Difference Wiki

Forename vs. Surname: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 7, 2023
Forename is an individual's first name, while Surname is the family name typically used as a last name.

Key Differences

Forename and Surname are both essential parts of a person's full name, helping identify individuals within larger communities. The Forename is usually the first name given at birth or during a naming ceremony, personal to an individual. In contrast, the Surname is the family name, passed down from generation to generation.
Both the Forename and Surname play a critical role in documentation and official records. The Forename, being more personal, can sometimes be chosen or changed by the individual themselves, reflecting personal or cultural significance. On the other hand, the Surname, rooted in familial lineage, usually remains consistent within a family line.
The combination of Forename and Surname is crucial for differentiation, especially in situations where two people might share the same Forename. For instance, John could be a common Forename, but when paired with a Surname like Doe, it identifies a specific individual distinct from a John Smith.
Many cultures and traditions around the world give significant importance to the selection of a Forename, as it might carry particular meaning or reflect certain characteristics. Surnames, conversely, are often historically rooted, tracing lineage, profession, or place of origin of the ancestors.
While in most Western cultures, the Forename precedes the Surname (e.g., John Doe), some cultures might place the Surname before the Forename, emphasizing the importance of the family lineage above the individual.

Comparison Chart


An individual's first name.
An individual's family name.


Personal choice or cultural basis.
Derived from family or lineage.


Can be changed or chosen.
Typically consistent within a family.

Position in Full Name

Usually comes before the surname.
Typically comes after the forename.


Personal identity.
Family or ancestral identity.

Forename and Surname Definitions


An individual's first name given at birth or naming ceremony.


Used for official documents alongside the forename.
Her passport has her Surname listed as 'Johnson.'


A personal name often reflective of cultural or familial significance.
His parents named him Arjun, a popular Forename in India.


Sometimes placed before the forename in certain cultures.
In many East Asian cultures, the Surname is written first.


A name that can be chosen or changed by an individual.
She legally changed her Forename to Aurora after being inspired by the Northern Lights.


Can originate from professions, places, or characteristics.
The Surname 'Baker' historically indicated a family of bakers.


Distinct from middle and last names.
His Forename is Robert, though many just call him Bob.


An individual's family or last name.
The Surname 'Smith' is quite common in the United States.


The name preceding the family name in most Western cultures.
Her Forename is Lisa, and her full name is Lisa Marie.


A name passed down through generations, denoting lineage.
Their Surname, O'Reilly, traces back to Irish ancestry.


A name before one's surname; a first name.


A name shared in common to identify the members of a family, as distinguished from each member's given name. Also called family name, last name.


A name that precedes the surname.


A nickname or epithet added to a person's name.


A name that precedes the family name or surname; a first name.


To give a surname to.


To name or mention before.


(obsolete) An additional name, particularly those derived from a birthplace, quality, or achievement; an epithet.


The name that precedes the surname


(obsolete) An additional name given to a person, place, or thing; a byname or nickname.


The name a person shares with other members of that person's family, distinguished from that person's given name or names; a family name.
James is my first name, and Smith is my surname.


(Classical studies) The cognomen of Roman names.


A clan.


(transitive) To give a surname to.


(transitive) To call by a surname.


A name or appellation which is added to, or over and above, the baptismal or Christian name, and becomes a family name.


An appellation added to the original name; an agnomen.


To name or call by an appellation added to the original name; to give a surname to.
Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
And Simon he surnamed Peter.


The name used to identify the members of a family (as distinguished from each member's given name)


Is the Forename more important than the Surname?

Both are important; the Forename identifies the individual, while the Surname connects them to a family or lineage.

Is a Surname the same as a family name?

Yes, a Surname is typically the family name or last name.

Can someone have multiple Forenames?

Yes, some people have more than one Forename, often referred to as middle names.

What is a Forename?

A Forename is an individual's personal first name.

Do Surnames always indicate lineage?

While many Surnames indicate lineage, some can denote professions, places, or characteristics.

Can individuals change their Forename?

Yes, many jurisdictions allow individuals to legally change their Forename.

Why do some cultures write the Surname before the Forename?

In some cultures, familial lineage's importance might lead to placing the Surname before the Forename.

How common is it for people to change their Surname?

Changing Surnames can be common due to reasons like marriage, adoption, or personal preference.

Can a child have a different Surname from their parents?

While uncommon, it's possible for various reasons, including family traditions or blended families.

Can both the Forename and Surname be the same?

It's possible, though uncommon, for someone to have the same Forename and Surname.
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
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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