4] in some instances, however, the name may have arisen from Lucca, with the spelling and pronunciation changing over time and with emigration.[4] The name "Lee" may be English, but it may also be an Anglicization of the Chinese "Li".[5]

Surname origins have been the subject of much folk etymology, often by individuals intent on proving that their own surname is more noble or royal than the average name. The name "Ryan" mentioned above, for example, is often said to be derived from Gaelic words meaning "little king"; this etymology is commonly found on name origin websites and in less stringently edited books.[5][4] Some folk etymologies also develop because a name is seen to be coarse or crude: the surname "Death" is explained away as being an Anglicization of "D'Ath" for this reason.[3]

In French Canada until the 19th century, several families adopted surnames that followed the family name in order to distinguish the various branches of a large family. Such a surname was preceded by the word "dit" ("said") and was known as a "nom-dit" ("said-name"). While this tradition is no longer in use, in many cases the nom-dit has come to replace the original family name. Thus the Bourbeau family has split into Bourbeau dit Verville, Bourbeau dit Lacourse, and Bourbeau dit Beauchesne. In many cases Verville, Lacourse, or Beauchesne has become the new family name. Likewise, the Rivard family has split into the Rivard dit Lavigne, Rivard dit Loranger and Rivard dit Lanoie. The origin of the nom-dit can vary. Often it denoted a geographical trait of the area where that branch of the family lived: Verville lived towards the city, Beauchesne lived near an oak tree, Larivière near a river, etc. Some of the oldest noms-dits are derived from the war name of a settler who served in the army or militia: Tranchemontagne ("mountain slasher"), Jolicœur ("braveheart"). Others denote a personal trait: Lacourse might have been a fast runner, Legrand was probably tall, etc.

Surname formed from a parent's name

A simple family tree showing the Icelandic patronymic naming system.
See Icelandic names

The Icelandic system, formerly used in much of Scandinavia, does not use family names. A person's surname indicates the first name of the person's father (patronymic) or in some cases mother (matronymic). The words patronymic and matronymic derive from Greek patr (father) and matr (mother), + onyma (name). Most family names in other Scandinavian countries are a result of this naming practice, such as Hansen(son of Hans), Johansen(son of Johan) and Olson(Son of Ole/Ola) the three most common surnames in Norway.

Patronymic name conventions are similar in some other nations, including Malaysia (see Malaysian name) and other Muslim countries, among most people of the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala (unlike another Indian state Andhra Pradesh, where ancestral origin village names have become surnames for the people), in Mongolia and in the Scottish Gaelic personal naming system. In Russia and Bulgaria, both a patronym and a family name are obligatory parts of one's full name: e.g. if a Russian is called Ivan Andreyevich Sergeyev, that means that his father's name is Andrey and his family name is Sergeyev. A similar system is used in Greece. However, unlike the Icelandic case, only the family name is generally identified as a surname proper.

Culture and prevalence

In the United States, 1,712 surnames cover 50% of the population, and over 1% of the population has the surname Smith.[6] Approximately 70 percent of Canadians have surnames that are of English, Irish, or Scottish derivation.

Some estimates say that 85% of China's population shares 100 surnames. In China the names Wang, Zhang and Li are the most common.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "surname", Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. December 10, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e Bowman, William Dodgson. The Story of Surnames. London, George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1932. No ISBN.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967. No ISBN.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Hanks, Patrick, and Hodges, Olivia. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0192115928.
  5. ^ a b c d Reaney, P.H., and Wilson, R.M. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Rev. 3rd ed. ISBN 0198600925.
  6. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division (1995). Genealogy. U.S. Census Bureau.
  7. ^ LaFRANIERE S. (2009). Name Not on Our List? Change It, China Says. New York Times.



Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to surname article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:






From Middle English < Old French sour-, sur- < Latin super (over, above, beyond) < base Proto-Indo-European *uper (over), the comparative of the base Proto-Indo-European *upo (under); + name.




surname (plural surnames)

  1. A name that indicates to which family a person belongs, normally following that person’s given name(s) in Western culture, in English included, and preceding it in Eastern.



See also


to surname

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to surname (third-person singular simple present surnames, present participle surnaming, simple past and past participle surnamed)

  1. To give a surname.
  2. To call by a surname.




Up to date as of February 01, 2010
(Redirected to Family name article)

From Familypedia

A family name, or surname, is the part of a person's name that indicates to what family he or she belongs.


In (English)-, Dutch-, German- and (French)-speaking countries, people often have two or more given names (first and middle), and the family name goes at the end, which is why it is sometimes called a last name. (Occasionally it is inaccurately called "second name", which can be confused with the middle name.)

In Spain, people have one or more given names (that acts as a single name) and two family names (one from the father and one from the mother, in that order).

In Italy, people may have one or more given name, but there is not the concept of Middle name. In most documents the family name is listed first. For example, Rossi Mario or Neri Elisabetta.

The word surname is "name" prefixed by the French word sur (meaning "on"), which derives from Latin super ("over"). In the past it was sometimes spelled sirname or sirename (suggesting that it meant "man's name" or "father's name") due to the linguistic phenomenon of folk etymology.

In some cultures, a woman's family name changes upon marriage. When this takes place, her original family name (before any marriages), typically her father's family name, is known as her maiden name. Such a woman usually adopts her husband's family name; any children as a result of the union also take this family name. This is merely traditional, however — few countries mandate such a change, and many permit children to have a different family name. In any case, since most countries allow name changes, a man can also take his wife's last name upon marriage. In modern times, particularly in English-speaking countries, there are other options. Some people choose to take a so-called "double-barrelled name" upon marriage, combining both family names, joined by a hyphen. Other people choose to create a new name, as a combination of letters of previous surnames, or without connection to their previous surnames.

The use of family names is not universal among all cultures. In particular, Icelanders, Tibetans and Javanese often do not use a family name — well-known people lacking a family name include Suharto and Sukarno (see Indonesian names). Also, many royal families do not use family names. In many cultures, both Eastern and Western, few families had surnames prior to the period 15th-19th century. During these times, often only aristocratic families had family names.

In the 19th century, Francis Galton published a statistical study of the extinction of family names. (See Galton-Watson process for an account of some of the mathematics.)

English-speaking countries

Supposedly, all surnames of English origin fall into just four types:

  • Occupations (e.g. Smith, Baker, Archer)
  • Personal characteristics (e.g. Short, Brown, Goodman, Whitehead)
  • Places & geographical features (e.g. Scott, Hill, Rivers, Windsor)
  • Ancestry, often based on a first name (e.g. Richardson, James) or — if we include surnames of Scottish origin — clan (e.g. Macdonald).

These surname types describe respectively the occupation, personal characteristics, location/origin, and ancestry (typically father's name) of the distant ancestor to whom the surname was first applied. Of course, the original meaning of the name may no longer be obvious in modern English (e.g. Cooper = barrel maker). Arguably there is also a much smaller fifth category of names relating to religion, though some of these are also occupations (e.g. Bishop). The names Bishop, Priest or Abbot usually mean that the ancestor worked for a Bishop, Priest or Abbot.

In the Americas, the family names of many African-Americans have their origins in slavery. Many of them were given the surnames of their owners. Many freed slaves created their own family names themselves, or adopted the name of their former master. Others, such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, changed their name rather than live with one thought to have been given by a slave owner.

It has long been the custom for women to give up their family name (called the birth name or maiden name) upon marriage, and to use their husband's last name in its place. In recent years, more women have chosen to keep their birth name when they are married. Still, even in families where the wife has kept her birth name, parents often choose to give their children their father's family name. In America, women traditionally became Mrs. [Husband's name] upon marriage, though recently they are more often referred to as Mrs. [First name] [Husband's surname].

It is extremely rare for men in Western countries to take the name of their wives; this was chiefly done in the Middle Ages, when a man from a low-born family was marrying an only daughter from a higher-status family, and was thus designated to carry on his wife's family name. In the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, bequests were sometimes made contingent upon a man changing (or hyphenating) his name, so that the name of the legator continued. However, some men now choose to take their wives' names rather than the reverse, or a married couple may choose a new last name rather than that of either the husband or the wife.

As an alternative, the husband and wife may adopt a double-barrelled name. For instance, when John Smith and Mary Jones marry each other, they become known as John Smith-Jones and Mary Smith-Jones. However, many couples dislike this option, because it can make for very long names (like Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby), especially if either person already has a double-barreled surname. The wife may also opt to make her maiden name her middle name. So, when John Smith marries Mary Jones, she is still Mrs. Smith, but she can also refer to herself as Mary Jones Smith.

In some jurisdictions, it used to be the case that the woman's legal name changed automatically upon marriage. This is no longer true — although women may easily change to their married name, it is no longer a default option. In some jurisdictions, civil rights lawsuits were used to change the law so that men could also easily change their married names.

Frequently, women in academia who have previously published articles in academic journals under their maiden name often do not change their surname after marriage, in order to ensure that they continue to receive credit for their past and future work. This practice is also common among female physicians, attorneys and other professionals, where continuity is important.

French-speaking countries

French-speaking countries have many similarities to English-speaking ones in the way family names are used. However, in France and the Canadian province of Quebec, name change upon marriage is no longer automatic. Those who wish to change their name upon marriage must follow the same legal procedure as would be used under any other circumstance.

In France, until January 1, 2005, children were required by law to take the surname of their father. From this date, article 311-21 of the French Civil code permits parents to give their children either the name of their father, mother, or a hyphenation of both - although no more than two names can be hyphenated. In cases of disagreement the father's name applies [1]. This brought France into line with a 1978 declaration by the Council of Europe requiring member governments to take measures to adopt equality of rights in the transmission of family names, a measure that was echoed by the United Nations in 1979. Similar measures were adopted by Germany (1976), Sweden (1982), Denmark (1983) and Spain (in 1999).

Furthermore, in French Canada, up until the late 1960s, children of Catholic origin were given three names at birth (usually not hyphenated): the first, Marie or Joseph, usually indicated the gender of the child. The second was usually the name of the godfather or godmother, while the third and last given name was the name used in everyday situations. Thus, a child prenamed Joseph Bruno Jean on their birth or baptismal certificate would indicate the baby to be a boy, the godfather's first name to be Bruno and that the child would be called Jean (and not Joseph) for all intents and purposes of everyday life. This naming convention was in the most part dropped following the Quiet Revolution (late 1960s), and is now seen much more rarely.


For more details on this topic, see Irish name.

Many surnames in Ireland of Gaelic origin derive from either father's or ancestor's names; nicknames; or descriptive names. In the first group can be placed surnames such as Mac Murrough, Maguire, MacDermott, MacCarthy (all derived from father's names) or O'Brian, O'Neill, O'Donnell, O'Toole (ancestral names).

Gaelic surnames derived from nicknames include Docherty (from "dortach", hurtful), Garvery ("garbh", rough or nasty), Manton ("mantach", toothless), Duffy ("dubh", black, as in black hair), Bane ("ban", white, as in white hair), Finn ("fionn", fair, as in fair or blonde hair), Kennedy ("cennidie", ugly head).

Descriptive Gaelic surnames include Carr ("gearr", short or small), Joyce/Seoige (from the Welsh word, "sais", meaning Saxon or English), Kearney ("ceithearnach", footsolider), Brehony ("mac an Brehon", son of the judge), Ward ("mac an Bhaird", son of the bard).

In contrast to England, very few Gaelic surnames are derived from place names. Among those that included in this small group, several can be shown to be bastardizations of Gaelic personal names or surnames.

In areas where certain family names are extremely common, extra names are added that sometimes follow this archaic pattern. In Ireland, for example, where "Murphy" is an exceedingly common name, particular Murphy families or extended families are nicknamed, so that Denis Murphy's family were called "The Weavers" and Denis himself was called Denis "The Weaver" Murphy. see also: O'Hay

For much the same reason, nicknames (the Fada Burkes, i.e. the long/tall Burkes), father's names (John Morrissey Ned) or mother's maiden name (Kennedy becoming Kennedy-Lydon) can become colloquial or legal surnames. The Irish family of de Courcy Ireland became so-named to distinguish them from their cousins who moved to France in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In addition to all this, Irish speaking areas still follow the old tradition of naming themselves after their father, grandfather, great-grandfather and so on. Examples include: Mike Bartly Pat Reilly (i.e, Mike son of Bartholomew son of Pat Reilly), John Michel John Oge Pat Breanach (John son of Michael son of young John son of Pat Breanach), Tom Paddy-Joe Seoige (Tom son of Paddy-Joe Seoige), Mary Bartly Mike Walsh (Mary daughter of Bartly son of Mike Walsh), and so on. Sometimes, the female line of the family is used, depending on how well the parent is known in the area the person resides eg. Paddy Mary John (Paddy son of Mary daughter of John). Even in English-speaking areas, especially in rural districts, something of this tradition continues.

Irish surname prefixes

  • Mac or Mc: Mac is Irish for son and is sometimes shortened to Mc. Examples: MacCarthy or McDonnell.
  • Mac Gilla: Son of the devotee of a saint, or, more properly, son of a man whose name was the likes of Gilla Padraigh, Gilla Christ, (Mac) Gilla Bridge, and so on. An equivalent would be the use of St. George and St. John as forenames in England in the 18th and 19th century.
  • Mael: In Pagan times this was expressed as Mug, as in the case of Mug Nuada. The literal expression of this is "slave of Nuada". Slave should be seen in the same sense as "devotee". In the Christian era the word Mael was used in its place for given names such as Mael Bridget, Mael Padraig, Mael Sechlainn, Mael Martain, and so on. In later times, some of these given names evolved into surnames (O Mael Sechlainn, Mac Mael Martain, etc.).
  • Fitz: Fitz is a Norman-French word derived from the Latin word, filius, meaning son of. It was used as a patronymic by thousands of men in the early Norman period in Ireland (fitz Stephen, fitz Richard, fitz Robert, fitz William) and only on some occasions did it become used as an actual surname, the most famous example being the FitzGerald Earls of Kildare. Yet well into the 17th and 18th century it was used in certain areas dominated by the Old English of Ireland in its original form, as a patronymic. The Tribes of Galway were especially good at conserving this form, with examples such as John fitz John Bodkin, Michael Lynch fitz Arthur, and so on, being used even as late as the early 1800s. Despite claims to the contrary, the use of Fitz in a surname does not, and never did, denote illegitimacy. This misunderstanding may have originated because the illegitimate sons of English kings traditionally bore the surname Fitzroy (i.e., "son of the king.")
  • O: Originally 'hua', meaning grandson, or descendant of, a given person. For example, the ancestor of the O'Brien clan, Brian Boru (937-1014) was known in his lifetime as Brian mac Lorcan mac Cennedie, i.e., Brian the son of Lorcan the son of Cennedie. Not till the time of his grandsons and great-grandsons was the name O'Brien used as a surname, used to denote descent from an illustrious ancestor. It has for some two hundred years being written as O', but in recent years the apostrophe is being dropped, bringing it into line with early medieval forms. Where the English version of a name is written, the O is unaccented and is separated from the family name by an apostrophe, as in O'Dea. Where the Irish version of a name is written, the Ó is accented and is separated from the family name by a space (no apostrophe), as in Ó Deághaidh.
  • Uí: Originally used not as part of a surname but to denote related members of a dynasty or kin-group, all descended from a particular person, i.e., the Uí Néill, the Uí Censellagh. Nowadays sometimes used in place of O. Pronounced as (U)ee.
  • Ní: From the Irish word for daughter, íníon, and compressed into Ní. Pronounced as nee.
  • Bean: Wife. Pronounced as baan.


Italian names are mostly derived from Latin, but since Italy has been often ruled by foreigners, many surnames are of Spanish, French, German, Norman or Swiss origin. Beginning in the 14th century, it became necessary to add a second name to distinguish between individuals with the same surname.

Italian surnames are especially easy to recognize because most end in a vowel and many of them have been derived from descriptive nicknames.

Italian surnames developed from four major sources:

Patronymic Surnames: These last names are based on a parent’s name, usually the father (Francesco di Marco i.e. Francis, son of Mark)

Occupational Surnames: These surnames are based on the person’s job or trade (Giovanni Fabbri i.e. John the Smith)

Descriptive Surnames: Derived from a unique quality of the individual, these surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names (Dario Forte i.e. Darius the Strong)

Geographical Surnames: These surnames are based on a person’s geographic origin, (Elisabetta Romano i.e. Elisabeth from Rome)

Few family names are still in the original Latin, and usually they indicate very old families (or those with pretensions to antiquity.) For example de Judicibus or de Laurentis. If the family was noble, the de has lowercase d, otherwise it is uppercase.

Funny Names: for jest ( forggie equus

Spain and Hispanic areas

For more details on this topic, see Iberian naming customs.

In medieval times, a patronymic system similar to the one still used in Iceland emerged. For example, Álvaro son of Rodrigo would be named Álvaro Rodríguez. His son Juan would not be named Juan Rodríguez, but Juan Álvarez. Over time many of these patronymics became family names and are some of the most common names in the Spanish-speaking world. Other sources of surnames are personal appearance or habit: Delgado (thin), Moreno (dark); occupations: Molina (miller), Guerrero (warrior); geographic location or ethnicity: Alemán (German).

In Spain and in some countries of Hispanic culture (former Spanish colonies), each person has two family names (although in some situations only the first is used): the first is the first (paternal) family name of the father; the second is the first family name of the mother; Depending on the country, these may or may not be linked by the conjunction "y" (and) or "de" (of). However, in many south-American countries people has now adopted the "English" way, thus having a single family name

At present day in Spain, women upon marrying keep their two family names intact. In certain situations she may be addressed as if her maternal surname were substituted with her husbands paternal surname often linked with "de". Thus, Ana García Díaz, upon marrying Juan Guerrero Macías, could also be called Ana García de Guerrero, but this custom, that comes from medieval times, is decaying, and has no legal validity. (It remains the law, however, in Ecuador.) In this country a couple can choose the order of the family name for their children: they can keep the traditional way, as explained — Guerrero Garcia in the example — which is what most people do, or invert the order, putting first the mother first family name and afterwards the father's — García Guerrero. This decision must be maintained for all the children.

Portugal and Brazil

The Portuguese position is the reverse of the Spanish one. Each person has at least two family names: the first is the maternal family name; the second is the paternal family name. A person can have up to six names (two first names and four surnames — he or she may have two names from the mother and two from the father). In Brazil the rule is the same except that it is now very common for a person to have only one family name: the paternal family name. In the ancient ages the patronymicum was commonly used — surnames like Gonçalves (son of Gonçalo), Fernandes (son of Fernando), Nunes (son of Nuno) and many more are used today as usual family names. Brazilians usually do not call people by their family names, even in formal situations. First names are almost always used.

The Philippines

Until the middle of the 19th century, there was no standardization of surnames in the Philippines. There were native Filipinos without surnames, others whose surnames deliberately did not match that of their families, as well as those who took certain surnames simply because they had a certain prestige, usually ones dealing with the Roman Catholic religion, such as de los Santos and de la Cruz.

In 1849, the Spanish governor Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa decreed an end to these arbitrary practices, the result of which was the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos (Alphabetic Catalog of Surnames). The book contained many words coming from Spanish and the Philippine languages such as Tagalog.

The actual application of this decree varied from municipality to municipality. Some municipalities received only surnames starting with a particular letter. For example, the majority of residents of the island of Banton in Romblon province have surnames starting with F such as Fabicon, Fallarme, Fadrilan, Ferran, etc. This means that although there are perhaps a majority of Filipinos with Spanish surnames, this does not necessarily imply Spanish ancestry.

There are other sources for surnames. For example, in Muslim-dominated areas of the southern Philippines, surnames are usually of Arabic origin such as Hassan and Haradji.

Many Filipinos also have Chinese surnames which yield clues as to when their Chinese ancestor immigrated to the Philippines. For example, a surname like Cojuangco, which was Hispanicized, suggests an 18th-century immigration while a surname like Lim suggests a relatively recent one. Some Chinese last names like Tiu-Laurel are composed of the immigrant Chinese ancestor's surname as well as the name of that ancestor's godparent.

There are also Filipinos, particularly those from rural tribes, who have no surnames at all.

The vast majority of Filipinos follow a naming system which is the reverse of the Spanish one. Children take the mother's surname as their middle name, followed by their father's as their surname; for example, a son of Juan de la Cruz and Maria Agbayani would be David Agbayani de la Cruz. Women take the surnames of their husband upon marriage, drop their middle name and use their father's surname as a middle name; so upon her marriage to David de la Cruz, Laura Yuchengco Macaraeg's full name would become Laura Macaraeg de la Cruz.


For more details on Naming conventions of Iceland, see Icelandic name.

In Iceland, most people have no family name; a person's last name is a patronymic, i.e. a modified form of the father's first name or, sometimes, the mother's. For example, when a man called Karl has a daughter called Anna and a son called Magnús, their names will be Anna Karlsdóttir ("daughter of Karl") and Magnús Karlsson ("son of Karl").


In Scandinavia family names often, but certainly not always, originate from a patronymic. In Sweden, the patronymic ending is -sson, e.g. Karlsson ("Karl's son"). In Denmark and Norway, the corresponding ending is -sen, as in Karlsen. Names ending with dotter/datter (daughter), such as Olofsdotter, are rare but occurring, and only applies to females. Today, the patronymic names are passed on similarly to family names in other Western countries, and a person's father doesn't have to be called Karl if he or she has the surname Karlsson.

Before the 19th century there was the same system in Scandinavia as in Iceland today. Noble families, however, as a rule adopted a family name, which could refer to a presumed or real forefather (e.g. Earl Birger Magnusson Folkunge) or to the family's coat of arms (e.g. King Gustav Eriksson Vasa). In many surviving family noble names, such as Cederqvist ("cedar-twig") or Stiernhielm ("star-helmet"), the spelling is obsolete, but as names remains unchanged.

Later on, people from the Scandinavian middle classes, particularly artisans and town dwellers, adopted names in a similar fashion to that of the nobility. Family names such as the Swedish Bergman, Holmberg, Lindgren, Sandström and Åkerlund were quite frequent and remain common today. The same is true for similar Norwegian and Danish names.

These names often indicated the place of residence of the family. For this reason, Denmark has a very high incidence of names derived from those of farms, as signified by the suffix -gaard -- the modern spelling is gård, but as in Sweden, archaic spelling persists in surnames. The most well-known example of this kind of surname is probably Kierkegaard (original meaning: the farm located by the Church or also churchyard (although this is unlikely in the context) which, with kierke, actually includes two archaic spellings), but many others could be cited. It should also be noted that, since the names in question are derived from the original owners' domiciles, the possession of this kind of name is no longer an indicator of affinity with others who bear it.

The Netherlands

Many Dutch names start with a prefix like "van" (meaning of/from), "de"/"het"/"'t" (the), "der" (of the), "van de" (of the/from the), "in het" (in the). Examples are "'t Hooft" (the head), "de Groot" (the great), "van Rijn" (from Rhine). These prefixes are not spelled with a capital when used in combination with the first name, for example, Piet de Groot. When written without first name, a capital is used, e.g., Mr. Van Rijn. In name directories, the prefixes are always ignored for sorting.


Since Belgium has three official languages — Dutch, French and German — Belgian names are essentially what you could find in the neigbouring countries: The Netherlands, France and Germany. Some differences exist; for example, Belgian Dutch names (Flemish names) commonly have prefixes as mentioned in the paragraph on The Netherlands, but the rule of thumb is that the prefixes always start with a capital, and are often connected to the main word. Therefore "de Bakker" or "van der Steen" is probably Dutch while "De Bakker" and "Vandersteen" are Belgian, although "De Backer" would be more common (old names = old spelling).

The top ten Flemish names are Peeters, Janssens, Maes, Jacobs, Willems, Mertens, Claes, Wouters, Goossens, and De Smet. Flemish family names often resemble first names. e.g., the top ten names are similar to the Belgian first names related to them: Peter, Jan, Jacob, Willem, Maarten, Klaas, Wouter. The trailing "s" reportedly once meant "son of", so "Willems" would be "Willem's son".

Furthermore, much ancient spelling remains visible in many names, e.g. usage of "c" instead of "k" and "ae" instead of "aa" (Claes<->Klaas). The top ten Walloonian (French Belgian) names are: Dubois, Lambert, Martin, Dupont, Dumont, Leclercq, Simon, Laurent, Lejeune, Renard.

India and Indonesia

{{details|Indian family name]] and [[Indonesian names}}

Similar patronymic customs exist in some parts of India and Indonesia. However, many Indians (from India) living in English-speaking countries give up on this tradition because many English speakers so consistently misunderstand the custom; therefore many Indian fathers simply follow the English-speaking custom to pass on their last name instead of their first. The patronymic system is mostly followed in southern regions of India, while those in the rest of the country still have a surname or a family name as their last name.

For religious reasons, Sikh males usually have the surname Singh (meaning "lion"), and Sikh females usually have the name Kaur ("princess").


In most of Ethiopia and Eritrea, a patronymic custom exists. Children are given the father's exact first name as their surname.


In Russia, names are typically written with both family name and patronymic, a modified version of the father's name. For example, in the name "Lev Ivanovich Chekhov," "Chekhov" is the family name or surname whereas "Ivanovich" is the patronymic; we can infer that Lev's father was named "Ivan". The same is true in Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria and other places with east and south slavic population. A different suffix is used for women's names. Where a son whose father's name is Ivan will be called Ivanovich, a daughter will be called Ivanovna.

In Russia, in addition to the categories of last names in English — those based on occupation, place of origin, ancestry, or personal characteristics — there is a large category of "clerical" last names, given to seminary students and others who had to have a last name in order to get an education. These were based on names of churches (e.g. Uspensky, Kazansky), student jargon, or even arbitrary Latin and Greek words (e.g. Gilyarov, from Latin hilarius). Many serfs were given last names after the last names of their landlords, for example a serf belonging to the Demidov noble family might be named "Demidovsky", which translates roughly as "belonging to Demidoff" or "one of Demidov's bunch".

In Russia, family names endings are based upon the person's gender. For example, wife of Ivanov became Ivanova. The same for endings:

  • "-ov" -> "-ova" (f.e., Fradkov -> Fradkova);
  • "-ev" -> "-eva" (f.e., Lebedev -> Lebedeva);
  • "-in" -> "-ina" (f.e., Putin -> Putina)
  • "-y" -> "-aya", "-oya", "-eya", "-iaya" (f.e., Bely (Белый) -> Belaya (Белая))

This is specific for almost all Cyrillic languages.

China, Hungary, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam

Chinese family name, Korean name#Family names, Japanese name, and Vietnamese name

In Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Hungarian cultures, the family name is placed before the given names. So the terms "first name" and "last name" are potentially confusing and should be avoided, as they do not in this case denote the given and family names respectively.

Some Chinese add an English given name in front of their Chinese name, e.g. Martin LEE Chu-ming. In addition, many Chinese Americans have an English first name which is commonly used and a Chinese name which is used as a middle name, e.g. Martin Chu-ming Lee. Chinese living in the US are willing to rearrange their names when written in English to avoid misunderstanding. However, no one in China would rearrange Mao Zedong into Zedong Mao in English writings.

Korean and Vietnamese names are generally stated in East Asian order (family name first) even when writing in English. Names of contemporary Japanese individuals are usually written in Western order (given name first) while names of Japanese historical figures are usually written in East Asian order. Names of Hungarian individuals are stated in Western order when writing in English.

In English writings originating from non-English cultures (e.g. English newspapers in China), the family name is often written with all capital letters to avoid being mistaken as a middle name: "Martin LEE Chu-ming" (this practice is common on the Internet), or in small capitals (except the first letter), as "Martin LEE Chu-ming" (this is more common in books) or AKUTAGAWA, Ryunosuke to make clear which one is the family name, particularly often in mass-media reporting international events like the Olympic Games. The CIA World Factbook stated that "The Factbook capitalizes the surname or family name of individuals for the convenience of [their] users who are faced with a world of different cultures and naming conventions." On the contrary, the English Wikipedia follows a strict guideline on not to use all capital family names (the Esperanto Wikipedia, for example, often capitalizes family names regardless of the country of origin of the person who bears the name). As a result, non-English names appearing in Wikipedia articles are ambiguous to most laymen. For example, Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing might be mistaken as Mr. Wing by readers unaware of Chinese naming conventions.

Vietnamese family names present an added complication. Like Chinese family names, they are placed at the beginning of a name, but unlike Chinese names, they are not usually the primary form of address. Rather, people will be referred to by their given name, usually accompanied by an honorific. For example, Phan Van Khai is properly addressed as "Mr. Khai", even though "Phan" is his family name. This stands out against the pattern of most other East Asian naming conventions, and can confuse those used to dealing with (for example) Chinese names.

In Japan, women surrender their surnames upon marriage, and use the surnames of their husbands. However, a convention that a man uses his wife's family name if the wife is an only child is sometimes observed. A similar tradition called ru zhui (入贅) is common among Chinese when the bride's family is wealthy and has no son but wants the heir to pass on their assets under the same family name. It is worth noting that the Chinese character zhui (贅) carries a money radical (貝), which implies that this tradition was originally based on financial reasons. All their offspring will carry the mother's family name. Usually the groom or his family would not agree with such arrangement if he were the first born who has an obligation to carry his own ancestor's name. In such situation, a compromise may be reached in that the first male child would carry the mother's family name while the other offspring carry the father's family name. The tradition is still in use in many Chinese communities outside of mainland China. Under Mao Zedong's communist rule, Chinese citizens had no personal assets to pass to their heirs therefore such traditions became unnecessary. With Chinese economic reform, it is uncertain if such tradition returned to China.

In Hong Kong, mainland China, Korea and Taiwan, women would keep their own surnames, while the family as a whole would be referred by the surnames of the husbands.

In Hong Kong, some women would be known to the public with the surnames of their husbands preceding their own surnames, such as Anson Chan Fang On Sang. Anson is an English given name, On Sang is the given name in Chinese, Chan is the surname of Anson's husband, and Fang is her own surname. A name change on legal documents is not a must.

In Macau, some people have their names in Portuguese spelt with some Portuguese style, such as Carlos do Rosario Tchiang.

Chinese women in Canada, especially Hongkongers in Toronto, would preserve their maiden names before the surnames of their husbands when written in English, for instance Rosa Chan Leung, where Chan is the maiden name, and Leung is the surname of the husband.

In Chinese and Korean, surnames are predominantly monosyllabic (written with one character), though a small number of common disyllabic surnames exists (e.g. Ouyang).


In Romania family names traditionally have an English-like usage: a child inherits his father's family name, and a wife takes her husband's last name. There are however exceptions and social pressure to follow this tradition is not particularly strong in most families.

Romanian names' etymologies are mixed. Sometimes, family names denote some ancestor's occupation (for example Butnaru meaning 'barrel-maker'), sometimes a genitor's name (e.g. Ionescu, son/doughter of Ion ). There are family names deriving from a woman's name to, traditionally originating from bastards (the father was not known) (e.g. Amariei, '[son or daughter]-of-Maria').

It should be noted that the first name/last name distinction is not clear in Romanian culture. While the ordering of given name first, family name second is always used in media, from literature to television, the opposite order is used in all official documents, ostensibly for filing purposes. Since bureaucracy is very pervasive in Romania, a Romanian will often instinctively start with his family name when introducing himself, especially in any 'official' context (this includes, for example, a student signing an occasional test paper in school). You will not, however, hear someone refer to a poet or a politician this way.

In Romanian the words "nume de familie" (literally "family name") and "prenume" (for one's given name) are used instead of the first/second name convention.

Ashkenazi Jewish surnames

Under construction.

Noms de famille juive ashkénaze

En cours de construction.


For more details on this topic, see Polish surnames.

In Poland and most of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the surnames first appeared in late Middle Ages. Initially their purpose was to denote the differences between various people living in the same town or village and bearing the same name. The conventions used were very similar to English family names: initially names were simple nouns denoting the occupation (Karczmarz - Innkeeper, Kowal - Blacksmith, Bednarczyk - Young Cooper), descent (patronymic names like Szczepaniak - Son of Szczepan, Józefski - Son of Józef or Kaźmirkiewicz - Son of Kazimierz) or a feature (Nowak - the new one, Biały - the pale one, Mazur the one from Masovia or Wielgus - the big one).

From the early 16th century geographical names became common, especially among the szlachta. Initially the surnames were in a form of Jan z Kolna (meaning John of Kolno), later most of the surnames were changed to adjective forms (Jakub Wiślicki - James of Wisła, Zbigniew Oleśnicki - Zbigniew of Oleśnica) with suffixes -ski, -cki and -dzki. Names formed this way are still adjectives grammatically, and therefore - as all Polish adjectives - change their form depending on gender. So we have Mr Jan Kowalski and Ms Maria Kowalska (and Kowalscy in plural).

As names with -ski/cki/dzki suffix became associated with noble origin, many people from lower classes successively changed their surnames to fit this pattern. This produced large amounts of Kowalskis, Bednarskis, Kaczmarskis and so on. Today most Polish speakers would not necessarily know about noble associations of -ski endings, but such names still "sound somehow better".

A separate class of surnames is constituted by names derived of the names of szlachtas coats of arms. These are used either as separate names or the first part of a double-barrelled name. This way persons named Jan Nieczuja and Krzysztof Nieczuja-Machocki might be related. Similarly, after World War I and World War II many members of the underground organizations adopted their war-time pseudonyms as the first part of their surnames. This way Edward Rydz became the later Marshal of Poland Edward Śmigły-Rydz and Jan Nowak became Jan Nowak-Jeziorański.

See also

Look up Appendix:Names in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  • List of most common surnames
  • Family name etymology, German family name etymology
  • Family name affixes
  • List of common Chinese surnames
  • List of Jewish surnames
  • List of Middle Eastern surnames
  • List of Eastern European surnames
  • List of Central Asian, Iranian, Caucasian and Tatar surnames
  • List of South Asian surnames
  • List of Southeast Asian surnames
  • List of Hispanic and Romance-speaking cultures surnames
  • List of Germanic-speaking cultures surnames
  • List of Swedish surnames
  • List of African surnames
  • Family history

External links

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