Saturday, June 1, 2013

What's In a Name?

      A given name, in Western contexts often referred to as a first name, is a personal name that specifies and differentiates between members of a group of individuals, especially in a family, all of whose members usually share the same family name (surname). A given name is purposefully given, usually by a child's parents at or near birth, in contrast to an inherited one such as a family name. A given name is sometimes legally changed through a name change.
      Given names are often used in a familiar and friendly manner in informal situations. In more formal situations the surname is used instead, unless it is necessary to distinguish between people with the same surname. The idiom "on a first-name basis" (or "on first-name terms") alludes to the familiarity of addressing another by a given name.
      The western style of having both a family name (surname) and a given name is far from universal. In many countries it is common for ordinary people to have only one name (a mononym).
      In most European (and Europe-derived) cultures, the given name usually comes before the family name (though generally not in lists and catalogs), and so is known as a forename or first name; but the family name traditionally comes first in Hungary, parts of Africa and most of East Asia (e.g., China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam). In China and Korea, even part of the given name may be shared among all members of a given generation in a family and the family's extensions, to differentiate those generations from other generations.
      Under the common Western naming convention, people generally have one or more forenames (either given or acquired). If more than one, there is usually a main forename (for everyday use) and one or more supplementary forenames; but sometimes two or more carry equal weight. Beyond preceding the surname there is no particular ordering rule for forenames. Often the main forename is at the beginning, resulting in a first name and one or more middle names, but other arrangements are quite common.
      The term Christian name is often used as a general synonym for given name. Strictly speaking, the term applies to a name formally given to a child at an infant baptism or "christening".
       I've included below a handful of decorated names by young students in the school where I work. An introduction to illuminated manuscripts usually proceeds this kind of an art project. These decorated names were drawn by second graders.


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