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First Name vs. Last Name: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on November 9, 2023
"First Name" is an individual's personal name, while "Last Name" is the family name shared by members of the same family.

Key Differences

"First Name," also known as a given name, is the name chosen for an individual, typically by their parents at birth. In contrast, "Last Name" represents a surname or family name inherited from one’s parents and shared among family members.
A person's "First Name" is often used in more casual, intimate, or familiar settings. The "Last Name," however, is more formal and is used in official documents, formal communications, and in situations where there are multiple individuals with the same first names.
The "First Name" allows for individual identification, as each person within the same family will have a distinct first name. On the other hand, the "Last Name" indicates a person’s familial lineage and is typically the same for all members of an immediate family.
Changing one's "First Name" can be a personal choice, often requiring legal procedures. Conversely, changing one's "Last Name" is common after events such as marriage or adoption, indicating a change in family ties or social identity.
Both "First Name" and "Last Name" are essential for a person’s full identification. While the first name provides uniqueness at a personal level, the last name connects an individual to a broader family context or cultural heritage.

Comparison Chart


Personal identity
Familial identity


Informal settings
Formal or official contexts


By personal choice
Often after marriage/adoption


Individual uniqueness
Family heritage/lineage

Cultural Variations

Varies greatly worldwide
Less variation, lineage-based

First Name and Last Name Definitions

First Name

A First Name reflects personal identity more than family background;
Her First Name, Harmony, truly reflects her personality.

Last Name

A Last Name indicates a person's family lineage;
Everyone in his family shares the Last Name Robinson.

First Name

First Name can be changed legally;
He changed his First Name after going through a personal transformation.

Last Name

A Last Name is inherited and typically remains the same throughout life;
She took pride in her Last Name, knowing its historical significance.

First Name

First Name is used in casual, non-formal settings;
Please, call me by my First Name, Jake.

Last Name

Last Name can change due to life events;
She decided to take her partner’s Last Name after marriage.

First Name

A First Name is often chosen by parents at birth;
They gave her the First Name “Luna” because she was born at night.

Last Name

Last Name is used in official or formal documents;
On official documents, they list her as “Smith,” her Last Name.

First Name

A First Name distinguishes individuals from other family members;
Emily’s First Name sets her apart from her siblings.

Last Name

A Last Name carries cultural, ancestral, or societal information;
His Last Name, Nakamura, indicates Japanese heritage.


Is a middle name a First Name?

No, it's an additional given name and not considered a First Name.

Can I legally change my Last Name?

Yes, through a legal process, often due to marriage, divorce, or personal reasons.

Why do some cultures have the Last Name first?

It's a cultural difference emphasizing family heritage; common in many East Asian cultures.

What's the history of Last Names?

They originated to distinguish individuals with the same first name, often based on occupation, location, or parentage.

Can I have a First Name with a special character?

Laws vary by country; some allow it, while others have restrictions on characters.

Why do women change their Last Name after marriage?

It's a tradition in some cultures, symbolizing familial unity, though not mandatory.

What's an ancestral Last Name?

It's a surname derived from one's ancestors, often unchanged over generations.

Is it disrespectful to call someone by their First Name in any culture?

In some cultures, using the First Name without permission can be seen as disrespectful.

Can a First Name be two words?

Yes, a First Name can be a double name, often hyphenated, like Mary-Anne.

Do all cultures use a First and Last Name?

Most do, but the order and significance can vary significantly by culture.

Are there gender-specific Last Names?

In some cultures, Last Names can indicate gender, often through suffixes.

What's the most common First Name?

This varies over time and by region; names like John or Mary have been historically common in English-speaking countries.

Can a Last Name be completely made up?

Yes, during the legal change process, individuals can choose a new, unique surname.

Can a First Name affect your life?

Studies suggest names can influence first impressions, job prospects, and social interactions.

What if I don't have a Last Name?

Some cultures don't use Last Names; legal documents in other regions may require a surname, necessitating a legal solution.

Can I drop my Last Name?

Legally, this is complex and varies by jurisdiction, often requiring a court process.

Are First Names protected by law?

No, but there are laws about what can be legally recognized as a First Name.

Can a First Name be a phrase?

Typically not, as most jurisdictions have restrictions on name length and format.

Why are First Names unique?

They're chosen to give individual identity, often with personal or cultural significance.

Do Last Names disappear?

Yes, if families without male descendants (in patrilineal societies) don't pass on the surname, it can disappear.
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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