First/given/forename, middle, and last/family/surname with John Fitzgerald Kennedy as example. This shows a structure typical for Anglophonic cultures (and some others). Other cultures use other structures for full names.

A surname, family name, or last name is the mostly hereditary portion of one's personal name that indicates one's family.[1][2] It is typically combined with a given name to form the full name of a person.

Depending on culture, the surname may be placed at either the start of a person's name, or at the end. The number of surnames given to an individual also varies: in most cases it's just one, but in many Spanish-speaking countries, two surnames are used for legal purposes. Depending on culture, not all members of a family unit are required to have identical surnames. In some countries, surnames are modified depending on gender and family membership status of a person. Compound surnames can be composed of separate names.[3]

Using names has been documented in even the oldest historical records. Examples of surnames are documented in the 11th century by the barons in England. English surnames began as a way of identifying a certain aspect of that individual, such as by trade, father's name, location of birth, or physical features, and were not necessarily inherited. By 1400 most English families, and those from Lowland Scotland, had adopted the use of hereditary surnames.[4]

The study of proper names (in family names, personal names, or places) is called onomastics. A one-name study is a collection of vital and other biographical data about all persons worldwide sharing a particular surname.[citation needed]

  1. ^ "Surname | Britannica". Retrieved 11 April 2023.
  2. ^ "surname". Archived from the original on 20 January 2017. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  3. ^ Haas, Ann; Elliott, Marc N; Dembosky, Jacob W; Adams, John L; Wilson-Frederick, Shondelle M; Mallett, Joshua S; Gaillot, Sarah; Haffer, Samuel C; Haviland, Amelia M (1 February 2019). "Imputation of race/ethnicity to enable measurement of HEDIS performance by race/ethnicity". Health Services Research. 54 (1): 13–23. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.13099. ISSN 1475-6773. PMC 6338295. PMID 30506674.
  4. ^ "BBC - Family History - What's in a Name? Your Link to the Past". BBC History. Retrieved 21 September 2020.