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Forename vs. Surname — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on August 28, 2023
A forename is an individual's personal name, while a surname is the family name passed down generations.
Forename vs. Surname — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Forename and Surname

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Key Differences

Forenames and surnames are integral components of a person's full name. A forename, often referred to as a first name or given name, is the name given to a person at birth or baptism. It's a name that differentiates members within a family. For instance, in the name "John Smith," "John" is the forename. Surnames, on the other hand, are shared among family members and are indicative of lineage. They are often termed family names or last names. In the aforementioned example, "Smith" is the surname.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023
In many cultures, the forename is chosen based on a variety of reasons including religious beliefs, family traditions, or personal preferences. Parents often put thought into the meaning or significance of a forename before naming their child. Conversely, a surname's origin might trace back centuries, having historical or occupational connotations. For instance, the surname "Baker" might indicate an ancestor who was a baker by profession.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023
Additionally, the positioning of forenames and surnames can differ across cultures. In many Western cultures, the forename appears before the surname (as in John Smith). However, in some Eastern cultures, the surname precedes the forename. Regardless of their placement, forenames and surnames serve to identify individuals both within their immediate family context and within broader societal structures.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023
It's also noteworthy that while an individual usually has a single surname, they might have multiple forenames. These additional forenames are sometimes called middle names in English-speaking countries.
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Aug 28, 2023

Comparison Chart

Definition

Individual's personal name
Family name passed down generations
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023
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Also Known As

First name, given name
Last name, family name
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Significance

Differentiates members within a family
Indicates family lineage
Tayyaba Rehman
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Cultural Variation

Position usually before surname in Western cultures
Position can vary; sometimes before forename
Tayyaba Rehman
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Multiplicity

An individual can have multiple forenames
Typically, an individual has one surname
Tayyaba Rehman
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Compare with Definitions

Forename

A personal name given to an individual
Her forename is Jessica.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Surname

The name used to identify the members of a family (as distinguished from each member's given name)
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Forename

The first element of a full name
His forename, Robert, is often shortened to Rob.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Surname

A family name passed through generations
Their surname, Johnson, has Scottish origins.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Forename

A name given at birth or baptism
The child's forename was chosen based on a family tradition.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Surname

The last element of a full name in many cultures
Her surname appears after her forename.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Forename

A distinct name differentiating family members
Both siblings have the same surname but different forenames.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Surname

A name indicating lineage or ancestry
She inherited her surname from her paternal side.
Tayyaba Rehman
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Forename

A name before one's surname; a first name.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

An identifier shared among family members
All siblings in the family have the same surname.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Forename

The name preceding the surname in many cultures
In her full name, the forename is listed first.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Surname

In some cultures, a surname, family name, or last name is the portion of one's personal name that indicates their family, tribe or community.Practices vary by culture. The family name may be placed at either the start of a person's full name, as the forename, or at the end; the number of surnames given to an individual also varies.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Forename

A name that precedes the surname.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

A name or appellation which is added to, or over and above, the baptismal or Christian name, and becomes a family name.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Forename

A name that precedes the family name or surname; a first name.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

An appellation added to the original name; an agnomen.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Forename

To name or mention before.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

A name with potential historical or occupational significance
The surname Carpenter might hint at a woodworking ancestor.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Forename

The name that precedes the surname
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

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.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

A nickname or epithet added to a person's name.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

To give a surname to.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

(obsolete) An additional name, particularly those derived from a birthplace, quality, or achievement; an epithet.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

(obsolete) An additional name given to a person, place, or thing; a byname or nickname.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

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.
Tayyaba Rehman
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Surname

(Classical studies) The cognomen of Roman names.
Tayyaba Rehman
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Surname

A clan.
Tayyaba Rehman
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Surname

(transitive) To call by a surname.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

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.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Surname

(transitive) To give a surname to.
Tayyaba Rehman
Jul 09, 2018

Common Curiosities

Which comes first, forename or surname?

In many Western cultures, the forename comes first, but this can vary across cultures.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Is a surname the same as a last name?

Yes, "surname" is another term for "last name" or "family name."
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Can a person have two or more forenames?

Yes, many people have multiple forenames or middle names.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Do siblings share the same forename?

Typically no, forenames differentiate members within a family.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Can the surname indicate an ancestor's occupation?

Yes, surnames like "Baker" or "Smith" can hint at historical occupations.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

How is a forename chosen?

Forenames are often chosen based on family traditions, religious beliefs, or personal preferences.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

In which cultures does the surname come before the forename?

In some Eastern cultures, like Chinese, the surname typically precedes the forename.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

Are surnames unique?

No, many people can share the same surname, indicating broader familial, tribal, or regional ties.
Tayyaba Rehman
Aug 28, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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