Difference Between Surname & First Name

If you have a friend named John Doe, how do you call him in public places? Do you call him John, or Doe? As long as you are not with his family members, you can even call him Doe. Once he is with his family (and if the family happens to be an extended one) all of them are Doe’s, and you are better off calling him John. It becomes clear then that the first and most distinguishing feature in your friend’s name is his first name, that happens to be John here. Doe is his family name or surname that is common to all others in his family. What are the traditions and customs that are followed by people in western cultures regarding the first names and surnames, and how to distinguish between these two names? Read on to finds answers to your questions.


A surname is the fixed name or last name or family name that is common in the names of all family members, and is shared by all. This is very old, and no one in the family really knows about the origin of this name. However, if we look historically, the use of surname is relatively new but very helpful as it allows one to distinguish members of the same family. Though, it was Chinese who started the tradition of last names or surnames, the tradition quickly passed on to western cultures; it was not used in western cultures before 10th or 11th century. Surnames are passed down generations, and they are quite distinct from first names or Christian names that are given to a child as soon as he is born or during baptism.

In western cultures, as well as Asian cultures, a woman, when she marries, takes on the surname of his husband. However, because of high divorce rates now, women tend to retain their surnames before marriage, even after their marriage. Surnames are often helpful in knowing about one’s forefathers, their place of origin or habitat, their occupation, and questions like these.

First name

Just imagine how chaotic situation would be if there were no first names or names to distinguish between people, and people moved along with just their family names or surnames. This is why it is customary to name a child as soon as he is born, and, this is the name that is called first name or Christian name in the western world. The reason it is called first name is because of the tradition or practice of placing it before the surname or family name.

It is common for people to give their own name to their kids. Thus, we have George W Bush senior and George W Bush Junior, both being Presidents of the US. It is also seen that some fathers, though they give a unique name to the son, also place their own name in the name of the son after this first name. In such cases, it is the name given to the kid that is placed first, and is also called the first name in all communications as well as government documents like passports.

Key Takeaways

  • Surname is the family name or the last name of a person, whereas first name is the unique name given to a person at birth, also referred to as his Christian name.
  • First name is the distinguishing feature of a person in his family, though his friends may lovingly refer to him with his surnames
  • Surname is passed down generations, whereas first names are unique depending upon physical attributes or circumstances at birth of a kid.
Dmitri Ivanov
Dmitri Ivanovhttps://whats-different.com
Dmitri Ivanov, a writer and managing editor, was educated in Canada and holds a BS in Science. Dmitri loves doing research, writing, and teaching various courses.


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