The surname (or “family name”) denotes (wholly or partly) one’s kinship. In many cases it was derived from physical characteristics, occupations, or locations and later transmitted to descendants (e.g., Smith); in other cases it indicated paternity (e.g., Davidson). Such names came to be called “surnames.” The modern custom is that a woman who marries may, but need not, add her husband’s surname to her own (e.g., Hillary Rodham Clinton). In medieval England the Christian name was the baptismal name and was the only name that many people bore. Surnames were given later to differentiate (e.g., Robert the Younger). The personal name of a non-Christian is better called a “forename” (if it comes first) or “given name” — or simply “personal name.” E.g.: “‘Woranoj’ is the personal name [or ‘forename’ or ‘given name’] and ‘Anurugsa’ the family name [or ‘surname’] of my friend in Bangkok.” The phrases “first name” and “last name” can be misleading because of the naming practices of different cultures. For information about the Language-Change Index, click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “An ironic statement is one in which the literal and figurative meanings are opposites, as possibly in the sentence, ‘The duty of the schools is to help everybody get ahead of the Joneses.'” James Sledd, “Some Notes on English Prose Style” (1959), in The Problem of Style 185, 201 (J.V. Cunningham ed., 1966).
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