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What’s The Difference Between a First and Last Name?

By Emma Davies


Updated on

There is a clear distinction between a first and last name that goes beyond the semantic difference. A first name holds significance in one’s individual identity, while a last name continues familial lineage through generations.

What’s The Difference Between First Name and Last Name

What is a First Name?

A first name is also known as a given name and is the initial name in a person’s full name. It is the name often chosen by parents at birth to which an individual is most commonly referred.

Common First Names in North America Today

  • James
  • John
  • Robert
  • Olivia
  • Emma
  • Charlotte

What is a Last Name?

The last name or surname is the final name in a person’s full name. It is usually a family name that is inherited from one or both parents and is shared by every member of the family.

Common Last Names in North America Today

  • Anderson
  • Williams
  • Smith
  • Johnson
  • Jones

Key Differences Between a First and Last Name

How They’re Assigned

While the semantic position of first and last names is a primary difference, another major distinction between the two is how they are assigned. The first name is chosen by the parents to give individuality. Whereas, the last name is passed down to carry on familial connections. 

Personal Identity

The role of a first and last name in one’s personal identity influences how they perceive themselves and how they’re perceived by others. While a first name carries a sense of individuality, last names usually hold significance by carrying down a familial legacy and shared heritage.


There is usually a difference in formality and a certain etiquette when addressing someone by their first or last name that depends on context and cultural considerations. In formal or professional settings, it is customary to show a level of respect in interactions and refer to individuals by their last names preceded by a title, such as Mr., Mrs., or Dr. On the other hand, in more casual and familiar environments, first names are generally acceptable and considered appropriate in friendly atmospheres.