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Family Name vs. Given Name: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on December 13, 2023
Family name is the surname shared by a family, while given name is the personal name given to an individual at birth.

Key Differences

Family names, often called surnames or last names, are passed down through generations and shared among family members. Given names, also known as first names, are chosen by parents and given to their children at birth. While family names reflect lineage and heritage, given names can be chosen for various reasons including cultural, religious, or personal preferences.
In many cultures, the family name carries significant weight, symbolizing the family's history and societal status. Conversely, given names are more personal and often selected for their meanings or to honor a relative or cultural figure. This distinction underscores the personal identity versus family identity.
The order of family name and given name varies by culture. In Western cultures, the given name usually precedes the family name, while in many Asian cultures, the family name comes first. This reflects differing cultural emphases on individuality versus family heritage.
In legal and formal situations, the family name is often emphasized to denote familial connections or lineage. In contrast, given names are used in more personal or informal settings, reflecting individual identity and uniqueness.
Family names are typically consistent across generations, but given names offer more flexibility and can be changed or modified, reflecting personal choices or life changes. This flexibility in given names versus the constancy of family names highlights their differing roles in personal identity.

Comparison Chart

Cultural Significance

Reflects family heritage and lineage
Reflects individual identity and personal choice

Selection Process

Passed down through generations
Chosen by parents or individuals

Order in Name Structure

Usually last in Western cultures, first in many Asian cultures
Opposite of family name in positioning


Generally constant within a family
Can be changed or modified by the individual

Use in Society

Emphasized in formal and legal contexts
Used in personal and informal interactions

Family Name and Given Name Definitions

Family Name

A family name is a surname shared by members of a family.
The Johnsons are known for their philanthropy.

Given Name

A given name is often used in informal and personal contexts.
Everyone calls her Lily, her given name.

Family Name

A family name is passed down through generations.
The surname Kim has been in their family for centuries.

Given Name

A given name can be changed or chosen by the individual.
He chose the name Alex as his new given name.

Family Name

A family name is a last name indicating familial ties.
She inherited the Garcia family name from her father.

Given Name

A given name is chosen for an individual, often by their parents.
David's parents named him after a historical king.

Family Name

A family name is a hereditary name common to all members of a family.
All the Smiths in that family are doctors.

Given Name

A given name is a personal name given to someone at birth.
Emily was named after her grandmother.

Family Name

A family name represents lineage and ancestral history.
The Nguyen dynasty's legacy lives on in their family name.

Given Name

A given name reflects personal identity separate from family.
Sophia's name means wisdom in Greek.


Can given names be changed?

Yes, individuals can change their given names.

Do all cultures place the family name last?

No, some cultures place the family name first.

What is a family name?

A surname shared among members of a family.

Is the family name the same as the last name?

In many cultures, yes, the family name is the last name.

How is a family name chosen?

It's inherited and passed down through generations.

Do given names have meanings?

Yes, many given names have specific cultural or historical meanings.

Why are given names important?

They reflect personal identity and cultural significance.

Can someone choose their family name?

Not typically, as family names are inherited.

What is a given name?

A personal name given to someone at birth.

Can a given name affect a person's identity?

Yes, it can significantly impact personal and social identity.

Can a family name become a given name?

Yes, sometimes family names are used as given names.

Are family names legally binding?

Yes, family names are part of legal identity in most places.

Do family names have historical significance?

Yes, they often trace lineage and historical roots.

Can family names change over time?

Rarely, though they may evolve due to migration or marriage.

Do given names influence personality?

There's no scientific evidence, but cultural beliefs vary on this.

Is it common to have multiple given names?

Yes, in many cultures it is common to have multiple given names.

How do given names vary across cultures?

They vary greatly, reflecting linguistic and cultural diversity.

Why do some people change their given names?

For personal, religious, or cultural reasons, among others.

Are there rules for choosing a given name?

It varies by culture; some have specific naming conventions.

Is it possible to have no family name?

In rare cases and certain cultures, yes.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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